European grandeur, Indian warmth
Mansi Choksi, TNN, Feb 10, 2011, 04.35am IST

MUMBAI: Bombay House, the stately headquarters of the Tata Group and
the first symbol of powerful Indian entrepreneurship in British India,
has silently watched the commercial district in Fort turboboost around
it for more than eight decades.

The four-storey neo-classical Edwardian structure that was built in
Malad stone and completed in 1924 under the supervision of architect
George Wittet (who has designed some of the city's best-known
landmarks like the Prince of Wales Museum, the Gateway of India and
the King Edward Memorial Hospital) was where "one could walk in to see
the graceful rise of corporate India".

"It had the grandeur of a European office with road bollards and
signage, tall ceilings and spacious rooms. But it had an Indian warmth
to it too," says city historian Deepak Rao.

Bombay House was built after a plot of 2,365 square yards was put up
for sale by the Bombay Municipality in 1905 and the growing Tata Group
found it difficult to accommodate its staff in the nearby Navsari

While Bombay House escaped the wrath of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena
(MNS), the streets around it went through their share of name
changing. The road on which the building stands used to be known as
Bruce Street (after a municipal official in the 1890s), while the
adjoining bylane was called Armenian Street (an ode to Armenian
settlers in the area). "After independence, the main street was
renamed Sir Homi Mody Street, and the bylane Sir Homi Mody Cross Lane
after the founding director of the Tata group, who was also the
governor of United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) and a dear friend of
Nehru," says Rao.

Till the Khalistan movement in 1980s, Bombay House was true to its
name, open for the city. "It was a thrill to enter; the pathan at the
door would never halt you. You could walk in, meet an old friend and
catch up in the canteen," he says.

Historian Sharada Dwivedi, who coauthored Bombay, the Cities Within,
says that on the insistence of Jamsetji Tata, the building was
designed to prioritize the comfort of employees. "The rooms are
spacious, no part of the building is cluttered," she says, adding that
she was surprised by Wednesday's accident as properties owned by the
Tata group are known to be meticulously maintained.

But according to conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who has
served on the Mumbai Heritage Committee, most heritage sites are
recipes for disasters. She remembers Bombay House for its precious
contemporary Indian artwork and a silver tray service when it doubled
up as a venue for the first few meetings for the Kala Ghoda

"Most heritage properties in this city are a living risk, they are
fire hazards and are endangered with electrical short-circuiting," she
says adding that when a fire broke out at the General Post Office in
the mid-1990s, there was talk of heritage upgradation.

"But this city suffers from short-term memory loss," she says.

Read more: European grandeur, Indian warmth - The Times of India

From: A. Papazian