Two buildings of the 1900s are now being restored to their former glory. Join Jaya Siva Murty, as she takes you to what was, is and can be the potential future of Town Hall and Visakhapatnam Municipality.
Few cities have a past to boast about. Even fewer have structures that speak volumes about that glorious past. Visakhapatnam is blessed to have ticked the boxes on both those counts. Our bay city is home to many architecture and heritage marvels that date back to the early 1900s. As they hold within them centuries of history, it is our duty as the citizens of Visakhapatnam, to ensure that those stories aren’t forgotten with time.
The Town Hall
The Town Hall, located in the once-upscale neighbourhood of the One Town Area was constructed in 1904. Spread over 5000 sq yards, this was a gift from the Maharaja of Bobbili to the public. Commemorating the golden jubilee celebrations of the British Queen Victoria, this Gothic structure was called the ‘Victoria Diamond Jubilee Town Hall’. A legendary example of Victorian architecture, it represented a time when congenial relations existed between the two nations. Impressive stone masonry, a grand portico, lavish wooden flooring, large staircases, a huge tiled-roof, false turrets and circular rooms were a few of its key highlights. Also, to bring in the best, tiles for this building came from Mangalore and beams all the way from Scotland.
The structure’s importance grew during the independence movement, as it became the hub for impassioned freedom speeches, agendas and even for the salt satyagraha. Discussions and important meetings to work towards the freedom movement took place here too. After independence, the Town Hall continued to enjoy its glorious stature. Many great stalwarts even performed here, remembering the environment as surreal. But slowly over time, as other parts of the city started coming up, this glorious structure was forgotten. Surrounded by filth, sections of it broken and overgrown with weeds and covered in dust, it soon fell into disrepair.
The Visakhapatnam Municipality
The pages of yesteryears also saw the Visakhapatnam Municipality, which was set up in 1858. Known as Vizagapatam back then, the municipality was formed to fulfil the basic infrastructural requirements of people here. The role of the municipality expanded, and by the late 1920s, a larger area for operation became important. The building was then constructed in 1931 at Fort Ward, One Town. There are many striking aspects of the Old Municipal office building. For one, this is the first Municipal office building to be constructed during the British Regime. Close inspection also shows a striking resemblance with the Maharanipeta Collectors office building, and it was this body that was converted into Municipal Corporation in 1979. With the passage of time, newer constructions came up in the city, and the Municipal building fell into disrepair and was quickly forgotten.
A Promising Future
Today, a group of conscientious citizens have managed to revive the interest of a larger part of the city towards this cause. Bringing it to the attention of the authorities, heritage narrator Jayshree Hatangadi and the team of INTACH members are making a difference. As a result, the scenario of the Town Hall and the Visakhapatnam Municipality looks hopeful, as efforts to restore the structures to their former glory are in full swing. Three crores have been allocated for town hall for restoration purposes while a matching amount has been allocated for the Municipal building as well. The project is being initiated by GVMC, as it gets the personal attention of GVMC Commissioner Hari Narayan, who has a background in architecture. The restoration work is being undertaken by M/s Savani Heritage Conservation Pvt. Ltd, which is bringing both its expertise and 23 years of experience on to these projects. This organization specializes in the restoration of stone and working with lime, and its portfolio boasts of having worked with the Council Hall Pune and the Taj Hotel Bombay, among other projects.
Work at both the buildings is now on to bring them to their former glory. Sravani, part of M/s Savani Heritage Conservation talked about the Town Hall and reflected that while the ground floor rooms had been neatly maintained by the club members, the wooden flooring on the second floor had been damaged due to improper use and poor maintenance. Alternations such as adding additional bathrooms started causing structural damage, with issues like water leakage leading to corrosion of steel. The sloping roof of the structure has been dismantled, and the same tiles have been utilized for reconstructing the roof. A membrane sheet has been added to make the structure waterproof. With the work aimed to retain the site as a public-oriented design, conservation keeps in mind the humid weather conditions of the city.
Speaking about the Old Municipal building, she shares that the work involved dismantling damaged walls, treating surface cracks, laying a new slab and most importantly working with lime treatments on the walls. All these efforts have been put in place to make the building structurally sound, aesthetically pleasing and as close to its original fabric as possible.
As you pass by these buildings, a pleasant sight greets the eyes. People are striving so that the landmark history that was created in this city once upon age isn’t forgotten with the passage of time. As a crucial element of our glorious past is being revived, the future of these efforts and these structures lies in our hands. As Jayshree points out, while restoration ensures that a major job is done, it is also our responsibility to ensure that these buildings are put to apt use post conservation. Whatever activities that are undertaken here, should uphold their worth and value. It is, after all, the city’s heritage that lends it a unique character, and we must ensure that these heirlooms of our city stand tall, for our future generations and tell their stories for many more visitors in the future as well.