Heritage Landmarks along the route of the Marathon

New Customs House

It may sound anachronistic to call a hundred year old building new as in case of the New Custom House, but given that its predecessor the Old Custom House of 1802 vintage, is still standing in magnificent splendour nearby, and houses the office of the Collector of Mumbai, the hub of local administration, the present Custom House at Ballard Estate, indeed appears to be new.

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The picture is the first approved design of the New Custom House which was supposed to be grand in tradition of Victoria Terminus and Mumbai Municipal Corporation designed Ing. F.W. Stevens, Chief Architect of the Govt. at Bombay

 

History and Background

Before 1911 the Custom department at Mumbai was accommodated in two main buildings namely the Fort Custom House and the Branch Custom House at the Princess Docks. The Fort Custom House (now Old Custom House next to Asiatic Society Building) was an old two storied building in which an imperial opium department, Statistical department, Import, Export, MCD, Drawback, Preventive Services, Cash, Accounts, Correspondence, Record, Port Health Office and Office of Collector of Customs and Commissioner of Customs, Salt, Appeal and Abkari were located

There also used to be a King’s warehouse in the Fort Custom House wherein gold, of which custom department has taken charge was stored for safe custody. Similarly, certain departments administered by the Collector of Bombay, like Salt revenue, Coast guard service were located in this building. This building was allotted sometime in 1922 to the District Collector of Bombay and others government offices and was known as Old Custom House.

In the Branch Custom House at the Princess Docks (opened to traffic in 1880, also known as Ghadiyal Godi now) were located the Appraising and Gazing department of Bombay Customs, Cash office, Coastal Trade Establishment dealing with the country crafts and certain steam ship lines etc., and offices of Asstt. Collector. With expansion of international trade towards the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century, two more docks were created: the Victoria Docks in 1888 and the Alexandra Docks (now Indira Docks) in 1914.

In view of the increase in the volume of trade and customs clearances, the Department of Commerce and Industry of the Government of India, under which the Customs Department was then working, appointed a committee in 1907 to consider the question of arrangements to be made for the transaction of the Custom business on completion of new Docks (Alexandra) under construction by the Bombay Port Trust.

The committee recommended on 16.07.1907 the closing of the Fort Custom House and construction of new Central Custom House on site located by them. Consequent of that decision on general plan and sketch an estimate of cost were prepared for the New Custom House to be constructed on the consolidated site (Ballard Estate) were taken and submitted for the approval of Government of India.

Final approval for the construction of New Custom House at Mumbai was granted on 25.11.1911 at the cost of Rs. 22 lacs including the cost of the main building and the old building. The structural cost of the main building was Rs.15.42 lacs and has foundation of average depth of 30ft beneath the harbour mud. At the relevant time the New Custom House was unique building of this nature and highest constructional rate of 8 anna per cubic feet was estimated.

The construction was completed in 1913. However, with start of the First World War it was converted into a military hospital (the vestiges of which could still be seen in the white tiles on the walls of staircase next to the entrance). The building was formally handed over to the Customs Department in 1922 when it shifted from the Old Custom House.

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NewCustomHouse, Mumbai,1920 photograph has been taken George Wittet, Architect who designed this building and supervised its construction

 

Vast quantities of materials excavated from the basin during the construction of Alexandra Docks enabled the Bombay Port Trust to fill in and create the new commercial area adjacent to the docks, named Ballard Estate after its’ first Chairman Colonel J.A. Ballard. Between 1908 and 1914, 22 acres of land on this fore shore was laid out by George Wittet (then Consulting Architect to the Government of Bombay and Bombay Port Trust), into a first class business centre with broad through fares that created vistas in the European design tradition.

Wittet evolved the control guidelines for its first 43 blocks of office buildings, most of which were designed in “European Renaissance” spirit. The estate is characterized by the uniformity of building design, heights and architectural styles – a fine example of architectural control for public utility.

Architect

New Custom House was designed by George Wittet, then Consulting Architect to the Government of Bombay in the spirit of “European Renaissance” in what came to be known as the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, which he introduced to the city with his senior and predecessor John Begg. Wittet is most famous for designing the Gateway of India, planned to commemorate the visit of King George the Vth in 1911. Its foundation was laid on 31st March 1913 and formally opened by Viceroy Lord Reading on 17 Dec 1924.Other notable buildings designed by Wittet are Prince of Wales Museum (now Chatrapati Shivaji Vaastu Sangrahalaya) near Kala Ghoda, Small Causes Court at Dhobi Talao, KEM Hospital, etc. Later he became consulting architect to the Tata Group designing various buildings like TIFR, Bombay House etc.

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New Custom House, Mumbai, 1920. The photograph has been taken George Wittet, Architect who designed this building and supervised its construction.

 

Architecture

Indo-Saracenic designs were introduced by British imperialist colonizers, promoting their own sense of “rightful self-glorification”, which came to appeal to the aesthetic sensibilities of continental Europeans and Americans, whose architecture came to astutely incorporate telling indigenous “Asian Exoticism” elements, whilst implementing their own engineering innovations supporting such elaborate construction, both in India and abroad, evidence for which can be found to this day in public, private and government owned buildings.

Public and Government buildings were often rendered on an intentionally grand scale, reflecting and promoting a notion of an unassailable and invincible British Empire. New Custom House bears testimony to this invincibility. It drew elements from native Indo-Islamic and Indian architecture, and combined it with the Gothic revival and Neo-Classical styles favoured in Victorian Britain.

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Construction Technology and Material

The New Custom House marked the advent of a new building material termed reinforced cement concrete introduced to Bombay from the West, which was to dramatically alter building styles, technique and speed of production.

Kala Ghoda

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This area owes its name to the grand 12 feet 9 inch bronze statue of King Edward VII on a ‘black horse’ that once stood here on this square. The equestrian statue was sculpted by Sir Edgar Boehm and cost over 12,500 pounds sterling. The industrialist and philanthropist, Sir Albert Sassoon donated it to the city to commemorate the King’s visit to the city in 1875, when he was the Prince of Wales. This statue along with many other statues of British personalities was damaged and hence removed by political activists. The ‘Kala Ghoda’ is now shifted to zoological gardens of the Jijamata Udyan in Byculla.

 

TOWN HALL/ASIATIC LIBRARY

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With its old parquet floors, spiral staircases and exquisite marble statues, the colonnaded Town Hall is perhaps the most regal and elegant of Mumbai's heritage buildings. This neoclassical building with the magnificent stairway was designed by Colonel Thomas Cowper to symbolize might and authority. It was completed in 1833 and soon became the city centre for civic debate. The Town Hall now houses the famous 'Asiatic society of Bombay', a public state library in the city, a library with a collection of 800,000 antique volumes. One of them is a priceless first edition copy of Dante's "Inferno." There is also an impressive numismatic collection of over 1,000 ancient coins and a rare gold mohur belonging to the Mughal Emperor Akbar.

 

Mumbai GPO

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The GPO, modelled on the famous Gol Gumbaz of Bijapur in Karnataka, was designed by British architect John Begg in 1902. Spread across 11,000 sq metres, construction of the iconic building started in September 1904 and was completed after nine years at a cost of Rs.18.09 million. It is among the few structures built in Mumbai with black Kurla basalt stone with a dressing of Malad yellow and white Dhrangdra stones.

The GPO moved into the new building April 12, 1913. With the introduction of the Postal Index Number (PIN) system in the early 1970s, it got the number 400001.

Due to its location in the vicinity of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus), it was ideal to dispatch and receive mail to and from the rest of the country.

 

Regarded as a "crowning glory" heritage building, the GPO was built in the Indo-Saracenic style with a solid exterior and well-ventilated and comfortable interiors.The central hall rises to a height of 120 feet to the great dome on the structure. The dome has a diameter of 65 feet and is the biggest in Mumbai. Turrets and minarets at regular intervals exhibit influences of Mughal architecture.

The GPO was established in 1794 by the then postmaster general of Mumbai Presidency, Charles Elphinstone, after whom a suburban railway station exists in the city till date.Until then, Mumbai was served by an agency post office of the British East India Company, though it had issued instructions in August 1688 to open discreet, leased post offices in Mumbai, Surat and other places.But the British East India Company faced tough times serving remote regions of the country under its occupation and it was the then military officer and strategist Lord Robert Clive who took the initiative in 1766.The first regular post office came nearly eight years later when the Calcutta GPO was established under Sir Warren Hastings, who, along with Lord Robert Clive, had laid the strong foundations of the British rule in India.

Old Customs House

The building was constructed between 1710 and 1714, and till 1911, housed the Custom Department that actually operated from this structure as well as another at the Princess Docks. The Fort Custom House was a two storeyed building in which an imperial opium department, statistical department, import-export, drawback, preventive services, cash, accounts, correspondence, and port health offices were located under the office of Collector of Customs and Commissioner of Customs (salt, appeal and apkari).

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Old Customs House at Bombay

This building was allotted in 1922 to the District Collector of Bombay and other government offices. A committee set up by the government decided in July 1907 that the Custom Department be shifted out of this building, and in 1911, commissioned the construction of a building known as the New Custom House, which came up at the cost of Rs 22 lakh. At that time, the New Custom House was a structure with highest constructional rate of 8 anna per cubic ft.

 

RBI Building

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The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the central bank of the country. As the central bank, it is also the custodian of the country's monetary heritage. The Museum attempts to demystify money as it evolved from the age old barter system to the present stored value cards. The RBI building stands on the site of old military barracks that were demolished in 1925. It was established on 1st April 1935. Subsequently, the area was acquired and the building designed by architect Shri J. A. Ritchi. The iconic building was completed in 1939.

 

HORNIMAN CIRCLE & BUILDINGS AROUND IT

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The circular garden and the buildings around it were constructed in the 1860s after the demolition of the Fort walls under orders of Sir Bartle Frere. After the walls were broken, one of the first things projects undertaken was the restructuring of the old Bombay Green that once stretched over a large area in front of the Town Hall. The circle was originally to be named Elphinstone Circle, after Lord Elphinstone who contributed in many ways to the development of the city of Bombay. The laying out of the garden, covering an area of 12,081 square yards was started in 1869 and completed in 1872. After Independence in 1947, the circle was renamed Horniman Circle after Benjamin Guy Horniman who was the former editor of the Bombay Chronicle and an active participant in India’s freedom movement. Horniman Circle Gardens is one among the largest parks in South Mumbai.

The beautiful stone buildings around Horniman circle formed the city’s first business district and were designed by James Scott, the Chief Engineer of the Elphinstone Land & Press Company. The Bank of Bombay, now State Bank of India occupied the first building that was constructed in the circle. The remaining buildings were completed in 1873.

 

ST. THOMAS’ CATHERDRAL

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It is the oldest church in Bombay which opened its doors on Christmas Day in 1718. This is the church after which the Church side of the old Fort Gate was named. The church is a mixture of various architectural styles. The Gothic tower of the church was added in 1838 and the Chancel was added in 1860. The inside of the church has exquisite stained glass windows that were brought in from England and installed here. There is a beautiful fountain outside the church which was designed by the well-known British architect, Sir Gilbert Scott.

 

BOMBAY SAMACHAR

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This building is the oldest office of the city’s oldest Gujarati newspaper, the Bombay Samachar which was first published in 1822. The architecture of this building is unique and perhaps the only one of its kind in the fort area with a fresh water well in its rear courtyard. Benjamin Guy Horniman, after whom the Horniman circle is named, was the editor of the Bombay Chronicle, the English newspaper published by the Mumbai Samachar Press.

 

ELPHINSTONE BUILDING

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It is a beautiful example of Venetian-Gothic architecture. The building was designed in the late 19th century by Reinzi Walton and the façade is made up of the many coloured stones found in and around the city.

 

BRADY HOUSE

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It is next to Elphinstone building and was formerly known as the Royal Insurance Building. At one time it housed the offices of the Bombay Baroda & Central India Railways and later the Times of India.

 

READYMONEY MANSION

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This building was designed by the eminent Bombay architect, George Wittet. It has an ornate Indo-Saracenic façade in sandstone. Its carved balconies and jharokhas, resembles the old havelis from Rajasthan.

 

FLORA FOUNTAIN/HUTATMA CHOWK

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Flora Fountain is a fusion of water, architecture and sculpture, and depicts the Roman goddess Flora. Next to her is a pair of torch bearing stone patriots that rise from the Martyrs Memorial nearby. The fountain was later known as 'Martyr's Square' or 'Hutatma Chowk' in 1960, to honor the 105 members of the 'Samyuktha Maharashtra Samiti', who lost their lives while fighting for a separate Maharashtra state.

This fountain was designed by R Norman Shaw and sculpted by James Forsythe. It was originally placed in the Victoria Gardens (Jijamata Udyan) in Byculla. In 1869, it was placed at this intersection of various roads to honour Sir Bartle Frere. At one time, one of the most important gates to the Fort, known as Church Gate stood on this site and led to St Thomas’ Cathedral.

 

DAVID SASSOON LIBRARY

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This building was formerly known as the David Sassoon Mechanics Institute and Library. It was designed by Scott, McClelland & Company and was completed in 1870. The building comprises a main hall with a splendid marble statue of Sir David Sassoon. It also has a Library and spacious reading room.

 

ARMY NAVY BUILDING

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Built in 1897, this Neoclassical building looks like it could be in London. Designed by Frederick W. Stevens for the Army & Navy Department Store, the building is now owned and occupied by the Tata Group.

 

ELPHINSTONE COLLEGE

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Estblished in 1856, the Elphinstone College was designed in the ‘Romanesque Transitional’ style of architecture. Designed by Khan Bahadur Muncherjee Murzban, it was originally built to house the Government Central Press. In 1888, half the building was given to the Elphinstone College, named after Mountstuart Elphinstone, a former Governor of Bombay who championed the cause of education. A wealthy Parsi gentleman by the name of Cowasji Jehangir, helped fund its construction. This building also houses the Maharashtra State Archives, which contain valuable Government records as well as some rare maps and manuscripts. Elphinstone College is one of the oldest colleges of the University of Mumbai. It is known for producing reputed alumni like Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Pherozshah Mehta and Jamshedji Tata.

 

WATSONS HOTEL

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It is the oldest building at the Kala Ghoda circle. This now dilapidated building was once the grand Watson’s Esplanade Hotel. It was built between 1867-69 by John Watson, a wealthy city draper. All the building materials were imported from England, including the cast iron frame for the building. This is the place where the foundations of the Indian Cinema industry were laid with the screening of the Lumiere Brothers’ Cinematograph.

 

KENESETH ELIYAHOO SYNAGOGUE

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It is the oldest Sephardic synagogue in the city and was donated by the Sassoon family. It was designed by architects Gostling and Morris and was completed in 1884. It is used for prayer by Bombay’s Baghdadi and Bene Israeli Jewish community.

 

JEHANGIR ART GALLERY

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The Jehangir Art Gallery was founded by Sir Cowasji Jehangir at the urging of K. K. Hebbar and Homi Bhabha. Architects of the museum are Durga Bajpai and Vanoo Bhuta. It was built in 1952. A mammoth institution in itself, its history is linked with the renaissance of Indian art. The complex also has the popular cafe of Samovar, which is reminiscent of the 70's socialist culture. It also houses Natesans, the country's oldest licensed antique dealers. Bombay's main art gallery, just next to the Prince of Wales Museum, displays changing exhibits by well-known Indian artists.

 

PRINCE OF WALES MUSEUM/CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI VASTU SANGRALAYA

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The Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangralaya Museum was designed in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture by architect George Wittet. It was formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum. The foundation stone of the museum was laid by the Prince of Wales during his first visit to the city in 1905 and the building was completed in 1914. During the First World War, the museum was used as a military hospital. It was opened as a museum in 1923 by the then Governor’s wife. This Museum is one of the most significant museums in India. It boasts a good collection of ancient Indus Valley artifacts dating back to 2000 BC, plus some priceless Tibetan and Nepali Art. There is an entire gallery devoted to Buddhist tankha scrolls and another to Tibetan bronzes, but the chief attraction here is the collection of over 2000 miniature paintings from the various art schools of India.

 

DOCKYARD ROAD WALL

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The Dockyard wall, which is a curved wall with a clock tower is the most prominent feature on this road. The wall covers an area of over 600,000 square yards extending from the Customs House to the Maharashtra Police Headquarters (Alfred Sailors’ Home). Here is located the Government dockyards where ships of the Indian Navy are repaired and fitted. The East India Company felt the need to build war ships to protect the commercial port of Bombay from attacks by other European colonizers, the Marathas and pirates from the coastal areas. The Dockyards became operative in 1735 with the arrival of the Parsi ship-builder, Lowji Naoshirwanji Wadia from Surat.

The first ship to be built in the dockyard was the schooner, Drake in 1736. Wadias ships were renowned for their sturdiness and were built of seasoned teak wood. As Bombay grew, the dockyards were enlarged in 1767 and again in 1805.

 

GREAT WESTERN BUILDING

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This building was once the residence of the Governor of Bombay. It also served as Admiralty House, residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian fleet from 1770-1795. It was designed by renowned architect S M N Chandabhoy. Around 1800 the Government purchased it for Rs 60,000 and served as the Recorder’s Court House until the High Court was constructed in 1878. Later, it was purchased by Rustomjee Jeejeebhoy and then sold to the Sassoon family. It was sold again in 1883 and converted into the Great Western Hotel. After the hotel closed down, the building has been divided and sub-divided and is now badly maintained.

 

ST. ANDREW OR SCOTTISH CHURCH

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This simple and elegant Georgian style church was completed in 1819, with funds provided by the British East India Company. A spire was added in 1823 but was replaced after the original one was destroyed by lightening three years later in 1826. In 1992 the building was restored by the architect B G Bodhe. At one point of time, the Apollo gate stood close to St. Andrews’ Church before the walls of the Fort were destroyed.