The shine is back on the stately Park Mansions, standing four storeys tall since 1910 at the crossing of Free School Street and Park Street.
Constructed by Armenian jute merchant T.M. Thaddeus — a short man with a big tummy who moved around in a rickshaw, resting his Rolls in the garage — it was acquired in 1948 by Jit Paul, one of Apeejay Surrendra Group’s founders.
The 103-year-old landmark has been repaired and some layers of its chequered history restored. Spread over five bighas (about 71,741sq feet) with five blocks of four-storey buildings, the Rs 10-crore restoration over the past five years by its owners, the Apeejay group, has brought back the glow and charm to the Victorian architecture, Gothic windows, shiny teak stairways and quaint interiors.
More than reliving the East European aura, the outstanding conservation and restoration earned the Apeejay group the CMC-INTACH Heritage Award 2013.
Paul had initiated the resurrection in 2008 while nephew Karan Paul completed it following his uncle’s death.
57A Park Street is a mix of residential and commercial space behind Victorian arched gates. Corinthian columns carved on its façade and bulbous Indo-Saracenic golden domes on the roof ooze old-world charm. So do the wooden banisters, arched coloured windows, antique letterboxes and old grilled elevators — gentle reminders of the days when General Manekshaw would walk across the Maidan from Fort William for an evening at Park Mansions.
The renovation started with Block Four that was razed in a devastating fire in 1990. “The whole block suffered a lateral twist from the heat. It’s been rebuilt from scratch,” said Bibhas Kumar Sanyal, the Apeejay group’s senior project manager. “It is still vacant and will be leased out soon.”
The wooden stairways on the rest of the four blocks had to be recast with fresh teak and sprayed with a fire-retardant solution. The burnt wooden stairs of Block Four have been replaced with marble. “The five entrances to the blocks had chessboard-style marble floors. That’s almost gone. We replaced them with Valentino and black Marquina marble,” Sanyal said
“Post-restoration, the building now is as it used to be a century ago. The blocks continue to be individual units, connecting on the roof. The ground floor is commercial space, the other floors are mostly residential and partly rented out to offices,” he said.
Park Mansions housed many well-known establishments: Alliance Francais, the Bombay Photo Stores, the fabled Skyroom restaurant and Arts & Prints, one of the first galleries to display contemporary art, which opened in 1960 with an exhibition of the works of Paritosh Sen, Gopal Ghosh, Prakash Karmakar, Rabin Mandal and Chintamoni Kar.
The big daddies shut shop over the years and corner stores dotted the ground floor. These little shops have morphed into smart retail spaces with a designer touch: Pizza Hut, Burlington’s, Subway, Veda, Delsey, Reliance Digital, GKB, VIP, Wonderland, Matthews & Company and Rajniklal.
“There were no drawings or pictures of the original building. Over the years, arches had blighted and the structure of certain sections completely changed. Based on whatever remained of the original building, we recreated a uniform look,” Sanyal said.
Architect Dulal Mukherjee anchored the design solution. French architect Lauren Fournier was deployed to design the terracotta balustrades that line the roof, fusing Victorian architecture with Bengal art. “These are handmade by Hooghly artist Gopal Das,” Sanyal said.
The restorers hired six masons from a Midnapore village who specialised in Armenian architecture to work on the arches and designs. “The stained glass was specially procured from old razed buildings. These were cut to fit the arched windows of Park Mansions,” Sanyal said.
The challenges went down the wire because identifying each tenant’s electricity cable took almost a year. The leaky roof posed another problem.
“The lime roofing had to be peeled off and replaced. The entire building had to be plastered with lime that usually takes three months to dry. We had to use the same materials that were originally used in accordance with the strict heritage guidelines,” Sanyal said.
Park Mansions, 57A Park Street
1910: Armenian T.M. Thaddeus constructs it
1948: Jit Paul, one of Apeejay Surrendra Group’s founders, acquires it
2008: Restoration starts
2013: Work finishes
5 bighas: Spread over approximately 71,741sq feet, the Raj-era mansion has five blocks of four-storey buildings
Rs 10 crore: Cost of the restoration project