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‘A painstaking labour of love’

Karan Paul, the chairman of Apeejay Surrendra Group, tells Metro what it takes to restore an old building like Park Mansions and how it felt to receive a heritage award.

Congratulations on the CMC-INTACH Heritage Award 2013 for Park Mansions.

We’re very proud of it, thank you. It was a painstaking labour of love since the (restoration) project started five years ago. There are so many amazing old buildings in the city… usually decrepit and rundown.

On Park Street, in particular, there are three or four such buildings. It’s great to be recognised that Apeejay’s been the pioneer in investing in such a building and making it visually appealing.

It’s about time INTACH and CMC pushed their agenda further. Kumartuli, VIP Road, Dalhousie have such great heritage… recognition is the first step towards getting more activity around it. I think there should be more proactive work.

What was the thrust of the makeover model for Park Mansions?

No changes at all, keep it the way it was. The idea was to get in a more sophisticated look especially for the retail shops. We looked at heritage buildings in Paris and London. Colonial structures housing high-end retail. We looked at images in terms of the shop windows and signage. That helped create a nice look. We were looking at the best international practices. That made a big difference to the look of Park Mansions’ Park Street facade. They look uniform.

The window is clear and the signage small and elegant. We’ve redone the lobbies of all five blocks, in wood and marble. Found the traditional lift-makers and kept the lifts the way they were.

Can we expect some well-known retail stores at Park Mansions?

We don’t want retail chains or restaurants inside the buildings or in the flats, unless they’re high-end designer ateliers or studios.

The top end hasn’t come to Calcutta and whatever has, have gone to Sanjiv’s (Goenka) mall (Quest). Maybe in the next three-five years we can see it evolve into a high street but Park Street very much remains F&B.

It was a landmark building with an art gallery, photo store and famous restaurants.

It had Skyroom and Burlington’s, two places that I’d go to a lot as a child. I’ve always been in and out of Park Mansions as a child because some close friends lived there. We used to have a guesthouse.

People miss t3….

I suggest everyone should go back to Flurys and taste the fantastic food and tea there!

(Laughs) I know everybody sheds a tear for old Flurys and the cooks who made the cheese toast and the beans on toast. The taste changed… people crib, but sales have been up 400 per cent after renovation. So we have no plans of opening an old outlet anew.

Your favourite heritage buildings.

St. John’s Church, the Park Street Cemetery, the Central Avenue stretch… stunning from both sides, and the railway house on the riverside.

— MD