With their crown of parasitic plants and without any plaster left to conceal the brick-and-mortar structures, the four buildings at Nos 1A SN Banerjee Road, and 9, 10 and 11 JL Nehru Road — all LIC property, and all cheek by jowl — are pictures of neglect. Located at Dorina Crossing, they are the oldest constructions on Chowringhee. They stand out in William Wood’s lithographs of 1833, and in later photographs too. They look rickety but are structurally strong. They have withstood the East-West Metro tunneling in the vicinity.
Although LIC flatly denies it, tenants maintain LIC plans to demolish the buildings and construct a market there instead. According to the street directory in the 1915 edition of the PM Bagchi almanac, 8 Chowringhee Road was occupied by Yusuf Ali, Hibtullah & Co Jewellers and Watchmakers; 9 Chowringhee Road by Dr Smith Brothers, American dentists, Dr DR Smith and WM Smith; 9/1, 9/2 by AW Perot & Co Electrical Engineers & Co; 9/2 by The Columbia Dental Supply Co Ltd; 10 by Bourne & Shepherd, photographers. No 12 is now Peerless Inn.
The jewellery shop has disappeared, but the spacious chamber of Drs Smith Brothers, dental surgeons, on the first floor of 9 JL Nehru Road (Chowringhee) was occupied by dentist Samir Kumar Basu till his death. Basu, who lived in a smaller flat above it, had said earlier that the American dental surgeons, MJK Smith and BJK Smith, arrived in Calcutta in 1897, and a group of orthodontists worked here under that name till 1920, when they left.
According to LIC sources, as of now the corporation, has no plans to build a market there but it does want the tenants and unauthorised occupants to vacate the buildings “condemned” by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. It can only decide on their future after structural engineers test their durability.
9 JL Nehru Road, which was said to have been leased from Jewish tycoon Sir David Ezra, has a wooden staircase similar to its neighbours. Adjoining No. 9 is the Esplanade Metro station. It used to be No. 8, once famous for its Lipton tea neon sign showing a kettle decanting an amber fluid. The shop Ma Dorina was housed in it, after which this intersection was named.
Another building at Dorina Crossing Telegraph picture
Auddy & Co, (established in 1828) tobacconist, has its establishment on the ground floor, now split into two by partners. Besides tobacco, they stock other goods too. Subhas Chandra Bose, C.R. Das, Mujibar Rahman, K.L. Saigal and Satyajit Ray were once its patrons. Italian Store, adjacent to it, now closed, is about 150 years old. The Mallicks, who own it, had bought the establishment from Italians. They dealt in olive oil and wine, and later luggage.
No. 10, next to it, is encircled by eateries. Its interiors are relatively well maintained.
Hawkers selling garments occupy the entrance of No. 9 and the adjoining pavement. Neglected the buildings certainly are, but tenants pay a pittance as rent, and quite justifiably, LIC demands rent at market rates. There has been a running battle between tenants and the LIC over such issues since the 1960s.
One of the four properties at Dorina Crossing Telegraph picture
Dora Smith, where fashionable women and actresses like Kanan Debi once shopped for party wear, was located at 1A SN Banerjee Road.
This building used to house Keventer’s and Livewire Cleaning, the first mechanical dry cleaning establishment. The Dasgupta family, which once owned Bhagyalakshmi Cotton Mills, had lived in that building at what was then 1A and 1B Corporation Street from 1946, when they moved from Dhaka. At that time, the building had marble floors — it still does. The Dasguptas have vacated the space. These buildings, ghosts of their former selves, have been neglected by the LIC ever since they came into its possession. Only a public outcry prevented the demolition of the Metropolitan Building — another LIC property — opposite these four. Adjacent to it is the Bourne & Shepherd building belonging to the LIC on S.N. Banerjee Road. This is falling to pieces.