The historic Esplanade Mansion at Kala Ghoda is a step closer to being restored.
The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) has given its nod for repairing the 130-year-old, grade II-A structure.
The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), which has no experience in restoring heritage structures, will do the job because the building is a cessed building.
Once the majestic Watson's Hotel, the five-storey building is the oldest and only cast iron structure in the city.
The 130-room building with a wrought cast-iron frame was built with material imported from England by the owner, an enterprising Englishman, John Watson. This building was the first large hotel in Mumbai and could be seen by ships coming into the harbour because of its imposing size.
Today, the magnificent wooden stairway is home to strays and vagabonds. The cast iron pillars that were once the pride of the place now bear stains of paan.
The building has been on MHADA's list of dilapidated buildings for two years. “We have requested the MHADA to maintain the character of the building. And if they require any help while doing the job they can approach us,” said Dinesh Afzulpurkar, chairman of the MHCC.
MHADA does not spend more than Rs. 2,000 to restore one square foot. If restoring a structure costs more than that, they prefer reconstructing the property. "We have also written to the MHADA asking them to treat this building as an exception to the monetary bracket that it uses for repairs of buildings," Afzulpurkar said.
MHADA had started repairing some parts of the building because it was crumbling. The work, however, stopped because the agency did not have the necessary approvals. It also wanted to replace the damaged cast iron pillars with steel columns, to which the MHCC objected.
"We have asked them [MHADA] to keep the repair material as similar to the original as possible and have also given them a few techniques to fix the deteriorating iron columns," said an MHCC member requesting anonymity.
MHADA officials have agreed restoring the structure is going to be a tall order because of its lack of experience and resources. "The MHCC asked us to use original material for repairs. The original material made of wrought cast iron was imported from England. Using the same material will make the project very expensive," said a senior MHADA official requesting anonymity.
There have been unplanned extensions to the structure over the last 100 years. These need to be demolished while restoring the structure. "This building must be restored by full time specialised architects because it is a structure of extreme importance," said conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who studied the structure in 2001.
Criminal lawyer Majeed Memon, who is one of the 160 sub-tenants and has his office on the third floor, said it's time the building was repaired.