It is grand to begin with. But the central hall of Asiatic Society Library — an almost 200-year-old Mumbai landmark — is set to get even grander thanks to some renovation that has been finally completed after a year of painstaking work. “This is the first time since the town hall was built that the façade has been renovated,” says Shrinivas G Sulge, managing director of Laxmi Hericon, the company executing the restoration work.
The restoration of the central hall is part of the second phase of the entire project, which began in 2009. The first phase included the restoration of the library and the durbar hall.
The central hall, which has been off limits to the public for the past year — with a makeshift library built just outside the main building — is expected to open very soon.
The Town Hall, which is 200 feet long and 100 feet deep, has an entrance that is adorned with Ionic columns. The entire structure was built according to the neo-classical style.
Restoration work on the building’s central hall began in February-March last year. Everything from the various statues of governors past and philanthropists, which adorn various nooks and corners of the library have been restored.
The entire building is being restored at the cost of Rs9 crore. Historically, this is where the chief minister hosts high tea on Independence Day every year.
The carvings, ornamental pillars and capitals that line the hall were all restored. Efforts were taken to ensure their original look was not lost. This included stripping the paint off the structures and repainting them with a protective coating. “The cast iron pillars had been originally imported from England. So we had to make sure the materials used were as close to the original as possible,” Sulge said.
The restorers tested the original materials used to build the structure, in a laboratory and tried to match the contents. Limestone was sourced from quarries in Rajasthan
The structural timber used, Burma Teak, to make the furniture in the hall as well as frames for the doors and windows was imported from Myanmar
The library’s books, which for years were relegated to aesthetically unappealing stainless steel cupboards, have now been transferred into hand-carved wooden bookcases
The entire hall is lit with chandeliers, among other ornamental light fittings. “Earlier, pigeons would fly in and dirty the area. To avoid this, the ceilings have also been lined with pigeon nets to stop the birds from perching anywhere,” Sulge said
Laxmi Hericon, which is undertaking the work, is well-versed in the art of restoration. The firm has previously worked on restoring parts of Raj Bhavan, Mani Bhavan and is currently working on restoring Elphinstone College.
According to Sulge, only one-third of the restoration work of the Town Hall now remains. Now that work on the Central Hall has been completed, the next area to be restored will be the library’s Grand Entrance