Many of the symbols of British grandeur have not survived the fiery wrath. As many as 70 important buildings have been devastated. While those that have escaped the fury of the fire god, have been lost in the concrete jungle that Shimla is presently converted into.
Ironically, Kennedy House, the first permanent structure built in 1819 which started the transformation of little known hamlet Shymala into Simla, has also been consumed by fire. The elegant "Peterhoff" building which was a fine specimen of wooden architecture perished in in 1981, was famous for its intricate and artistic woodwork, Harcot Butler school, known for its unique design and ornate woodwork, Wildflower Hall, Himachal Dham, Kinnaur House, Armsdale, Snowdon Hospital, Himachal Pradesh University, Club Lodge of the United Services Club, Regal cinema, Himani restaurant, Nagina building, Jankidas building, General Post Office, Ripon Hospital and Anaaj Mandi are some of the buildings that have suffered recurring fires. Some of these building having gutted in fire are now replaced by modern concrete establishments.
Some other structures like the Western Command building, at present housing the Army Training Command, were also ravaged by fires. Unlike other buildings it was not standing on a timber frame but had been constructed with iron and wrought iron girders, which survived the fire, enabling the authorities to rebuild the burnt portion as per original design. The building of the deputy commissioner’s office, with heavy stone masonry work, too, withstood the fire and was restored to its original glory.
The fire god kept its date with Shimla also in the winters of 1999, when as usual, fire struck at midnight reducing the 97-year-old Walker Hospital into ashes.
While most of the important timber-framed buildings have been consumed by fires, a few like the magnificent Bantony Estate, Winterfield, Barnes Court and the Municipal library are still standing but one wonders how long will they survive.
Besides, a number of architectural beauties like the ‘Ellerslie’, Town Hall, Viceregal Lodge, recently renovated Gaiety Theatre and St Michael’s Cathedral, all built in stone masonry, are still there in all their pristine glory.
Until Independence there had been few incidents of fire. While the sprawling Grand Hotel complex was devastated in 1922, ‘Chelsea’ housing the country’s famous convent school went into flames just before partition.
The first major fire after Independence occurred in 1956 when the Himachal Dham, housing the state Secretariat, was razed to ground.