The Crumbling History Of The Esplanade Mansion

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esplanade mansion
Image credit: Urban Design Research Institute

Located near Kala Ghoda, The Watson’s Hotel, renamed as Esplanade Mansion, is considered to be among one of the first five star hotels in India and was named after its first owner John Watson. Designed by British engineer Rowland Mason Ordish, the cast iron used in its construction which was imported from England and assembled in Mumbai.
The 150 year-old Hotel started losing its Glory after the death of John Watson. It was in 1960 when the rooms were converted into commercial offices and servant quarter. The building was once owned by the TATA group, who then sold it to Sadiq Ali Mohammed Ali Noorani, who currently owns the building, in 1979.
In recent years, the Esplanade Mansion has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Today, the dilapidated building only has the iron pillars and wooden stairs that remind us of its glorious past and is known as ‘Bhoot bungla’ by the locals.

General Trivia about the Mansion:

general trivia
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The Esplanade Mansion, once known as Watson’s Hotel is India’s oldest Cast Iron Building. Cast Iron is made from Pig Iron/Crude Iron which is an intermediate product of Iron Industry. It’s an Iron-Carbon alloy with carbon content of greater than 2%. Cast Iron has been acknowledged for its relatively low melting point and used extensively in construction in many parts of the world.

The interesting fact about this building though is… It was fabricated in England, shipped all the way to Mumbai and constructed on sight (near Kala Ghoda area) between 1860-1863. Being one of “The Hotels” in the city during that time, John Watson intended it to be an exclusive Europeans only hotel.

Watson’s hotel employed English waitresses in its restaurant and ballroom, inspiring a common joke at the time: “If only Watson had imported the English weather as well.” Rumour has it that the staff at Watson’s Hotel denied Indian industrialist Jamsetji Tata access to the hotel. In retaliation, he built the Taj Hotel at Gateway. After the death of Watson, the hotel lost its popularity to the Taj Hotel.

Currently a neglected structure, it is in a state of decay. A part of it collapsed and killed one just a few days after its nomination on the list of “100 most endangered monuments in the world,” in June 2005. On 13th June 2010, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) gave its approval for the 130-year-old structure to be restored. The reparation work will be carried out by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). But it is still a damn beautiful structure! And like all beautiful things, It needs to be preserved.

  • Esplanade Mansion is the only cast iron structure in India.
  • The hotel was opened as a European-only Hotel in Bombay.
  • In 1986, Watson’s Hotel hosted the first film screening in India and had screened 6 one-minute movies by Lumiere Brothers.
  • UNESCO listed Esplanade Mansion as a Grade II- A HERITAGE STRUCTURE.
    Mohammad Ali Jinnah used to play pool in the hotel to generate some extra money. Sadly, the pool room is used as a dump yard.
  • Owner John Watson used to run a successful drapery business in Mumbai before turning to the hotel industry.
  • Mark Twain, who stayed at the hotel, once mentioned the hotel in his travelogue titled ‘Following the Equator’.

Current status of the Mansion:

current status
Image credit: http://www.udri.org
  • The building boasts of a splendid view from its terrace and these iron railings on the roof are the only pieces of wall that stand intact.
  • The entrance to the fourth floor rooms are fallen apart and many rooms have been shut due to this. The walls and roof still keep falling due to heavy leakage issues throughout the building.
Image result for esplanade mansion
Image credit: https://thecitystory.com
  • There are more than 20 iron pillars just on the roadside surrounding the hotel.
    The original rooms are now converted into office spaces and servant quarters.
    The wide wooden staircases and iron pillars are the only remains that remind us of its past Glory.
  • A 4th floor balcony collapsed and fell on a taxi, killing one and injuring six in 2005. it was after this accident that Esplanade Mansion came into the limelight.
    MHADA has asked the residents to move out in 2009 stating that the building could collapse any day.
  • Owner Sadiq Ali Mohammed Ali Noorani claims that the head appealed to do the repairs privately in 2008, but was delayed due to several reasons.
  • MHADA will be carrying out the required repairs while keeping the structure and design intact.
    According to the Noorani, the repair work is expected to be completed in a period of 2 years.
    Noorani says that the office will be restored once the repair work is completed.
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