When the Indira Dockyard (then Alexandra Docks) was excavated, the Port Trust used the mud and stone to reclaim a square kilometer of land next to it, ending in 1918 CE. This was developed into the Ballard Estate, then a swank new business district named after Col. J.A. Ballard, who’d founded the Port Trust. The land is still owned by the Port Trust, but the properties on it are privately owned, a state of affairs that leads to endless litigation.
Neville House was one of the earliest structures to come up here. It belonged to the Wadias, whose scion Lovji Nusserwanji Wadia secured a contract for shipbuilding from the British East India Company in 1736 and transplanted himself from Surat to Mumbai. Famously, Francis Scott Key was on a ship built by the Wadias, the H.M.S. Minden, when he wrote Star Spangled Banner, a song which would go on to become the national anthem of the US. The building is named for Neville Ness Wadia, who was a child at the time of its construction, and would later take over the Wadia businesses. Note the Renaissance revival style of architecture, made of glowing Malad stone, in harmony with a large part of this district. I find the trees quite as important as the houses in this area.
You can tell that the Neville House stands at the edge of the plot reclaimed by the Port Trust by a simple comparison of the architecture across the street. Right opposite Neville House, at the corner of Adi Murzban Path and R. Kamani Road stands this grand old Gothic revival structure, Kamani Chambers. Made of rusticated blocks of Byculla granite, the turrets, pointed arches, and decorative ironwork (see the featured photo) in this building mark it out as one of the extreme outposts of the old Fort business district.
Walking past Neville House, on J.N.Heredia Road I came across these paired buildings standing across from each other. Built of yellow Malad stone in harmony with the architectural styles of the buildings around it, one was called Dubash House. Decorative ironwork doors were being fitted into its archways. I began to wonder how much of the frontage and detailing of these buildings had been reworked in the last century.
This photo shows one of the windows of Dubash House. The carved stone frieze is a neoclassical detail, and could well belong to the Renaissance revival style that the structure adopts. The style of the window also does not set the building apart from its neighbours. So my guess is that many of the details are original. The ground floor doors may be the first new detail to be added.
At the corner of J.N.Heredia Road and S.S.Ram Gulam Marg was another building which caught my eye. It was slightly out of stylistic sync with other buildings around it, with its upper floor terraces and balconies with cast iron railings. Right at the top, just below the roof, the walls were faced with interesting glazed tiles. I walked around it to see an interesting door. This seemed fairly in harmony with the ironwork just above it, so perhaps it is a century old.
At the northern end of S.S.Ram Gulam Marg is the heritage structure called the Grand Hotel. The rules of inscription on the list means that the facade now looks as it did when it was inaugurated. The dark Byculla granite can be stodgy and dull, but the white trimmings and blue dome make it look quite cheerful. The placement of the windows below the dome makes it look like there should be a spiral stairway there. I should go in and take a look some time. With workers busy doing up the place, I guess there are expectations of a return to normalcy.
I walked around to the block behind the hotel. Scindia House takes up the whole block. This rival to British India Shipping constructed its headquarters in a style that seems like early Art Deco. The clean verticals, the chevrons, the stylized architecture, all indicate a construction in the Art Deco style. It must have seemed like a storm of modernity when the rest of the area was still stodging along with George Wittet recycling Renaissance architecture.
Walking on, I hit S.S.Ram Gulam Marg again, and saw Hague House in front of me. Another Renaissance revival structure, the tree in front of it had long ago been strangled to death by the ropy lines of the strangler fig. I couldn’t remember for a moment what was interesting about the history of this building. Then the inscription across the top reminded me. Paris-Bombay. This was the headquarters of Pathe Films in Asia just after World War I. Pathe’s cockerel has now been appropriated by the eatery down the road, Brittania And Company, whose menu cards sport what they call Robin the Rooster. I wonder whether it started as a gesture to attract employees of Pathe for lunch. I stopped at their take away counter to buy a couple of caramel custards.
I was back at the buildings that anchor this area. The New Customs House was designed and built by George Wittet, in 1918 the Consulting Architect for Bombay. This was a decidedly Renaissance revival structure: the symmetry of the frontage, the square plan, windows with Roman arches grouped within Roman arches, an abundance of columns, the ground floor distinguished visually from the upper floors. I could spot a little bit of Vandal revival in the New New Customs Tower Block tucked away behind it.
I could now walk on to the Mackinnon Machenzie building at one end of the road, or the Port Trust Building at the other. I decided to stay and take a photo of the Ballard Bunder gate. A maritime museum inside it was closed, either lunch, or because it was a weekend. It is quite amazing to think that a century ago you could get off a ship from England here, and immediately board the Frontier Mail and go off to Peshawar and the Afghan Frontier. In the circle in front of it is the column of the Port Trust War Memorial, which commemorates those fallen in World War I. The building next to it, now called Darabshaw House currently has the offices of Conde Nast publishers. Historically it was the Ajam Building, and housed Regent Hotel, a rival of Grand Hotel at the other end of the avenue. Then a short walk to look at Hamilton Studio, and I was ready to go home.