A walk through the single square kilometer of Ballard Estate, barely three streets crossed by three lanes, took me more than two hours. I kept stopping to look at its landmarks, which it has in plenty. Not only was the layout of this new business district designed by the Consulting Architect for Bombay in the first decades of the 20th century CE, he also designed several of the buildings here. When you look up the entry on George Wittet in Wikipedia you find a list of the famous buildings he designed: the Museum with its famous dome, the Gateway of India, the neo-classical Institute of Science, and so on. What is forgotten is the keystone building in Ballard Estate from: once known as the Port Trust Writers’ Building. The featured photo shows the building from near the Port Trust War Memorial.
It is in a style that does not recall any of Wittet’s more famous structures. For this area Wittet chose to work with a Renaissance revival style. If you stand facing it square on you’ll see the regularity and symmetry of the facade. The regularly spaced windows are placed within semi-circular arches, each with an embellished keystone. When you walk around the building, you realize that it has a square plan. The tower on the front right hand corner also has a square plan, straight out of Brunelleschi’s copybook. Other details are also Renaissance revival. The finely squared masonry blocks made from Byculla granite fit perfectly on to each other. You can see from the shadows in the side wall of the featured photo that the masonry on ground floor has a rougher finish than those on the upper floors, yet another Renaissance stylistic detail.
Just above the arches at the entrance are the two sculptures that identify this building. Each shows the figurehead and bow of a two decker, with the windows of a poop deck showing above the foredeck. Why does the one on the right lack a boom projecting out over the head of the figure? So little is written about this once famous building that I can’t find anything about it. Even the most prolific of Mumbai’s urban historians, Sharda Dwivedi, didn’t write about it. Who sculpted these two figures? When was the building completed? Probably between the end of the reclamation in 1908 and 1914, the beginning of World War I. When did the Port Trust move its offices out of here? Who owns the building now? I suppose someone will have to do some actual research before you and I can look the answers up on the web. The figureheads looked rather depressed. They would be.