An uncertain place

Watson’s Hotel, later called the Esplanade Building, was built between 1867 and 1869. It is the world’s oldest cast iron building. For years it looked like it would fall down at the slightest touch. Something is happening to it now, behind high barriers. I can see a scaffolding above the blue metal sheets. I hope it is repairs and renovation rather than demolition. It’s been a Grade II heritage structure for decades, but that did not apparently force anyone to keep repairing it.

Grand old dump

The 150 year old dump which you can see in the photo above is regularly featured as the most precarious heritage building in Mumbai. It was known as Watson’s Hotel in the 19th century CE, and is now sometimes called Esplanade House. I’m afraid to walk below it, because parts of it do drop off now and then. I’m sure it will collapse this year, but it is not impossible that you could win this bet against me. What fascinates me about it is that it is the oldest cast-iron building in India: older than the Eiffel Tower.

By the air conditioners that you can see, the building is still occupied. There is a store on the ground floor. The heritage council has recommended immediate structural restoration more than a decade back. The municipal council legally has the power to force the owners to start repairs when a building is structurally unsound and has tenants. This has not happened. Elsewhere in Mumbai, owners were sometimes left with strategic pieces of real estate without the encumbrance of tenants when old buildings collapsed.