First heritage building in the city to be hit by Metro Rail project

With the demolition of the rear portion of the P. Orr & Sons watch showroom on Anna Salai, the city on Monday lost yet another heritage building. Work on bringing down the brick red structure that leads to Athipattan Street started late on Sunday night, taking many unawares.

A few shopkeepers around the locality who had opened their shutters, remember the portion being intact until the evening before when they had left.

The late-night watchman guarding the watch showroom recalled bulldozers and other equipment arriving after 10 p.m. on Sunday. “Like a dinosaur the machine opened its mouth and the building came down like a pack of cards,” is how he described the scene to Thomas, the watchman who took over in the morning.

With this, nearly six grounds of the structure that housed various section of the 120-year-old watch repair shop have been reduced to rubble, to pave way for Metro Rail construction work. On Monday evening, more portions of the heritage structure earmarked by Metro Rail remained to be demolished. A total of 15,135 sq. ft. of the P. Orr & Sons building is to be flattened, raising fears among P. Orr & Sons staff about the safety of the showroom facing Anna Salai.

Sunday's demolition has already left a few cracks on the walls of the workshop, and objects are being removed from there to the exhibition hall located a few metres away on Anna Salai.

What has further upset the management of the showroom is that the foundation stone — located in the portion earmarked for demolition and which stood as evidence that the building was well over 100 years old — was removed in an “unscientific manner” and the showroom was asked to collect it from the Metro Rail office.

On Monday afternoon, a huge crusher machine and demolition digger stood in the barricaded portion of the Metro Rail site. Three Chennai Metro Rail officials were standing a stone's throw away from the debris, with layers of dust flying from the collapsed building in the afternoon air, discussing their next plan of action.

According to them, a “top to bottom” approach was adopted to bring the building down and all care was taken to ensure the safety of adjoining buildings.

This might be one battle lost, but the struggle should go on, say heritage lovers.