Oppanakkara Street in upmarket Coimbatore, with a number of leading jewellery shops, textile showrooms and electronic goods outlets is considered the core business area of the city.
The history of this street dates back to the 1760’s when tiled houses dotted the area. Most of the shops on Oppanakkara Street then sold material for make-up, probably because there were two major cine studios in the city and another major one in Salem.
The tiled houses provided a feast for the eyes in terms of artistic carpentry, stone and lime mortar sculptures, Velayutham of Vijaya Pathipagam said. Other streets linked to Oppanakkara Street were the busy Vysial Street, Raja Street, Range Gowder Street, Thomas Street and Big Bazaar Street.
The street housed a number of banks, besides shops dealing with paper. It was the hub of all commercial activity and was in fact the heart of the city. Imagine even Coimbatore Railway Junction was considered a place out of city limits!
Old timer and former MLA of Perur Constituency A. Natarajan said there were a handful of printing presses, the more famous among them being Velalar Press run by the Kongu Velalar Community.
The street was chock-a-block with horse-drawn jutkas, cycles, the occasional motorcycles and big fancy cars and was considered the most congested part of the city even a couple of decades ago said K.M. Subramanian, Trustee of Koopidu Vinayakar Street of Idayar Street, who has watched Oppanakkara Street bursting at its seams throughout his life.
The first ever landmark on the street was the Coimbatore Athar Jama-ath that came into existence with the contribution from 52 families who migrated from Tirunelveli in the 1760’s because of famine.
In 1860, the 52 families pooled in money and constructed the first mosque of Coimbatore, recalled H. Mohammed Musthafa, Muthavalli of the Jama-ath.
The minar of the mosque was built in 1905 and it became one of the famous structures not only in Coimbatore and was the most photographed and replicated in other towns as well, Musthafa, added.
The mosque was the first cement concrete structure with two floors. It had the distinction of hosting dignitaries of the likes of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, Chairman of the Council of Ministers from Russia, Mahatma Gandhi, former President Zakir Hussain, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.
Oppanakkara Street continues to retain its relevance as a commercial hub despite the growing traffic congestion. Modernity has set in without spoiling its traditional identity, with those tiled houses still dotting the street. Some of the shopkeepers still retain their old name boards, making senior citizens take a trip down the memory lane whenever they go to the place. The latest back lit and front lit name boards and neon lights co-exist.
V. Jeevanandham, President of Chitra Kala Academy, recollecting his childhood association with Oppanakkara Street, pointed out that later entrants to the place in the form of big commercial establishments resulted in smaller merchants dealing with vests, briefs, bed-sheets and sundries being forced to move out to other shopping localities in the city.
The now upscale Oppanakkara Street, apart from becoming a hub for electrical and electronic accessories, also has an array of hotels like Central Biriyani Hotel, Kala Bhavan, Ranjitha Vilas, Irani, Sampoorna and Arul Jyothi. Though a late entrant in 1956, Murali Restaurant is a much sought after joint even today. It still has only three items on the menu _ chapathi, chicken and mutton kheema. The street also played host to Ramanik Lal sweet stall and Dheeraj Lal. Well known journalist Kalki used to order sweets and coffee from Ranjitha Vilas often.
Uppukinaru Street, a small lane off Oppanakkara Street had four or five oil crushers catering to the cooking oil needs of the entire town then. It also had shops selling colour dyes for fabrics. But, the street today is also known for purchase of textile materials at affordable rates.
Oppanakkara Street was in the news during the communal riots. The shooting down of a former police inspector Arjunan by another inspector Muthusamy during a procession on the street still is talked about by old timers.
Most people who fondly recollected their memories of Oppanakkara Street had one thing in common to say: though the street was keeping pace with the changes, it had embraced a lot of modernity as well. It still retains its importance and identity in the social fabric of the city.