This landmark building in Coimbatore, which has stood the test of time, faced threat of demolition in the early 1990s

This landmark building in Coimbatore has stood the test of time. It is rich in history and was once the venue for public meetings, council meetings, civic receptions and banquets in honour of celebrities visiting the city, including Mahatma Gandhi and Rajaji.

The Victoria Town Hall, constructed in 1892 in honour of Queen Victoria, faced the threat of demolition in the early 1990s but has now been restored and hosts Corporation council meetings.

Municipal council meetings were held in the hall till 1953. From 1952 to 1986, a library and reading room existed on the mezzanine floor of the hall. The hall was then used as a godown to store electrical goods.

INTACH role

In 1992, a government order was passed for its demolition, says Shashi Ghulati, who was convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) - Coimbatore then.

The INTACH took up the matter with the Corporation Commissioner. With the support of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Coimbatore, the INTACH launched a campaign to save the structure. An official of the corporation says the structure was restored in 1992 at a cost of Rs.15 lakh.

According to Ms. Ghulati, the municipality granted the land and Rs.3,000 for the construction of the hall in 1892 and the rest of the money was donated by members of the Town Hall Committee (comprising prominent citizens of the city). The Town Hall was the committee's property till 1953. That year, its administration, management and maintenance were handed over to Coimbatore Municipality.

The 6,000 sq.ft structure, which includes the 3,000 sq.ft. council hall, stands on a 48-cent plot.

The entrance porch has Gothic arches and a balcony. The foyer leads to the assembly hall. The mezzanine floor is now used as a visitors' gallery for council meetings. The historical structure has walls made of stone and lime and mortar, panelled shutters for windows, and timber trusses with Mangalore tiles for roofing. A low-roofed corridor, with Tuscan type stumpy columns, runs along three sides of the hall.

According to architect Philip Fowler, who was involved along with INTACH in preparing the report and recommendations for the restoration of the Town Hall, the walls of the hall were strong and the main restoration works were taken up for the roofing and the rafters.

“When the building was used as a godown and was to be demolished, it was in a dilapidated condition. The stone slabs in the corridor were coming out, window panes were broken, and posters pasted on the walls. This was a heritage structure that was more than 100 years old and worthy of being saved for posterity.

So, why should it be ruined? And, we launched a protest to save the structure,” says Ms. Ghulati. The backing of the citizens made a difference and the support of the chamber of commerce came as a boost.

The Trust members collected details of the Town Hall and prepared blueprints for restoration of the Hall and even suggested creating a museum on the lines of New York's Empire State Building. The Victoria Town Hall was listed by INTACH in 1995, she says.