In a city that is changing rather fast, several landmarks that once defined it have, over time, become just memories. Many of these century-old structures have been pulled down over the years to accommodate shopping malls, marriage halls or residential complexes.
The older buildings may have well vanished years ago, but they linger on as landmarks. Many localities and bus stops continue to bear names of buildings from a bygone era. As if to point to the great patronage for films here, many bus stops have been named after theatres, some of which were closed decades ago. Examples abound, including the Liberty Theatre stop in Kodambakkam, Pandiyan Theatre on Tiruvottiyur High Road and Krishna Theatre in Vallalar Nagar. It is not only cinema halls but also other buildings on Rajaji Salai and Mint Street that continue to be referred by their old names.
P.Badri, a resident of Kondithope, said Padmanabha theatre, which may seem like yet another old structure, has a history. It was earlier known as Regal Talkies. It is now serves as a temporary parking lot. North Chennai is rich in such heritage buildings, be it public or private, including Government Central Press on Mint Street, he said.
Residents said many old plush bungalows too as on Radhakrishnan Salai and hotels have been demolished and to make way for multi-storeyed structures.
According to C.T. Valliappan, director of Kamala Theatre, Vadapalani, old theatres are often closed down or replaced by buildings for other purposes following a loss in business. Earlier, the theatres catered for an audience of nearly 1,000 persons. Such a huge audience cannot be expected any more and some owners are lured by the tempting real estate values and convert them into malls or apartment buildings.
“We, instead, renovated the 40-year-old Kamala theatre with two screens without making many changes to the exterior,” he said.
Heritage experts said lack of concern for such buildings often led to their demolition and they are slowly wiped off from the memories of people and the history of the city.
Historian V.Sriram said many centuries-old buildings are demolished as in the case of those at Government Estate to give way for new ones. “As conservation of such structures is tough task and rather expensive, people opt to replace them. There are only a few qualified conservation architects in the city to take up such works,” he said.
He added that the State government must come up with a law to protect such treasures and also frame guidelines on repairing heritage structures.
S.Suresh, State convener of INTACH, said there is a lack of proper inventory or of heritage structures, including residential ones. Such structures are often unknown as there is no documentation. Mr.Suresh said people can resort to the concept of ‘adaptive reuse' of buildings as done in the U.S. where they convert them into restaurants, museums or apartments without disturbing the architectural heritage.
“In the U.S., places of worship and hotels that were not used were converted to low cost houses. Heritage zones may also be created as in Mylapore, George Town and Triplicane. We must change our attitudes to preserve our heritage,” he said.