Chennai, Madras or Pattinam – whatever the name be, the city has transformed from a small kuppam to a metropolitan city. While the city has seen the construction of a new secretariat on Anna Salai, the city's administrative, trade and other activities are still centred around old Rajaji Salai.
Rajaji Salai was once the seat of power and is still the seat of power with several important buildings, including Fort St. George, Chennai Port Trust, Reserve Bank of India, Chennai District Collectorate and the Madras High Court housed on this Road.
Around Rajaji Salai are some of the important streets which not only house historical and heritage buildings, but also the old memories of the city. The Armenian Church and the Anderson Church, the Gokhale Hall, the State Bank of India Local Head Office building, Dare House and the Collectorate Building are some that tell stories of the past.
C. Jayachandran, a retired official of the Reserve Bank of India on Rajaji Salai, reminisces that the Central Bank was opened in 1935 in the city and operated from a rented premises of the State Bank of India office building located at Parrys Corner. Mr. Jayachandran says that the present landmark building was constructed in the 1960s by Tarapore Company. He adds: “To reach our office, one had to cross the railway gate, which would remain closed. Many times, we would go to the office late as we had to wait at the railway gate for several minutes. But during former Chief Minister K. Kamaraj's regime, the present subway was constructed and this brought us relief.”
Talking about Thambu Chetty Street , which is crowded with hundreds of offices, particularly advocates' offices, Mr. Jayachandran says that previously the street was mainly residential . He points out that the famous Kalikambal-Kamadeswarar Temple was visited by Emperor Sivaji in 1677. He also spoke about the bombing of the city by Emden.
“During weekends and public holidays, I would visit Gokhale Hall, St. Mary's Hall or YMCA Hall, where eminent personalities would give lectures and lively debates,” he recollects.
Mr. Jayachandran fondly remembers enjoying idlis, dosas and vadas at some of the famous South Indian restaurants such as Modern Café, Ramakrishna Lunch Home, Krishna Café and Ram Bhavan, which are still running successfully.
J. Balaji, who also works in the Central Bank, does not see much of a change in the physical profile of the locality with only a few old houses having given way to new and congested buildings. He also points out that there is an increase in the number of banks coming up on Thambu Chetty Street.
Anderson Street is one of the historical places in the area. It got its name from the Anderson Church located here. The church named after the founder Rev. John Anderson and built some 150 years ago, was demolished in 2005. The church was once the chapel of the Madras Christian College and School. After the College and the School moved to different locations, the property was bought by the Life Insurance Corporation. The compartment styled church once housing a number of lawyers' offices became decrepit and dangerous necessitating demolition.
Ma. Su. Sambandam, elected Councillor in 1959 from the Kachaleeswarar Division (Ward 20), had written two books titled ‘Chennai Maanagar' and ‘ Thalainagar Chennai'. The books give vivid descriptions of how ‘Madras' which is now ‘Chennai' has changed, expanded and developed from a small town.
In the two books, Mr. Sambandam explains the historic events that the city witnessed and how the city limits were expanded by the British rulers and the important places of the city that one should know about.
In the book, Mr. Sambandam points out that Kothavalchavadi, the wholesale vegetable market belongs to the Vysya community and is managed by the Kannika Parameswari Devasthanam. While Anderson Street and Bunder Street is known for shops engaged in wholesale paper and stationary products; Thambu Chetty Street houses lawyers' offices and the Second Line Beach Road houses several offices and fast food restaurants.
He also points out that the streets such as Thambu Chetty, Linghi Chetty, Sungu Ramar and Kondi Chetty, have been named after the personalities who had close trade ties with the British rulers. Similarly, Prakasam Salai, which was earlier called Popham Broadway, was named after Popham, who was behind planned several welfare schemes.