In the bustling Variety Hall Road stands a house that is a tribute to the years gone by

Sandwiched between its modern neighbours, this heritage structure stands as a reminder of a hoary past. This fortnight, let's visit a two-storey house in the old town area. It is one of the few buildings of its vintage still standing tall on the history-rich Variety Hall Road, named after a cinema theatre bearing that name. Any mention of Variety Hall Road would be incomplete without the mention of late visionary Swamikannu Vincent, the man behind the cinema hall. The house is still in good condition and almost in its original form. It was built in about five cents of land and was constructed in the 1940s by Ponnusami Maestri. The present owners, who bought the house in 1963 for Rs. 45,000, say he (Ponnusami) built this house with the money earned through the construction of the adjacent school. Senior advocate and freedom fighter Late R. Kandaswamy bought it. He was a respected person in the Bar of Coimbatore and was elected as its President twice. He was well known for his love for the nation and he also gave free legal aid to the needy. The building was used as a residence-cum-office till recently. With the family growing in strength, the members shifted out and now it serves as the office of one of the sons, lawyer K. Jayaprakash.

Elegant facade

The structure has an imposing façade with beautiful detailing. Coloured glass, a wooden staircase, elegant mouldings and an intricate wooden trellis are the noteworthy aspects of the façade. Once inside, we enter a large hall with a high ceiling. The ceiling is supported by iron girders, which still bear the name of the country where they were manufactured - Britain. It is now the office and storage area for law-related books. As the house was built in the 40s there is more use of cement and concrete and less of wood. Walking inside, you feel the builder meant the house to be a style statement. Compared to the grand outside, the inside is simple. The present owners have made some additions in the rear portion. The first floor is reached with the help of a smart wooden stairway right in the front of the house. It is the most interesting part of the house, with sunlight streaming in through multi-coloured glass windows. There is also an open court and a small section with two rooms. The whole first floor is unused now. The floors are cemented and the simple doors and windows are made of quality wood. It is an example of the architecture that existed in that period. Now, these houses are lined up one after the other and many share common walls with their neighbours. The old town area once had numerous structures of this kind. One can only guess at what a splendid sight they would have made. Some other such houses still exist, but they face a threat due to accelerated development in our city. Today, the old town area is a bustling mass of people and vehicles. But a walk down the road early in the morning still provides glimpses of these venerable structures standing proudly in a concrete jungle. Let us hope at least some of them are saved from being converted into something modern and architecturally dreary.(E-mail feedback to cbemetro@thehindu.co.in with 'heritage in the subject line).

SHANKAR VANAVARAYAR

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