Carnatic music maestro Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, who passed away in Chennai on Tuesday, visited the city several times. He had performed at various venues such as the Kalabharathi auditorium and the Vivekananda hall, but one venue that remained close to his heart was the Town Hall, where he had performed in the mid 1960s. Though he was barely in his mid-thirties, he was already an established vocalist and had rendered a scintillating performance, reminisce the old timers. The Town Hall is located on the Beach Road in the Old Town area.
Talking to Mr. Velcheti Subrahmanyam, the cultural correspondent of The Hindu a few years ago, Balamurali mentioned that he was awed by the magnificent Gothic edifice.
“I was mesmerised by its sheer beauty and ambience. The blue water of the bay was visible from the stage in the evening when I reached the venue and the wafting cool breeze kept me going,” he had said.
Other stalwarts such as M.S. Subbulakshmi and Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu had also performed at the Town Hall.
It was in this hall that eminent personalities such as Rajagopalachari, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, C.V. Raman and Rabindranath Tagore had delivered lectures.
But today, the Town Hall is crying for attention. Though INTACH has notified it as a heritage structure, it is crumbling with each passing day.
The hall was in a bad shape even before super cyclone Hudhud hit the city in October 2014.
“But the officials concerned have turned a blind eye and have not bothered to take up the repairs and restoration of the structure,” said Edward Paul of INTACH.
A senior GVMC official said it would cost about Rs. 2 crore to bring it back to its shape. The fund could be mobilised but there was no initiative, he pointed out.
Shabnam Patel of INTACH said it was the only surviving building in the district with a massive wooden floor made of Burma Teak and this building should be restored and preserved. It would be apt if all the pictures of the concerts and meetings were put up inside the hall, she added.
According to a few environmental activists, it is a ploy to let the building crumble on its own, to help corporates engaged in shipping business take over the site.
The ground floor was earlier given on lease to the Vizagapatam Club, and the members of the club had come forward to renovate the building on the condition that its maintenance be given to them.
“But the GVMC has turned down our proposal,” said a senior member of the committee. The club has now moved to a neighbouring building, as the GVMC has sealed the premises and declared it as a dangerous structure.
The foundation stone was laid on April 3, 1901, and it was inaugurated on March 8, 1904, by the then District Collector of Vizagapatam, R. H. Campbell.
It was built by Rajah of Bobbili, Venkata Svetachalapathi Ranga Rao, and was named as Victoria Diamond Jubilee Town Hall.