Madras 375 Chennai

Purasawalkam: From old town to shopping hub

Purasawalkam High Road developed into a shopping hub only after the 80s, when trading communities began set up businesses there. A scene from October 1994. Photo: The Hindu Archives   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Vellala Street off Purasawalkam High Road mirrors the metamorphosis that the once quaint neighbourhood has undergone over the past three decades.

Remnants of old houses on the street tell tales of the town that existed before Purasawalkam turned into Chennai’s commercial hub.

Eminent author R.K. Narayan was born here, and veteran politician K. Anbazhagan lived here.


Dates in History



The first school for Anglo-Indians, Doveton Corrie School on Ritherdon Road, was established


Adaikalanathar Lutheran Church, was built


Renowned author R.K Narayanan was born in House no.1 on Vellala Street


Roxy Theatre, one of the few cinema houses that screened foreign films up until the 50s, was built


The Perumalpet 24-hour hospital run by the Chennai Corporation on Kariappa Street was built in the early 1900s. A single-storeyed residential building was converted into the hospital

Long-time residents like G. Premanand of Subramania Street say Purasawalkam High Road developed into a shopping hub only after the 80s, when trading communities began to set up businesses there.

“There were only a handful of textile shops earlier. Over time, several old cinema theatres like Roxy, Mekala and Uma have given way to textile showrooms and shopping complexes,” he says.

With an amalgamation of politicians, musicians, potters and the Anglo-Indian community living there, Purasawalkam housed centuries-old temples like Gangadeeswarar temple and schools like E.L.M. Fabricius Higher Secondary School.

Seventy-five-year-old N. Paramasivam says, Tana Street, now a hub of jewellery business, was a desolate stretch with dense tree cover in the 60s.

“I would walk home alone, watching out for drunkards on the pitch-dark stretch. During floods in 1971, there was waist-deep water in the bylanes of Tana Street,” he says.

Apartment complexes have slowly replaced independent bungalows and tile-roof houses in the area. P. Satyanarayanan, resident of New Manickam Street, says: “I used to play on Tana Street with my Anglo-Indian friends in the 70s. A small ‘dhobi khana’ near Kosapet serves as a reminder of a waterbody in Purasawalkam.”

The locality, once thickly-populated with Anglo-Indians who worked in government offices, has only around 200 families now.

Kenneth Reinhardt of Letangs Road, says: “Our community lived near the churches and schools of Doveton. Many bakeries I used to frequent for baking of Christmas cakes have closed down now. This place was also home to hockey stalwarts like Jimmy Carr.”

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 1:13:47 PM |

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