Mumbai’s iconic boulevard Marine Drive, also popularly called the Queen’s Necklace, on Friday completed 100 years, and residents of the city’s western waterfront flagged off the centenary celebrations with a postcard showcasing the crescent-shaped bay off the Arabian Sea.
A part of city’s collective consciousness associated with the name Bombay, Marine Drive was part of the great revival as the metropolis transitioned from its 19th century fort ramparts to a modern city in the 1860s during the tenure of British Governor Sir Bartle Frere. In the rebuilding process, the city was blessed with two great architectural styles — the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco.
Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who put together what is called the Mumbai Dossier to pitch for its nomination in the Unesco World Heritage Site list, says: “Mumbai’s Art Deco buildings, which include all buildings in Marine Drive waterfront, is the second largest cluster of Art Deco buildings after Miami in the world.”
While Victorian Gothic style buildings include Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus(1888), the Brinhamumbai Municipal Corporation (1872) Mumbai University (1874), Central Telegraph Office (1874), the Bombay High Court (1878) on the eastern side of the Oval Maidan, the Art Deco buildings flank it on the western side extending up to the Girgaum Chowpatty beach on reclaimed land.
“Art Deco style evolved in the 1930s as concrete came into vogue and RCC constructions came in. Unlike brick and mortar, concrete brought a certain fluidity to the architectural form and it was easier to design sweeping curves.
“Around that time, the concept of elevators also came in, and cities such as New York have tall buildings in Art Deco like the Chrysler building. Miami and Mumbai have Art Deco in smaller residential buildings,” says Lambah.
She points out that the 1930s also saw the emergence of Jazz music, spread of cinema and the arrival of cruise liners.
“Mumbai being a gateway to India, the ideas from the western world arrived here. So, you have iconic single screen cinema halls like Eros, Metro and Regal cinema in Art Deco. A lot of nautical themes are seen in Marine Drive buildings like portholes, palms,” says Lambah, who submitted the Mumbai Dossier with a recommendation by none else than Amitabh Bachchan to the Centre two years ago, but proposals for the inclusion of Delhi, and then Nalanda, were sent to Unesco ahead of Mumbai.
Though Marine Drive’s Art Deco buildings were built after the 1930s, the Backbay Reclamation had begun in 1915. “The Marine Drive was then called the Kennedy Road, and there is an inscription near Girgaum Chowpatty which says ‘Kennedy Sea-Face commenced 18th December, 1915. Completed 1920’. The work on the rest of the seafront till NCPA continued in the 1930s. The Art Deco buildings came up later between 1930 and 1940 as the stretch extended across five miles,” says Ramnarayan Somani, a part of industrialist G.D. Somani’s family and president of the Marine Drive Residents’ Association, which plans to celebrate the centenary with a series of programmes highlighting the unique heritage.