Victoria Town Hall, Vizagapatnam, a heritage colonial building slowly crumbling

town hall vizag
The old town of the port city of Vizagapatnam was, during the early colonial period, a busy part as the British ran the administration from here.  Once Queen Mary's school here housed the headquarters of the northern division of the Madras Army. Because of the presence of a large British community, mostly soldiers, this part of the town was self-contained with schools, churches and, in particular Town Hall where there used to be social gatherings, a chance for the ladies to gossip and for the men to discuss their official work and hobbies. So, on the week end for the lonely British community Town hall became the best hang out for relaxation and entertainment 
town hall vizag
it was in 1893 the grand Town Hall of Visakhapatnam was built  at a  cost of Rs 50,000. 00. Thanks to the munificence of  then Rajah of Bobbili,  Venkata Svetachalapathi Ranga Rao,who had a good rapport with the British.  He built it to  commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria; hence to day it is still called  the Victoria Memorial Town Hall.  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.

The Town hall  is on a hill and from here one can have a nice view of the entire Vizag harbour.  The place is called  Old Jalaripeta  and the old fishermen's cove that was for a short while shifted to Gangavaram in the late 19th century. Fishermen used to live in this area. 

A two story structure, the ground floor has a Madras terrace roof supported by  steel beams imported  from Scotland. The building has a pair of conical towers which were, it, is believed, used as watch towers. The first floor has a tiled roof, using Mangalore tiles supported by thick Burmah teak wood.
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In this part of Andhra, Mangalore tiles were not used for the roof.  It is said this town hall is the largest one  entirely made with Mangalore tiled roof and the massive  wooden rafters and heavy beams give extra strength to the weight. The visitors will be struck by the sheer massive size and the fascinating European style of design.  Several decades back many music concerts and meetings were held here. The unique  auditorium - Town hall  provided a nice ambiance for the performers  as well as  the audience. Extra advantage was its proximity to the sea. The sea breeze coming from the other side of hall would keep the  audience comfortable. There is no question of one getting fatigued due to sweltering when you are inside the Town hall auditorium. 

To-day, this old structure needs to be repaired and preserved for the posterity. The condition of the building warrants  serious attention.  INTACH has notified it as a heritage structure, but with the passing of each day, the  colonial building is slowly crumbling. 

In 2014, super cyclone Hudhud did not leave this structure unaffected. This is the only old building in this area with massive Burmah teak wood flooring, according to one  INTACH official. The total carpet area is 5000 sq. feet.  If no concrete action is forthcoming soon, we may lose sight of this wonderful colonial heritage site. It is said it might cost Rs. 2 crores to fix it. Officials are oblivious to the value of such monuments that need to be restored back to old beauty and passed on to the next generation. An old timer was mumbling about the poor state of  monuments in Tamil Nadu. "The officials and others are receiving money in lakhs and crores under the table from companies and contractors. If a small percentage of the hush money is allotted for monuments, it  will save many old dying structures.  What he then said is true in the case of Victoria Town Hall.

 This hall was once graced by great people like Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Sir C. V. Ram,an, Rajaji. great classical carnatic musicians like M.S. Amma , Sri Balamurali Krishna and others. In 1929 Gandhiji gave a speech here demanding the British to leave India for good. In 1931, the Salt Sathyagraha - protest against salt tax imposed by the British, was kicked off right from here. Great freedom fighters like  Digumarti Janaki Bai, Digumarthi Venkata Swamy, Tenneti Viswantham, et al participated in this protest. That this town Hall is steeped in history is a fact that one can not deny. Then why no action is taken on this building to save it from falling apart?  Is there any justification on the part of the state government or the Corporation of Vizag to  let this heritage building crumble and become a mound of trash?  Let us hope this unique structure will not become a thing of the past!!