Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata's Called Home

Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata’s Called Home

Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata’s Called Home

The Esplanade House is tucked behind the Bombay Gymkhana ignored by the daily commuters; once upon a time India’s famous House of Tatas called this place home

Today the old mansion is hidden behind foliage and dwarfed by other similar buildings around it. However back in the day, it was all you could have seen as you took a walk across Bombay’s esplanade.

The lush green esplanade with a sense of calm that follows after a long day in the factory would have been soothing. The Arabian Sea, a cradle for the tired sun, a copious water mass stretched out ready to put the sun to bed was indeed an inviting view.

Jamshedji Tata was of a similar opinion. He had come a long way from the grimy factory life. He owned his own empire which he had built from his father’s merchant business.

Jamshedji shared a dream with his father Nusserwanji- what if they constructed a home here for their family and enjoyed the view not just while taking a walk across the esplanade but living right opposite to this grand view itself. It was also conveniently located a short distance from the Tata headquarters.

Jamshedji Tata picked out the only residential plot of land that was available within the new ‘Fort area’ after they had taken the Fort Walls down in the 1860s. This residential plot comprised of three plots and came with a pricy tag of Rs.25 to Rs.30 per square feet.

Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata's Called Home

So the agreement was made. A lease for 999 years was signed and the plot was taken over by the Tatas.

Nusserwanji wanted to make this home as out-of-this-world as possible. He wanted it to be singled out for its uniqueness, a stark contrast to the mundane homes in Bombay. I believe the early Tatas had a taste for rich luxuries something can be seen in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in this city too.

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Enjoying ‘Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata’s Called Home’

Here’s how Jamshedji Tata built the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel much before the Gateway of India was constructed

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To fulfil his father’s wishes Jamshedji appointed the European architects James Morris and David Gostling from Messers Gostling and Morris.

The work began in 1885 and within two years the Tatas settled in, calling the Esplanade mansion home. The Tata Archives website has some really rare pictures of this exuberant home. These pictures don’t speak of home but something from the movies or like the Sun King’s Palace of Versailles in France.

As I walk up the marble stairs a thought sinks in- the steps that I take are the same ones Jamshedji Tata graced after a long day at work every single day or maybe sometimes he rode the lift, something unique inside a residence at the time.

However what he might have seen and what I do, seems to be worlds apart.

The house that seems so quiet and cold housing the offices of the Dr Sethna Trust and Mazars Accounting firm today was once so grand you could ogle at it and drool a bit.

Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata's Called Home

There was a Billiard Room, a Banquet Hall, a Dining Room that could accommodate 20 guests for dinner, and as Jamshedji Tata adored his books- a well stocked library with a vast selection of books.

This wasn’t all, the house also had private quarters and drawing rooms. One of these drawing rooms has been restored to half its splendour and still manages to drop your jaw to the floor. The family called it Louis XV’s drawing room since it bears a resemblance with the one back in France. This drawing room today forms the office of the Dr Sethna Scholarship Trust.

The main building area was bejewelled in chandeliers and balconies made to look like Spanish patios. The house had a glass roof too! (Yes a glass roof!!) It was one of a kind in Bombay, an idea picked up straight from the grand houses of Europe.

Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata's Called Home
Louis XV’s Drawing Room

And this was just the main building. It wasn’t a simple task to take care of, was it? The Tatas of course had an army of staff looking after it. The system was all very European too. The staff quarters stood at the back of the house connected by wrought iron stairs. The tiny rooms give you an idea of the sharp contrast of life on the other side. Don’t get me wrong, the Tatas weren’t known to be rude to their staff unlike their counterparts across the other continent. They even paid a decent wage.

Below the staff quarters would have been the horse stables. The horse stables were well looked after along with the carriages. The entrance of the Esplanade House, the tall grand archway was specially designed to let the carriage through right up to the front door. The shade on top shielded the guest or a family member from the rain or harsh sun.

Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata's Called Home

So you must have wondered, how much did it cost? In 1880s, it would have costed Rs.6 lakhs, a sum that would easily mean double digit crores of rupees today. (calculating an exact sum is tricky since India was a British colony back then and the Indian rupee was reformed post independence).

Unfortunately Nusserwanji Tata never lived to see this house built. Jamshedji Tata lived here with Ratan and Navajbai Tata. After Jamshedji’s death, the Esplanade Mansion welcomed Dorabji and Meherbai Tata who moved here from their residence in Malabar Hill, I bet this house offered much better sights!

Unfortunately after Dorabji Tata’s death in 1932, none of the other Tata cousins decided to move in here. The philanthropist RD Sethna bought the house two years later and after him, it passed on to the hands of the RD Sethna Charitable Trust and is still owned by them today.

The once lavish balconies done up to represent Spanish patios, grand chandeliers and the glass roof feel into the wicked hands of time. The once opulent home of the Tatas fell into derelict and it may never to restored to its former glory. However in 2004 Vikas Dilawari rode in as a Knight in Shining Armour and saved the house from decay.

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Enjoying ‘Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata’s Called Home’

Maybe you’d also like to peak inside the BMC headquarters opposite VT Station

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Architect Vikas Dilawari had landed himself a one of a kind job. And I must say, he did a good job.

In 2004 the property was a mess. The structure had become weak with age, the plumbing was off, the interiors were falling apart.

How did he go about sorting this mess?

The good old materials were hard to replace, Mr. Dilawari said in an interview. The original zinc awnings had to be replaced with cheaper aluminium sheets.

He points out that finding materials is one thing but working on them with the skill and style used 130 years ago is something else entirely. He says it was a proud moment for him to know that India still houses some artisans proficient in these traditional skills.

After a major structural, infrastructural revamp the Esplanade mansion stood tall once again.

Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata's Called Home

The gates looked shiny as they boasted the picture of a hand holding up a bar of iron, the Tata Crest with the Avestan words Humata, Hukhta, Havarshta meaning ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.’

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Enjoying ‘Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata’s Called Home’

Maybe you’d also like to read about another rich man who built a clock tower and named it after his mother-

Rajabai Tower

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The loyal Sir Bernard, the Tata family’s adored dog still maintains vigil along with his keg perched on top of the guard’s cabin. I am sure he is happy to see his home brought to life again.

Looking at all this, peeling away the layers of money and materialism, I think about the small tokens a family left behind. A place where they might have shared some memorable days together, laughed at a joke or two, played games with their adored pet and possibly talked business. Secrets of a family I am sure they all took to their graves forgotten for the rest of the world.

 

If you loved ‘Esplanade House: A Mansion that Tata’s Called Home’ share this article with your friends too. Share this part of Bombay that we’ve forgotten. This city was much different place to live back in 1880s, wasn’t it? A better one I’m sure.

Post Author: GiGlee Magazine

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