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The Town Hall: Past Reincarnated in Vizag

The Town hall, an iconic colonial-era monument in the port city that has fallen into decay over years, now retained its former glory. The foundation stone for this edifice laid on the 3rd of April, 1901, and built at a cost of Rs. 50,000 by the Rajah of Bobbili, Venkata Svetachalapathi Ranga Rao, in memory of Queen Victoria, and was named the Victoria Diamond Jubilee Town Hall. The Gothic structure has two tiled conical roofs and the entire support system is made of Burma teak wood with flooring with Mangalore tiles. It was inaugurated on March 8, 1904, by the then-District Collector of Vizagapatam, R.H. Campbell.

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The essence of the entire restoration process is to turn this into a cultural and heritage complex for showcasing the city’s history and host concerts and other events. Apart from GVMC for their strenuous endeavors, credit should also go towards the heritage lovers and conservationists for the die-hard appeals to the government for restoration of iconic buildings time and again.

Under the smart city project, the GVMC has identified two heritage buildings for conservation, the other being the old GVMC building which is adjacent to each other in the old town area. Speaking to Hello Vizag, Sravani Naraparaju, the project in-charge of Sravani Heritage said though it is challenging work, we tried every our level best to restore within the stipulated framework, without compromising on the authenticity and losing out on its originality.

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These two heritage buildings are a symbol of the city’s heritage and will be a vital source of tourism. Over the past couple of years, history enthusiasts have highlighted the historical relevance of these two structures in the special walks they conduct regularly. “We are very happy that the Townhall, which has a rich legacy, has been finally restored,” said history enthusiast Edward Paul.

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It is a major meeting point for freedom fighters and social activists, during the freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi visited it in 1929. The building has also hosted C Rajagopalachari, Rabindranath Tagore, Sir CV Raman, and Dr. S Radhakrishnan. Music legends such as MS Subbulakshmi, Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, and M Balamuralikrishna have performed here.

Kurma Rama Rao, septuagenarian and a retired railway employee, a resident of the town hall area said the building has a history of its own. From Durga Puja to musical concerts, Vizagities used to use this building for all purposes. Now finally return on investment, heritage value, or emotional appeal, have started to work in favor of the preservation of Vizag’s crumbling heritage.

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Conservation enthusiasts in Vizag said “the soul of the city dwells in its cultural and architectural heritage. If you rob them, the city will lose its soul.” So, INTAC has always in the vanguard to raise public consciousness about preserving not just heritage properties, but architecturally significant homes that lend character to Vizag. After all, conservation is not conservatism. If you can retrofit modern amenities, an old building can be a prized possession, some say. Civic officials need to be more open to adaptive reuse of old buildings and flexible enough to encourage it.

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