Historic Residences of Chennai

Historic Residences  of  Chennai

By V. Sriram

 We  have  quite  a few books  on  the history  of   Madras  diligently brought out by chroniclers  who have made the city  their home but  the present one is perhaps the first  of its kind  where  the writer covers  a random sample of 50 heritage houses and  their interesting features  with illustrations (though not all  the residences  exist  in the form illustrated  in the book and again the residents of Chennai may not be familiar with all the  names  of these residences or their illustrious owners mentioned  by the author). It is heartening to find some roads and streets named after   a few of these   luminaries.

 The  book opens with “Ajmer” , situated in Kilpauk  which was built in 1931  for  Dewan Bahadur V Shanmuga Mudaliar’s daughter .Shanmuga Mudaliar  (1874-1953) was the dubash  of  The South Indian Export Company (SIEC) and  this position  entitled him  to  a share of the company’s earnings. The north Indian name of the house  is  attributed  to  the Dubash probably  having had to interact  with Muslim families  dealing with hides and skins , considering the nature of his job.  Ambujammal’s House, “Amjad Bagh “ in Alwarpet  is described as a veritable palace  with its garden spanning 150 grounds. Mahatma Gandhi came to stay in the family guest house in Madras and in1920,  after a  meeting with him she became a nationalist  and set up Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam, an institution for imparting education to destitute women. “Annai Illam “, on Sivaji Ganesan Road  was acquired by Sivaji’s father in 1959. This  beautifully maintained sprawling residence  though  has an Art Deco frontage, parts of it date back to early 20th.Century.   

“Bharati Illam” of Subramania Bharati  (1882-1921) in Triplicane passed through many hands and suffered many changes before the State Government acquired  it   and rebuilt the façade the way it looked when Bharati lived in it. Sri ram concludes   by writing: ….It  is also testimony to what the Government can do to preserve our heritage if it has the will to do so.

One of the garden houses which has remained largely unchanged but not in good shape   is “Brodie Castle” now called “Thenral ’’on Greenways  Road. Built between 1796 and 1798 by James Brodie, a  civil servant in East India Company, it was rented out to the Government  when he fell  on bad times.

‘Mithila” on Mowbray’s  Road, now TTK Road, is one of the  few  surviving stately homes  on this road  and it is the residence of Mr. and Mrs. T.RNagoji Rao, descendents of one of the oldest Maharastrian  families of Madras.  Built  in 1931, the house features high ceilings, deep verandahs and projecting eaves and gables.

Not far away  from here  is the  “ The Grove”  on Eldams Road , once part of  a much larger property called “The Baobab.” The property was purchased by Canjeevaram Venkata  Subbiah and his son-in law  C.R Pattabhirama Iyer and, the house was built  in 1885-1886 and named “The Grove” in view of the large number of trees in the grounds. A brilliant lawyer, Sir C.P Ramaswami Iyer  was the best known occupant of the house. Today, “The Grove” is part of the C P Ramaswami Iyer Foundation.

(On a personal  note I would like to add  the 13 acre property  on Eldams Road   was originally purchased  by  Rajatantra Pravina The Hon’ble Palle Chentsal Rao Pantulu, CIE. for rs. 26ooo/. It  extended  from Mowbrays Road  to the present HD Raja Nagar. He sold the land adjoining  Mowbrays Road  to Pattabhirama Iyer, civil court judge and father of Sir C.P.R.  Palle Cenntsal Rao was   appointed as Deputy Collector, in the Inams Commision  in july 1859  at the age of 27.  His  family was perhaps the earliest residents on Eldams Road  and his descendents continue to live here)  

Sriram should be congratulated  for  letting the reader have a peep into the  background of the  50   historical residences (of which a mention of a few have been made in this review), their occupants in the past  and the present state of  these  properties. Equal  credit should go to  the artist, young V.Vijaykumar for his  beautiful  pencil sketches of the residences.   This bilingual   volume is  published  by  Kalamkriya Limited, part of    Sanmar Group  which has been  actively supporting  City’s heritage  for years. 


n.meera raghavendra rao


7 thoughts on “Historic Residences of Chennai

  1. K. N.RAO

    Interesting. could have covered larger areas.for instance Dare house in pachaiappa’s college compound :once occupied by Robert Clive durng french occupation of Fort St.George.

  2. K.Srinivasa Rao.

    Thank you Shri Sriram for the excellent writeup on stately homes. On a personal note, i am the eldest grandson of Late Shri T Ramachandra Rao who built and owned ‘ MITHILA’ at 215/410 TTK Road, Alwarpet and i was born in this very home in October 1946. It had been a beautiful, well maintained home with a meticolously manicured garden allround the home where fruits and vegetables used to be grown. Mowbrays Road and Alwarpet were lovely areas and i always cherish very pleasant memories of ‘MITHILA’ and the Alwarpet area . Though i was born in ‘Mithila’, i am a Bangalorean right from my childhood since my Parents settled here but i visit ‘Mithila” atleast 3 to 4 times a year. Thank you once again.and i wish you all the very best to bring out such interesting articles.

    1. Preethi

      Sir, is the house still standing and occupied even now? As an architecture student in chennai i’m interested in researching on this house.

  3. Sivasankar Chander

    More information on the 13-acre Baobab compound at 27 Eldams Road: I am the great-great grandson of C.K.Narayana Iyer of Valavanur, who purchased the western portion of Baobab estate on Eldams Road (including the original British-built bungalow and ~4 acres of the compound) around the beginning of the 20th century (perhaps from Mr.Pantulu himself or his descendants). Narayana Iyer subsequently declared insolvency c.1930 and Baobab was brought to auction by the Official Trustee of Madras, and purchased by Sir Mohammed Usman at auction. Usman Court, an apartment block at 27 Eldams Road, is now situated on part of the Baobab estate that was purchased by Narayana Iyer and subsequently by Sir Usman.

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