Mumbai’s first luxury hotel , had an exclusive whites only client policy and belonged to John Watson, an entrepreneur who had come out from England to start a trading shop in Bombay, as the city was then known. The hotel was named after its owner , Watson’s Hotel.
Designed in England by Rowland Mason Odish, a civil engineer. The building was fabricated in England and constructed on site between 1860 and 1863. The five-storied structure housed 130 guest rooms, as well as a lobby, restaurant and a bar at the ground level. The hotel also had a 30 by 9 meters (98 ft × 30 ft) atrium originally used as a ballroom with a glass skylight.
At its peak, Watson’s hotel employed English waitresses in its restaurant and ballroom, inspiring a common joke at the time: “If only Watson had imported the English weather as well.”
Among the hotel’s notable guests was Mark Twain, who wrote about the city’s crows he saw outside his balcony and the Lumiere Brothers. The brothers screened their movie at this hotel in 1896 and that screening is an epic in Indian cinematography , as being the country’s first movie screening.
Rumour has it , that Jamshedji Tata opened the Taj Mahal Palace hotel near the Gateway of India, after being refused entry into this hotel.
After the death of John Watson, the hotel started losing its popularity to the more grand and new Taj Mahal Palace hotel. It was leased for the terms of 999 years at a yearly rent of Rupees ninety two and twelve annas to Abdul Haq. It closed in the 1960s .
Later the property was subdivided and partitioned into smaller cubicles that were let out on rent as homes and offices. Thus started the neglect of the building as under the Bombay rent control act, it isn’t worth it for the owners to maintain their buildings and the decay set in.
The condition of the building was publicized by Italian architect, Renzo Piano. As a result of his efforts, the building was listed in June 2005 on the “100 World Endangered Monuments” list by the World Monuments Fund. Currently it remains in a dilapidated state, where a large part of the building is not safe to occupy. The next time you are in the Kala Ghoda area of Mumbai, look out for this illustrious building.
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