This article appeared today in The Hindu, but I am unable to locate a link.
The LIC Building on Anna Salai remains a landmark despite several new high-rises coming up. To heritage enthusiasts however, the colonial bungalow just behind is of greater interest. In its time it lorded over a mammoth 100 grounds on Mount Road, including the land occupied by the LIC Building.
Owned by the tailoring firm of Garratt, in 1883 it was offered for sale at Rs 18000 (all 100 grounds!). The Lodge of Perfect Unanimity, founded in 1786 and today the oldest Freemason’s lodge in the city, bought it. The Lodge built a first floor room for its meetings. Electric lights were used for an installation ceremony as early as in1890 and by June 1st, 1891, piped water from Red Hills was available.
Financial difficulties forced the Lodge to sell 45 grounds for Rs 18,000 in 1888, an indication of how land prices had shot up in five years. This probably included the frontage along Mount Road on which came up the buildings of the Madras Publishing House. In 1905, the District Grand Lodge, the local apex body for Freemasonry acquired the bungalow and the remaining 55 grounds from the Lodge for Rs 80,000.
In 1916, the Freemasons moved to Egmore and the Gujarati magnate Kushaldoss Chaturbhujadoss purchased the Mount Road premises for Rs 97,000. He rented the bungalow to two tenants who still occupy the place. The first was Pioneer Laundry, founded in 1918 by C Radhakrishna Chetty. In its time it laundered (and later tailored) the suits and gowns of the who’s who of Madras. Now a chain across the city, it is run by the third generation in the family. The other occupant, also into the third generation, is Murray & Co, premier auctioneers of the city. Founded in 1927 by the brothers Vedantam and Rajam, it moved here in 1929.
Then in 1951 came M Ct M Chidambaram Chettyar. He wanted to build a headquarters modelled on the UN Building in New York, for his empire comprising United India Insurance, the Indian Overseas Bank, Travancore Rayons and much else. United India Insurance acquired the Madras Publishing House land and part of the Kushaldoss property, including the old bungalow. The new building, coming up were the publishing house stood, was designed by Brown and Moulin of the UK and constructed by the Murugappa Group’s Coromandel Engineering. On 13th March 1954, M Ct was killed in an air-crash in Singapore, aged 46. In 1956, insurance was nationalised and the property became LIC’s. M Ct’s dream building came to fruition in 1959.
The surrounding space has shade-providing age-old trees. The bungalow is miraculously still standing. Though poorly maintained, its interiors possess high ceilings, extensive wooden panelling and stained glass, all of much value to the heritage-conscious. The ad legend David Ogilvy who visited in the 1980s when the agency O&M (then OBM) was a tenant here, felt the place was a cross between a church and a barn! It reflects Mount Road of another era.