This is an instance of a building being far better known than its occupants. For, Airlines Hotel marks merely the third, and least known, phase of a structure that was famous in the hospitality business for several decades. A historic site, for this is where Spencer’s began life in 1863 as Durrant’s, it was acquired by the Italian confectioner D’Angeli, caterer of choice for successive Governors of Madras, when Spencer’s moved in the late 1890s.
D’Angeli’s eponymous hotel opened for business here in 1908. Its outer appearance then was modelled on Watson’s of Bombay – wrought iron railings on the ground and first floor, and a courtyard within that boasted of a Parisian garden, with rooms around it. Cuisine was chiefly Italian and French. It changed hands in 1927, being acquired by yet another Italian confectioner – Attillio Bosotto, who also ran the Palace Hotel, Ootacamund. Under his control, Hotel Bosotto as it became known, acquired its art deco frontage, the railings making way for fashionable concrete.
In 1950, Attillio and his wife Emily, who was English, opted to settle in England. The confectionery business was sold to Muslappa Chowdhry of Champion Dairy, Wallajah Road, for Rs 15,000. He had been the principal supplier of dairy produce to the hotel. Chowdhry and his sons continued the business under the name of Bosotto’s and it is now with the third generation in the family. The property, with the hotel, however, appears to have been sold to others. The new purchaser, it appears, changed the name to Airlines Hotel.
Who ran it is not clear, but by the mid-1960s, the company, Airlines Hotel & Caterers (Madras) Pvt. Ltd., along with the building it owned, had been purchased by Ramnath Goenka’s Express Group of newspapers. Thanks to the intricate cross-holdings of the Group, Airlines Hotel at one stage was even part- shareholder and owner of The Indian Express! In 1980, the property, by then known as Bosotto Building, its days as a hotel long gone, except for Bosotto’s which continued as a restaurant in rented space, was sold for Rs 36 lakh to M.G. Gnanasoundari, a lawyer of the High Court of Madras. The property, it was felt, would be ideal for her husband M.J. Durairaj’s steel scrap business, an indication of how much fashionable Mount Road has changed in the course of a century!
The couple converted the building into a shopping complex, named after the husband. He had briefly shot to fame in 1967 when he had bid for and then, unsuccessfully, tried to salvage the steel in the wreckage of the ship Stamatis, grounded on the beach following a cyclone.
The M.J. Durairaj Nadar Shopping Complex (best know occupant – Bata) became mired in legal disputes. A fire in 1986 destroyed much of the interior, though the structure still remains strong. Rapidly going to seed, it was acquired by a construction company, which filed eviction notices on the tenants in 2007 or so, following permission granted for demolition by the Corporation on the grounds that the structure was weak. This was challenged but the Courts have since upheld the eviction. The Metrorail in its inspection has also certified that the building cannot withstand underground work as and when it happens in the neighbourhood. What is holding up demolition is the listing of this structure as a heritage precinct in the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee report. Can the old glamour of D’Angelis be revived?
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