Think ‘Oceanic’ and it conjures up memories of the 1950s – an empty San Thomé High Road, a pristine Adyar creek teeming with bird life, an art-deco hotel standing at the edge – a world-class facility where visiting international cricket teams were hosted. Today, all that remains is an empty plot of land, fronted by a crumbling welcome arch over which can still be seen some of the letters that once spelt the hotel’s name.
The property itself, originally five to six acres, goes back to probably the 19th Century. Certainly, when lawyer K.R. Shenai bought it in 1917, it had already had an old garden bungalow in its Southwest corner. The evacuation of Madras in 1942 led Shenai to sell his landholdings, and the part fronting San Thomé High Road was purchased by M.S. Ramaswami Chettiar of Mahalakshmi Films.
Chettiar built two hotels on the premises – the ‘Oceanic’ and the ‘Ratnagar’. Completed in 1954 or thereabouts, the Oceanic in particular was known to be one of the best hotels in India, “equipped with linen, crockery, cutlery, refrigerators, air-conditioners, cooking ranges, electric fans, ice-cream machines, ice-making machinery, light fittings and other moveable and also with tools, implements, lawn mowers, equipments, kitchen and other utensils” to quote from a record in the 1960s. In addition it had a shopping gallery where some of Madras’ best known retailers set up outlets. By 1959, the Oceanic started attracting high class tourists – being only one of three hotels in the city to offer air-conditioned rooms must have helped. “Luxurious Oceanic, a most popular hotel of Madras, situated on the sea shore, all single and double rooms air-conditioned,” ran an ad in 1958.
Chettiar died in 1964, but five years prior to that, for reasons best known to him, he leased out both the hotels to R. Kapanipathi Rao, who at that time was running Noel’s, a well-known restaurant on Mount Road. The lease was renewed in 1965 by Chettiar’s son Meyyappan and continued to run till 1970. But by then, the Oceanic was no longer what it was. The fact that lessor and lessee were fighting each other in the Court did not help. In 1973, Kapanipathi Rao, following a High Court judgement, was asked to hand over the property to Meyyappan.
The hotel could have survived had an urban land ceiling case not been filed against the owners during which period it finally shut down. The trial went on till 1993 when judgement went in favour of the owners. There was then talk of the Taj Group of hotels taking over the hotel and reviving it, keeping the art deco main block intact. But that was not to be. The owners demolished the structure early this century and there was talk of an IT Park coming up there. The site remains vacant as on date.
Other lost or vanishing or old landmarks of Chennai –