Today it is a nondescript structure that houses the showroom of V.G. Panneerdas & Co, the company that retails white goods and introduced hire purchase. But in its time, Victory House, Mount Road, was a landmark address. Interestingly, the building’s beginnings go back to another merchandiser of consumer products. In the 1890s, Whiteaway, Laidlaw’s, ‘Furnishers and General Drapers’, were as much into textile retailing and tailoring as they were into selling a whole range of household requirements. The firm had branches throughout British India as well as in the capitals of many of the other British colonies in the East. As to who designed the structure is not clear, but it did bear features of the work of William Pogson who specialised in buildings for retail establishments in the city. High Court documents of the 1980s state that the building was more than 100 years old at that time, thereby giving an idea about its date of construction.
Founded by Thomas Whiteaway and (later Sir) Robert Laidlaw, the firm’s best years were till the Great War. It was also known as ‘Right away and paid for’ because of its no credit policy. By the 1940s, with independence in the air, the firm was closing its Indian operations though it continued in the Far East till the 1960s. The Madras premises were sold to the Swadesamitran – the leading Tamil daily of the time. The paper was begun in 1882 as a weekly by G. Subramania Iyer, who had six years earlier co-founded The Hindu. After leaving The Hindu he was to focus on the Swadesamitran, making it a daily in 1899. After him, A. Rangaswami Iyengar of The Hindu was to also serve as editor of the Swadesamitran. It was during his time that Subramania Bharati joined the paper for a second and short tenure, ending with his death in 1921. In 1928, C.R. Srinivasan took over as editor and proprietor of the paper and it was under him that the paper scaled great heights in circulation.
Srinivasan purchased the Whiteaway and Laidlaw property after World War II and named it Victory House. Some great names in Tamil writing were to work in the building for the paper. Following Srinivasan’s death in 1962 and the change in the tastes of the reading public, the paper declined. In 1977, the paper was sold to the Silver Jubilee of Independence Trust controlled by the Congress Party. It lingered on till 1985 when it stopped publication. It then changed hands as a paper and there were sporadic attempts to revive it. During the 1980s, a fire broke out in the building, destroying much of the newspaper archive and nearly all the photo negatives – a 100-year history was lost in one evening.
Victory House was rented out to various commercial establishments from the 1970s. The ground floor, all 7000 sq ft of it, was occupied by VGP who moved in in 1971. In the early 1980s, the then owners decided that the building needed to be demolished and rebuilt, the existing structure showing signs of weakness. All tenants barring VGP vacated and litigation followed which ended in 1987 with the High Court of Madras ordering the tenant to vacate. What followed next was VGP purchasing the entire property and constructing a modern showroom-cum-office space in place of old Victory House.
You may want to read about other lost/vanishing/surviving landmarks