If Calcutta was once called the city of palaces, it is more likely it owed its name to stately buildings like Esplanade Mansions. Despite being a residential block there is nothing mundane about the existence of this imposing building which looks as stately as the public buildings which stand in the neighbourhood. Located at the corner of Esplanade Row East and Old Court House Street overlooking the Raj Bhavan and the Maidan, it is certainly one of the cynosures of this city.
Esplanade Mansions were built in 1910 by contractors Martin & Co. This was one of the many illustrious properties in Calcutta which was owned by Elias Ezra, a well known Jewish business magnate. Ezra had amassed great wealth and respect in Calcutta. He was appointed Commissioner of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation in 1876 and was a member of the Road and Conservancy Committee. The Megan David Synagogue at Canning Street which is considered to be Kolkata’s finest synagogue was also established by Ezra. Montague Massey wrote “The extensive pile of buildings that confronts us at the outset was as we know, erected by Mr Ezra on the spot formally occupied by Scott Thompson’s shop and the two adjoining houses, the one nearest being the residence of the manager of the firm and the other for a considerable time by Morrison & Cottle, the saddlers. The mansions contain 24 flats.” In league with other massive colossal structures in the city including Chowringhee Mansions and Ezra Mansions it was built in an era when labour was considerably cheap. The ancient tank it overlooked has been long filled in, to make way for Curzon Park.
Esplanade Mansions are a rare example of Art Noveau architecture in Kolkata. Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art which had reached the peak of its popularity during 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art”. The style was influenced strongly by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, when Mucha produced a lithographed poster, which appeared on January 1, 1895, in the streets of Paris as an advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou, featuring Sarah Bernhardt. It popularised the new artistic style and its creator to the citizens of Paris. Initially named Style Mucha, his style soon became known as Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau architecture was most popular in Europe and the British colonies, but its influence was global. Esplanade Mansions are a brilliant piece of Art Noveau architecture and perhaps the only of its kind in the city of joy.
The intricate details in the design of this magnanimous edifice are praise worthy and a treat to the eyes. Its larger than life size inspires a sense of awe in the hearts of those who lay their eyes upon it. The corner tower and the cupola is a wonderful fusion of Art Noveau and Edwardian architecture. The beautiful circular balconies and the arched windows adorn the great bulk of the building across its expanse have been well executed. Such is the impact of this stupendous structure that to many denizens it appears as a monumental public building, rather than a plum residential address.
On the ground floor facing the Raj Bhavan, the Esplanade Mansions house the office of the Chief Public Relations Officer of the Eastern Railways. On the side which faces the Curzon Park, it houses the Railway Claims Tribunal where the Vice Chairman & Member Technical have their offices. LIC also has its offices and Rest Houses in this iconic building. The only bummer perhaps is the blooming pink paint that gives it the look of a giant wedding cake.
For the connoisseurs of art and architecture living in Kolkata, the century-old Esplanade Mansions are a must see.