Watson's Hotel

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Watson's Hotel
Watson's hotel, now known as Esplanade Mansions at Kala Ghoda
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Location within Mumbai
General information
Town or city Mumbai
Country India
Coordinates 18°55′42″N72°49′52″E / 18.9283°N 72.8311°E / 18.9283; 72.8311
Construction started1867
ClientJohn Watson
Technical details
Structural system Cast iron
Design and construction
Architect Rowland Mason Ordish
EngineerRowland Mason Ordish

Watson's Hotel (actually Watson's Esplanade Hotel), now known as the Esplanade Mansion, is India's oldest surviving cast iron building. [1] It is located in the Kala Ghoda area of Mumbai (Bombay). Named after its original owner, John Watson, the building was fabricated in England and constructed on site between 1860 and 1863.

Cast iron iron or a ferrous alloy which has been liquefied then poured into a mould to solidify

Cast iron is a group of iron-carbon alloys with a carbon content greater than 2%. Its usefulness derives from its relatively low melting temperature. The alloy constituents affect its colour when fractured: white cast iron has carbide impurities which allow cracks to pass straight through, grey cast iron has graphite flakes which deflect a passing crack and initiate countless new cracks as the material breaks, and ductile cast iron has spherical graphite "nodules" which stop the crack from further progressing.

Kala Ghoda Posh Commercial Shopping Area in Maharashtra, India

Kala Ghoda is a crescent-shaped art district in Downtown Mumbai.It has a large number of the city's heritage buildings, and is full of museums, art galleries and educational institutions.like the Jehangir Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya and The Arts Trust. Each year, the area hosts the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. The area is sandwiched between Mumbai Port's docklands to the east, Regal Cinema to the south, Fountain to the north and Oval Maidan to the west. The Bombay Stock Exchange is to its north east.

Mumbai Megacity in Maharashtra, India

Mumbai is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. As of 2011 it is the most populous city in India with an estimated city proper population of 12.4 million. The larger Mumbai Metropolitan Region is the second most populous metropolitan area in India, with a population of 21.3 million as of 2016. Mumbai lies on the Konkan coast on the west coast of India and has a deep natural harbour. In 2008, Mumbai was named an alpha world city. It is also the wealthiest city in India, and has the highest number of millionaires and billionaires among all cities in India. Mumbai is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Elephanta Caves, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, and the city's distinctive ensemble of Victorian and Art Deco buildings.


The hotel was leased on 26 August 1867 for the terms of 999 years at yearly rent of Rupees 92 and 12 annas to Abdul Haq. It was closed in the 1960s and was later subdivided and partitioned into smaller cubicles that were let out on rent as homes and offices. Neglect of the building has resulted in decay and, despite its listing as a Grade II–A heritage structure, the building is now in a dilapidated state. A documentary film about the building was made in 2019 called The Watson's Hotel.


WATSON'S ESPLANADE HOTEL IN MUMBAI (BOMBAY), as originally planned, painting at Watson Institute, in Castle Carrock, UK WATSON'S-ESPLANADE-HOTEL.jpg
WATSON’S ESPLANADE HOTEL IN MUMBAI (BOMBAY), as originally planned, painting at Watson Institute, in Castle Carrock, UK

Watson's hotel was designed by the civil engineer Rowland Mason Ordish, who was also associated witah the St Pancras Station in London. The building was fabricated in England from cast iron components and was assembled and constructed on site. The external cast-iron frame closely resembles other high-profile 19th century buildings such as London's Crystal Palace. The main façade of the hotel is distinguished by building wide open balconies on each floor that connected the guest rooms, which were built around the atrium in a courtyard arrangement. [2]

Rowland Mason Ordish was an English engineer. He is most noted for his design of the Winter Garden, Dublin (1865), for his detailed work on the single-span roof of London's St Pancras railway station, undertaken with William Henry Barlow (1868) and the Albert Bridge, a crossing of the River Thames in London, completed in 1873.

The Crystal Palace Former building originally in Hyde Park, London, 1854 relocated to Bromley, South London

The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure originally built in Hyde Park, London, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. The exhibition took place from 1 May until 15 October 1851, and more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in its 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) exhibition space to display examples of technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Great Exhibition building was 1,851 feet (564 m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39 m). It was three times the size of St Paul's Cathedral.

Atrium (architecture) courtyard in a Roman domus

In architecture, an atrium is a large open air or skylight covered space surrounded by a building. Atria were a common feature in Ancient Roman dwellings, providing light and ventilation to the interior. Modern atria, as developed in the late 19th and 20th centuries, are often several stories high and having a glazed roof or large windows, and often located immediately beyond the main entrance doors.


Watson's Hotel (c. 19th century). Watson's Hotel, Bombay in the 19th century.jpg
Watson's Hotel (c. 19th century).

John Hudson Watson was born in 1818 in Castle Carrock, England to a farming family. He ran a successful drapery business in Bombay. His original plan for the building was to use it as additional office and showroom for his thriving drapery and tailoring businesses nearby. [3] started to begin to ship pre-fabricated cast iron components from England as early as October 1865. The hotel was built between 1867 and 1869. The original design, as displayed on the painting in the Watson Institute, included plans for traditional European mansard roof, however it was never built.

Mansard roof four-sided gambrel-style hip roof

A mansard or mansard roof is a four-sided gambrel-style hip roof characterized by two slopes on each of its sides with the lower slope, punctured by dormer windows, at a steeper angle than the upper. The steep roof with windows creates an additional floor of habitable space, and reduces the overall height of the roof for a given number of habitable stories. The upper slope of the roof may not be visible from street level when viewed from close proximity to the building.

John Watson opened the hotel as an exclusive Europeans-only hotel, and it was one of the most renowned hotels in the city in those days. Then it was handed over to Hannah Maria Watson, by then the Secretary of State for India, wherein she entered into a lease deed with Sardar Abdul Haq, Diler ul Mulk, Diler ul Daula, for a term of nine hundred and ninety nine years on 26 August 1867. Later on, another indenture was made on the date 22-12-1885, between the trustees of Port Trust of Bombay and Sardar Diler ul Mulk in which land on the Wellington Reclamation Estate in island of Bombay admeasurment of 8129 sq.yrds. was leased by the Sardar Abdul Haq for a term of fifty years from 01-01-1880. The five-storied structure housed 130 guest rooms, as well as a lobby, restaurant and a bar at the ground level. The hotel also had a 30 by 9 metres (98 ft × 30 ft) atrium, originally used as a ballroom, with a glass skylight. At its peak, Watson's hotel employed English waitresses in its restaurant and ballroom, inspiring a common joke at the time: "If only Watson had imported the English weather as well." [2] [4]

Ballroom large room for holding formal balls

A ballroom or ballhall is a large room inside a building, the primary purpose of which is holding large formal parties called balls. Traditionally, most balls were held in private residences; many mansions contain one or more ballrooms. In other large houses, a large room such as the main drawing room, long gallery, or hall may double as a ballroom, but a good ballroom should have the right type of flooring, such as hardwood flooring or stone flooring. In later times the term ballroom has been used to describe nightclubs where punters dance, the Top Rank Suites in the United Kingdom for example were also often referred to as ballrooms. The phrase "having a ball" has grown to encompass many events where person(s) are having fun, not just dancing.

By 1920, Watson’s ceased to be a hotel and had been renamed Mahendra Mansion. It 1944, it was renamed Esplanade Mansion. In 1960 it was converted into housing and offices accommodating.

After Watson's death, the hotel lost its popularity to the rival Taj Hotel. In the 1960s the hotel was closed. Sometime after this, it was subdivided and partitioned into small cubicles with independent access and let out on rent. Over the years, apathy toward the building by the residents has resulted the building decaying, and it is now in a dilapidated state. The atrium was subsequently used as a dumping ground and has several illegal constructions. As of 2005, building had 53 families and 97 commercial establishments. Most of the commercial establishments are chambers of lawyers attached to the adjacent Bombay Civil & Session Courts and the nearby Bombay High Court. [2] [4]

Lawyer legal professional who helps clients and represents them in a court of law

A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, counselor at law, solicitor, chartered legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.

Bombay High Court High Court of Judicature at Mumbai

Bombay High Court is one of the oldest High Courts of India. It is located in Bombay, Maharashtra. Its jurisdiction covers the states of Maharashtra and Goa, and the Union Territories of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The High Court has regional branches at Nagpur and Aurangabad in Maharashtra and Panaji, the capital of Goa.

Sadik Ali, current owner of Esplanade Mansion, came to be the proprietor in early 80s after the building's then owners, the Tatas, sold it to him. [5] He plans to redevelop the building in partnership with the tenants (it is virtually impossible for long term tenants to be removed in India).

Notable guests

Esplanade Mansion c 2011 with Rajabai Clock Tower in the background Esplanade Mansion (Formerly Watsons Hotel) with Rajabhai Clock Tower in the background, Mumbai.jpg
Esplanade Mansion c 2011 with Rajabai Clock Tower in the background

Among the hotel's notable guests was Mark Twain, who wrote about the city's crows he saw outside his balcony in Following the Equator . [6] It was also the first place in India to screen the Lumière Brothers' Cinematographe invention in 1896.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah used to play pool in the hotel, to make a little extra money for himself. [7]

A popular myth surround the hotel was that the staff at Watson's Hotel denied Indian industrialist Jamsetji Tata access to the hotel. In retaliation he built the Taj Hotel, a hotel that stands near the Gateway of India, in 1903. [2] [4] However many historians, notably author Sharada Dwivedi, dispute this legend on the basis of a lack of evidence to prove that "Tata was a man of vengeance". [8]

Current state

The building's poor structural condition has been commonly remarked, and efforts by heritage activists to persuade its present owner to invest in restoration have been unsuccessful. One of the possible reasons proffered for apathy is the fact that the rent collected is low, as it has been frozen by government legislation. [1] The current state of the building was publicized by Italian architect Renzo Piano, and as a result of his efforts, the building was listed in June 2005 on the list of "100 World Endangered Monuments" by the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based NGO. [9] Just a few days after its nomination, part of the building's western façade, originally balconies developed into small offices, collapsed, killing one person and crushing several cars and motorcycles parked in the street below. The building is listed as a Grade II–A heritage structure. [2] [4] On 13 June 2010, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) gave its approval for the 130-year-old structure to be restored. The restoration work will be carried out by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). [10]

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  1. 1 2 Choudhury, Chitrangada (2005-06-24). "Now listed as 'endangered', Watson's Hotel was once toast of Bombay". Indian Express . Express Group . Retrieved 2008-12-29.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "India's 'cast iron' bldg crumble". Mumbai Mirror . Times Group. 2005-07-02.
  3. Why Is This Painting Of Watson’s Esplanade Hotel, In Mumbai (Bombay), Hanging In The Watson Institute? Tom Speight, Chair of the Watson Institute, September 2013
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Watson! You are a forgotten soul". Times of India . Times Group. 2005-06-23. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  5. Rs. 450 crore heritage mansion up for redevelopment, Mid-Day.com, July 04, 2013
  6. Twain, Mark (1897). "The Indian Crow". Following the Equator — A journey around the world. American Publishing Co., Hartford. p. 355.
  7. http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/jaswant-in--jinnah-s-bombay--jinnah-house-belongs-to-daughter/525912/0
  8. Choksi, Mansi (2008-12-16). "Unbreakable: An Enduring Symbol Of Mumbai's Culture, Heritage And Global Status Turns 105 Today". Times of India . Times Group.
  9. Joshi, Monika (2005-06-21). "Mumbai's Watson's Hotel in endangered structures list". Rediff.com . Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  10. Jain, Bhavika (2010-06-13). "MHADA to restore Esplanade Mansion". Hindustan Times. Mumbai.