A walk around Wellington Circle in South Mumbai

By Art Deco Mumbai

The prominent Wellington Circle (S P Mukherjee Chowk) in South Mumbai has four distinct architectural styles that define Mumbai's historic city centre, recalling the construction and design of late 19th century Bombay as India's 'first city'

View of Wellington Fountain, facing the East (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

The Circle was originally named after the iconic Wellington Memorial Fountain at its centre, built by public subscription in the 1860's. The earliest surviving structure at the Circle, the fountain was designed in the Neo-Classical style.

The fountain commemorated the military achievements of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, depicted in marble bas relief around the its base. Wellesley was instrumental in the defeat of the Peshwas and Tipu Sultan in the early 19th century, which resulted in the spread and consolidation of English control across mainland India.

Aerial view of Wellington Circle, MumbaiOriginal Source: Jehangir Sorabjee Archive

The fountain marks the site where the Duke camped in tents, during two visits to Bombay in 1801 and 1804. A heritage structure, the fountain was recently restored in 2018 and is in fine working condition.

Front View of Maharashtra Police Headquarter, Mumbai (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Early Gothic

The first monumental building constructed at Wellington Circle between 1872 - 76 was the Royal Alfred Sailor's Home, today's Maharashtra State Police Headquarters. 

View of Maharashtra Police Headquarter, Mumbai (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Built to house 78 seamen, the Sailors' Home was designed by Ar. Frederick William Stevens using local high quality stone in an early or 'domestic' Gothic style. Stevens is best remembered for his later Bombay Gothic masterpiece, Victoria Terminus. The Sailor's Home commemorated the visit of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, to the city in 1870.

Detail view of main gable of Maharashtra Police Headquarter, Mumbai (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

The building is crowned by a prominent triangular pediment, within which a sculptural relief by Richard Lockwood Boulton of Cheltenham, England, depicts Neptune, the Roman God of the Sea, surrounded by nymphs and seahorses. The griffins to the left and right, holding shields, were designed locally by John Lockwood Kipling and carved by his students from the J.J. School of Art, then the Bombay School of Art.

View of Maharashtra Police Headquarter from Regal Cinema (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Positioned near the coast, the building benefited from ventilation by the sea air. To further cool the interior, the structure was encased within a deep corridor. The Gothic Sailor's Home, with its varied, attractive roof line, is seen here from the later, Art Deco, Regal Cinema across the road.

Front view of Regal Cinema (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Designed and built by Charles Stevens, son of Frederick William Stevens, Regal Cinema opened to public viewing in 1933. It is amongst Mumbai's first Art Deco buildings and one of the few single screen cinemas that survive in the city today.

Regal Cinema was built for entrepreneurs Framji H. Sidhwa and K.A. Kooka in reinforced concrete using innovative construction technologies. It is an early representative of modernity in the city, rose in confident contrast to his father's Gothic adaptation in stone, built one generation earlier for a colonial government.

Regal Cinema, Mumbai (2019/2019) by Shubhika MalaraArt Deco Mumbai

Pictured here is a water coloured rendering on paper of Regal Cinema.

A planned, mixed-use structure with shops on the ground floor. Regal pioneered cinema construction in the city - it was the first air-conditioned theatre, and even offered its patrons the use of an underground parking lot! On its facade, in yet another first for the city, its name was lit up in neon. Note the geometric motifs and subtle vertical accents on the building's stepped facade, including the vertical signage, all distinctive features of Art Deco design in Bombay.

View of the lobby inside Regal Cinema, Mumbai (2019/2019) by Rahul PatelArt Deco Mumbai

Inside, the clean lines, marble flooring and liberal use of teak wood, all characteristic of Deco interiors of the period, can still be seen.

Front View of CSMVS, Mumbai (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

The Museum of Bombay

Wellington Circle is also home to the breathtaking Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), formerly the Prince of Wales Museum, completed in 1914 in the Indo-Saracenic style. Designed by George Wittet, consulting architect to the Government of Bombay from 1907, the Indo-Saracenic structure combined recognisable Hindu and Islamic features into a new architectural idiom. Notably, the building, completed during World War 1, was used as a military hospital for the duration of the War, opening to the public as a museum only in 1922. 

View of main dome of CSMVS, Mumbai (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

The museum's prominent central dome was inspired by the imposing dome over the Gol Gumbaz mausoleum in Bijapur, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Wittet considered the Gol Gumbaz, 'round dome', an architectural marvel; constructed in the mid-17th century, it remains one of the largest domed spaces in the world.

In contrast to the Islamic dome, notice the horizontal band of carved stone brackets underneath, which are distinctive of Hindu temple design.

View of CSMVS when approaching its entrance (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Indo-Saracenic, an amalgamation of Islamic and Hindu architecture, rivaled the earlier Gothic style in scale, form and sculptural exuberance. The style was particularly suited to public buildings, like museums, where its inherent messages would be read by large numbers of visitors.

Inside CSMVS, MumbaiOriginal Source: Noshir Gobhai Archives

Standing in the stunning central well of the CSMVS, move your eye upward from the black-and-white marble inlaid flooring, designed after Mughal palace floors. Note the carved marble pillars inspired by Jain temple architecture, and the intricate wooden balcony on the first floor which was part of an 18th century Maratha wada (house) near Nashik before it was relocated to the Museum.

Buildings in Fort precinct, MumbaiOriginal Source: Jehangir Sorabjee Archive

Wittet also designed the sprawling Institute of Science, built concurrently across the road along Wellington Circle, visible in the left bottom corner of this image with its prominent white corner dome. For the Institute, however, the architect argued for a western Renaissance Revival style, as a visual extension of his belief in Science as a 'western' field of knowledge imported to India.

Majestic Hotel (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Completing our virtual walk around the Wellington Circle is the Majestic Hotel. The ornate stone building was designed by Ar. W.A. Chambers in 1909 as a luxurious hotel that boasted of the city's very first elevator. Typically for Mumbai, it is now a multi-use structure, housing a hostel for members of the State Legislative Assembly, a supermarket and restaurant.

Aerial view of Wellington Circle, MumbaiOriginal Source: Jehangir Sorabjee Archive

On June 30, 2018, the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The inscription will serve to protect, enhance and showcase a spectacular massing of 92 historic buildings in 4 significant architectural styles - Victorian Gothic, Indo-Saracenic, Neo-Classical and Art Deco - within a vibrant and living historic city centre, of which Wellington Circle (SP Mukherjee Chowk) is an integral part. Indeed, it is the only site in Mumbai where the 4 architectural styles that visually expressed into 'India's First City' in the late 19th - early 20th centuries, may be seen together, in conversation with each other.

Film on Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai, UNESCO World Heritage Site (2019/2019) by Federation of Residents Trust (FORT)Art Deco Mumbai

To know more visit the exhibit on the World Heritage Site.

Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

A comprehensive map showcasing each building within Mumbai's World Heritage precinct. The distinct architectural styles are depicted in different colours.

Credits: Story

Art Deco Mumbai showcases Mumbai’s Art Deco, advocates its conservation, chronicles its history, documents neighbourhoods and has created the only online repository dedicated to Mumbai’s Deco buildings. Photo Credits for aerial photograph of Wellington Circle & National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) to Jehangir Sorabjee. All the remaining images are from Art Deco Mumbai’s archive.

To know more visit UNESCO World Heritage Site

Explore the Art Deco Mumbai Gallery

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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