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Calcutta Walks – The First Shopping Mall

Calcutta Walks – The First Shopping Mall

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Explore the intriguing history of Calcutta’s first shopping mall, the Whiteway Laidlaw Building, in this captivating article. Delve into the origins of this iconic structure dating back to 1905, and journey through the rise of Whiteway Laidlaw and Company, its lavish offerings, and its profound cultural impact.

In the earlier episodes of Calcutta Walks, I delved into the past of places like AJC Bose Road, Strand Road, and the renowned Oberoi Grand, unraveling their historical significance. Today, I have the pleasure of presenting another captivating tale from the annals of the City of Joy’s history. Join me as we embark on a journey through the origins of Calcutta’s very first shopping mall. However, this isn’t about South City, City Centre, or any contemporary malls. This tale harkens back to the distant year 1905 when the first shopping mall was inaugurated.

The roots of this captivating tale extend back to 1877, when a young British entrepreneur, Robert Laidlaw, arrived in Kolkata with a vision to establish a thriving clothing business in India. He crossed paths with another British businessman, Edward Whiteway, and their collaboration led to the birth of Whiteway Laidlaw and Company in 1881. Their enterprise swiftly gained momentum, expanding its presence across India and neighboring nations. Cities such as Bombay, Madras, Lahore, Kuala Lumpur, and Shanghai saw the influence of Whiteway Laidlaw’s offerings.

As the business prospered, the need for a grand and expansive structure arose. To realize this vision, the renowned construction firm Macintosh Burn was enlisted. Thus, the Whiteway Laidlaw Building came into existence, standing as a palace-like testament to commerce and culture in the heart of Calcutta. While Hall and Anderson had already established a foothold as a departmental store in the city, it was the sheer scale and offerings of the Whiteway Laidlaw Building that made it an instant sensation upon its inauguration in 1905.

The building housed an array of delights, from imported Japanese dresses to velvet clothing and even exquisite umbrellas. It quickly became a hub of style, sophistication, and indulgence for the British elite and well-to-do Bengalis alike. Among the many historical anecdotes linked to the Whiteway Laidlaw Building, one stands out: it was here that the first jersey of the East Bengal Football Club was acquired. This red and yellow jersey, so deeply ingrained in the club’s identity, was purchased by none other than Sarada Ranjan Roy, the club’s first president, and Aurobindo Ghosh, a prominent figure in the Indian independence movement. The jersey’s price, a staggering Rs. 80 at the time, resonates even today as a testament to the lengths these visionaries went to uphold tradition.

Following India’s independence, the building came under the ownership of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, resulting in its name change. However, tragedy struck in 1991 when a fire engulfed the structure, causing significant damage. The turn of the millennium saw the revival of the Metropolitan Building, as the insurance company undertook restoration efforts to breathe new life into the historic structure.

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As the cityscape of Calcutta continues to evolve, the Metropolitan Building stands as a proud reminder of its rich history, a testament to an era when commerce was intertwined with artistry, architecture, and a passion for culture. Walking in the footsteps of legends like Sarada Ranjan Roy, Aurobindo Ghosh, and countless others who graced its halls, the Metropolitan Building remains a cherished relic of Kolkata’s past—a tribute to the pioneering spirit that laid the foundation for the city’s future.

Note: The inspiration for this article was from UltiMad Motivation who shared video content on this subject.

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