Calcutta Walks discusses some interesting facts from the pages of history. The third episode focuses on the iconic luxury hotel, The Oberoi Grand, situated on Chowringee Road.
In the first two episodes of this series, I delved into intriguing details concerning A.J.C Bose Road and Strand Road. Now, moving forward to the third episode, our focus shifts to an emblematic structure that occupies a central position between these two roads—The Oberoi Grand.
I have vivid recollections of my initial encounter with the hotel, which dates back to 1997 when I was an adolescent. However, I wasn’t there as a guest but rather as a trainee for banquets. This experience was a mandatory component of my hotel management course curriculum. I must express that I was utterly captivated by the sheer beauty of the location, and my curiosity was piqued, driving me to seek further knowledge. As I recount this tale today, a sense of nostalgia envelops me, transporting me back to those cherished memories.
The Oberoi Grand, situated on Chowringee Road, is an iconic luxury hotel that is steeped in history and elegance. Often referred to as the “Grande Dame of Calcutta,” this hotel boasts a fascinating history that can be traced back to 1888. It had a humble beginning as Mrs. Monte’s boarding house. But a catastrophic fire ravaged the building in 1911, leading to its destruction.
After the fire, Arrathoon Stephen, an Armenian real estate tycoon, took ownership of the building from Mrs. Monte and undertook a remarkable transformation. He converted the property into a grand hotel featuring a staggering 500 rooms.
While certain records suggest that the renowned architect of that time, Frank W. Mackenzie, was involved in the hotel’s design, this information remains unconfirmed and lacks concrete evidence. The architect of the Neo-classical building, responsible for the design of the Oberoi Grand, remains a subject of curiosity and speculation. Regardless of the architect’s identity, what adds to the allure of this magnificent structure is the fact that no two rooms in the hotel have identical dimensions. Each room possesses its own unique layout, contributing to the charm and individuality that guests can experience throughout their stay.
I came across another intriguing piece of information about the Oberoi Grand: it was among the pioneering structures in Calcutta to feature an hydraulic lift. In the present-day lobby of the hotel, there once stood the Palm Court, a verdant oasis characterized by lush greenery. This space served as a gathering spot for the city’s upper echelons on Sunday mornings, where they enjoyed tall glasses of beer or more genteel refreshments alongside their esteemed female companions.
Under Stephen’s leadership, the Oberoi Grand hosted a multitude of lavish events, including an extravagant New Year’s party that featured opulent gifts as part of the festive table arrangements. These elaborate festivities added to the grandeur and splendor of the hotel during that era.
However, in 1937, a period of adversity befell the hotel, casting a shadow over its grandeur. The erstwhile opulent palace-like establishment was compelled to shut its doors due to the outbreak of cholera. Tragically, the hotel experienced the loss of six guests and witnessed severe illness among both the household staff and the family members associated with the hotel. In the face of this grave situation, the Grand Hotel stood in a state of solemn stillness.
In 1939, amidst the tumultuous period of World War II, a remarkable individual named Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi came forward and approached the authorities with a bold request for a lease of the property. It is worth noting that during that time, Mr. Oberoi was the sole owner of a chain of hotels. He had already established successful ventures like the Maidens in Delhi and the Clerk’s in Shimla. Recognizing his expertise and track record in the hospitality industry, the authorities granted him the lease.
Soon after securing the lease, Mr. Oberoi wasted no time in making preparations to accommodate the British Army, as thousands of troops were stationed in Calcutta during the war. The Oberoi Grand swiftly transformed to offer 1500 beds and accommodations to the army personnel. This decision not only served the needs of the armed forces but also played a significant role in maintaining the hotel’s relevance and sustenance during those challenging times.
Friends, we have just explored a brief yet captivating history of one of the most opulent hotels in the vibrant city of joy, the Oberoi Grand. Since its inception in 1888, this remarkable establishment has been a preferred choice for discerning travelers seeking unparalleled luxury and hospitality. I hope you have found this narrative as enjoyable to read as I have had the pleasure of writing it. Until the next episode of Calcutta Walks, I wish you a delightful time ahead.
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.