“The Opera House, sitting majestically on the Brigade road intersection, has been a key witness to the story of Bangalore’s evolution to Bengaluru.”
As Kempegowda embarked on his journey to build the city of Bengaluru, his mother’s only instruction to him was to create lakes and plant trees. This is the way we rightfully know Bengaluru to be, or at least the way we knew it to be: the “Garden City” of India. Calm and serene in character, the city had a unique charm that mesmerised anyone who set foot in it. The Gulmohars that lined streets, the bungalows and office buildings that exalted the colonial era of the British, the Darshinis that served the best masala dosas and filter coffee, the simplicity and friendliness of the locals and, of course, the ever pleasant climate – all of these elements made one fall in love with the city almost instantly. Home to a number of prestigious educational institutions where nuns and priests make sure that they drill the best of manners and English in their students, the city has produced quite a few successful entrepreneurs and individuals who thrive in their respective fields, selling itself quite highly in the global circles.
Back in the day, when the population was lower and the streets did not have to put up with the chaos of traffic and pollution that now chokes the city, everyone knew everyone. A typical day in the life of a Bangalorean world start off with wishing the neighbours a hearty good morning as they headed out to work or school. Evenings were reserved to meet up with friends and catch up on the routine of life either at a local coffee shop or at the park. Cinema culture was strong and Bangaloreans kept up with the latest movies, be it in English or any regional language. Many of them, along with friends and family, frequented their favourite theatres, such as Rex, Plaza, Liberty, Lido and the Opera House, to name a few.
The Opera House, sitting majestically on the Brigade road intersection, has been a key witness to the story of Bangalore’s evolution to Bengaluru. Once part of the property that belonged to Mr. Yusuf Sait, a royal tailor for the Maharaja of Mysore, the land was bought by the British in order to build a recreational space for the officers who were stationed in Bengaluru.
The Opera House was built almost 100 years ago around the 1910s by a reputed British contractor named Thomas CW Skipp, and it became a very pristine landmark. Designed to be a ballroom and a venue for theatrical performances, the Opera house was visited by the elite of Bengaluru. Boxing matches were also held during the second world war. After Skipp died in 1939, his heirs sold it to the Mudaliars who ran it as a cinema hall and renamed it the New Opera House. Mrs. Leela Pramod, a resident of the locality, recalls having visited the Opera House as a child in the 60s, and having watched English movies there with her family on the weekends. The ticket price was a meagre 1 rupee and 50 paise for the balcony seats. The Mudaliars leased out the building to a number of people and as time went by, B-grade movies began to be aired and the clientele of the Opera House changed. The general perception of the place changed as well; now, its only visitors were men, and families, women and children were never seen in or around the venue. Nonetheless, the Opera House remained a prime landmark on Brigade Road and became a convenient hangout spot.
The late 80s saw the Opera House transform into a space that accommodated small businesses. The products sold ranged from accessories such as bangles, chains and all sorts of fancy products to local delicacies and fried food available at food stalls. To those who came to Brigade road to make purchases at the popular shopping street, the venue became a pit stop for a quick snack and smaller purchases. Mr. Francis Mascarenes reminisces about his younger days, when he and his friends would meet up at the Opera House to hang out as it was the most convenient landmark in the locality. Having spent many years at the Opera House conducting their businesses and building a strong clientele, the shopkeepers refused to vacate the premises when asked by the owner, Mr. Ramakrishnan. This marked the beginning of a 24-year long legal battle between the two parties.
Due to the ongoing dispute and lawsuit, the Opera House was shut down, preventing anyone from accessing it. Ghosted for more than 2 decades, it earned a lousy reputation amongst the locals. The lack of maintenance began to show in no time. Being at such a prominent location on one of the most popular streets of Bengaluru, the decaying condition of the building became an eyesore to all. The new generation of Bangaloreans was completely unaware of the existence and former importance of the building, so much so that the once glorious Opera House became an invisible piece of architecture. After many years of struggling to retain ownership, Mr. Ramakrishnan won the legal battle in 2008 under the condition that the building would not be demolished and that he would maintain the structure to safeguard the rich history of which it was now a custodian.
In 2016, the South Korean multinational giant Samsung leased the Opera House with plans of opening the world’s largest mobile experience centre. After a mere facelift and no interference with the architecture and design, the forsaken Opera House opened its doors to the public again in November, 2018 as the new Samsung Opera House.
The tech freaks of the city and even the general public rushed to the now sparkling new building on Brigade road to experience the possibilities and quirks of the latest technology Samsung had to offer. While it may have reopened with a new branding, the Opera House remains what it always has been: an entertainment destination.
The building, constructed out of stone, mud, wood, and lime retains its colonial charm in its windows and doors. The primary structure consisted of a large building with an unobstructed central space and an open verandah on the ground and first floor.
The hall had two entrances on the ground floor and two from the first floor, led to by stairs on the exterior of the building. The walls were constructed out of stone, cemented with lime mortar, and plastered with mud while the lintels and balustrade were made of stone. An abundance of wood was used within the building as flooring and in the structure for roofing. In its most recent renovation, the structure of the building was strengthened. The roof, made of mud tiles along with the facade was polished to preserve the old look of the building. Exposed stone was cleaned with acid and the wall was repainted. Wooden accents and ambient lighting were added to enhance the contemporary aspects of the building. The interior of the building was retrofitted to look modern and interactive. A semicircular false ceiling covers the rafters of the old roof and chandeliers have been hung from it.
The balconies have been reshaped and a stairway at the rear-end of the hall leads to the first floor. The verandah space around the building is covered and used as an office or display space. The Opera House still retains the position of its stage and has been modified along with the new wooden flooring. The walls have been re-plastered and repainted with the addition of a false ceiling for HVAC ducts and a lift. The lighting in the interior of the Opera house differs greatly from its dimly lit past. The heavy curtains that were used to block out sunlight when the theatre was running have been removed, and LED lighting has been used to brightly illuminate the space. The exterior of the structure has been revamped to now include an open-air theatre and seating area where artists, musicians and stand-up comedians are invited to perform and entertain the public.
In today’s Bengaluru, where gated communities and close-knit neighbourhoods provide ample reason to socialise, the intimacy between neighbours seems to be fading steadily. In the same context, post-independent Bengaluru serves as an example of eminent communal living. A community is made around the space it occupies, as it defines the nature of relationship between people. In light of this, old buildings are not just reminders of the past but relics in the memories of the people living in their localities. Ms. Aliyeh Rizvi rightfully said, “Preserving history for the sake of preserving history won’t make sense. And the Samsung Opera House is a great example.” Adaptive reuse aims to retain the structural form of a building while retrofitting it with functions deemed necessary for its relevance today. Today, the Opera house still sits impressively at the same Brigade junction, serving both as a link to the past for the residents of the area as well as evidence of our rich heritage for the future to see.
Nina C George, Deccan Herald, Bengaluru, SEP 11 2018.
Anupama Bijur, Bangalore Mirror Bureau Sep 12 2018
Nov 26 2015 : The Economic Times (Bangalore)
Written by Aveline Thomas, Jeenus Shrestha, K Sanidhya, Qamar Motiya and Tijo Tome, students at Acharya N.R.V. School of Architecture, Bengaluru.