Mankind has made progress over the centuries. However, most if not all progress made is not a figment of imagination in the minds of our ancestors. Yet, what we experience today will in future be surpassed without a shadow of doubt.
A look around today’s Colombo displays that progress has been made at a great cost. Relics of significant value have been destroyed or moved to other venues of less significance. Tram cars of the past are only a memory; even the lines on which they operated have been obliterated. The same is true of many landmark buildings which housed the elite; they have all vanished without a trace under the guise of ‘development.’ Great pity indeed!
One could recollect the mansions along Galle Road such as ‘Cintra Lodge’ (578, Galle Road, Colpetty) that boasted a history of over a hundred and eighty five years and was owned by a single family to date; it has now been demolished to accommodate a shopping mall and three star hotel with the blessings of the UDA and CMC. The fate that overcame this ancestral home is that the front portion collapsed due to the deep excavation of over fifteen metres without proper lateral support by the developer (DAMRO) to accommodate a three-level underground vehicle parking lot resulting in heavy piling for the construction of the twelve-floor hotel, ‘Marino Mall and Marino Sands.’This is not a figment of imagination, but one that has been expressed by government experts attached to the National Building Research Organisation, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau and the Moratuwa University. Other buildings standing on these premises have also been seriously affected. The writer of this article and his siblings were born in Cintra Lodge which is adjacent to the heritage building ‘Plate Photographic Studio’ constructed in the mid-1930s. The new wing of the building too suffered extensive damage to its equipment, ancestral property of photographs, China ware and negatives of classical, local and religious items as well as items of historical value, when on June 10, 2018 midnight a part of the roof caved in and was damaged when scaffolding of Damro Mall/Marino Hotel fell on it causing hardly a ripple of concern to the owners of the project who gave the solemn assurance that all claims made would be met in full on submission of the a cursory glance. It was highlighted in the print media (Sunday Times - June 17, 2018). An unqualified undertaking signed by the Chairman and Board of Directors dated June 13, 2018 states that, “accordingly we look forward to receiving your assessment of the said loss or damage caused due to the above respect and hope to take immediate measures for necessary settlement.”
In true Damro style and tradition, when the claim prepared by a highly-qualified Insurance Loss Assessor that the back-peddling had begun in true ‘Judas the traitor’ manner, the directorate of Damro now keep harping on the lame excuse that the claim would be settled only according to the terms and conditions covered by their Insurance Policy taken out with the Insurance Corporation of Sri Lanka which in fact would amount to a petty sum as a result. Attached is a photograph of the scaffolding which fell on the roof from the construction site of the project and the damages caused to the priceless articles and interior of the gallery.
The present siblings are co-owners of Cintra Lodge which was solely owned by the late Arthur Philip Fonseka, their father who was the Managing Director of Plate Limited., Photographers. The attached photograph taken in 1924 depicts Arthur Philip Fonseka as a young boy of seven years at Shamrock, their ancestral home at 594, Galle Road, Colpetty. Cintra Lodge and historic Plate Limited., Photographers are victims of development -- although a new house was promised to occupants of the lodge by Marino Sands Hotel some four years ago, not a brick has been laid. Thanks to the benevolence of the UDA, CMC and other authorities that wine and dine with the hotel moguls and given their blessings and approvals for the development of one-time ‘DYNE COURT’ which was of architectural and historic value was the bungalow of the late Colombo Mayor R.A. De Mel and lately housed the Italian Embassy. This heritage building was demolished for development.
"Relics of significant value destroyed or moved to other venues of less significance"
This was taken from “The Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon.” What surprises us is how these buildings, which should come under government protection, are demolished in broad daylight with no concern to them being iconic in Colombo, along Galle Road, where thousands of people move about. Where are the so-called officials who are paid high salaries and given plush offices including transport to protect these heritage buildings? What action have they taken to prevent such demolition or after?
Shamrock, situated at No.594, Galle Road, Colpetty, is yet another heritage awaiting to suffer the same fate in days to come. Incidentally, this too is owned by the family of the writer whose great grandfather owned a string of houses. It was built as a stately home fitted even at about the same time as the above with every conceivable amenity. This house was the Colombo residence of the late Don Spater Senanayake, father of the first Prime Minister of Ceylon, D.S. Senanayake. It was during his premiership that independence was gained from the British rule. Don Spater used to travel to Colombo from his residence ‘Bothale Walauwa’in Mirigama. It was a house that had its own tennis court and patronised by the late Sri Francis Soysa and his family which included Stanley (later a finance minister), Bunty who was a QCpar excellence and Lucian who represented the country in cricket; he was also a renowned commentator. The land extended from Galle Road to the railway line.
Is not the same true of what has happened at ‘CASTLE HOTEL’ in Slave Island? Save that of some minor savings, the so-called facelift to those buildings has been defaced -- thanks to the Urban Development Authority and what it has done to Colombo! To whom is the “Authority” answerable? Is it an “Authority” unto itself?
In the case of Cintra Lodge, it was in earlier times the residence of expatriate businessmen and the World War I British Naval High Command and the venue of many a social event. The last expatriate tenant was D.G. Wright who was the Secretary to the British Ceylon Corporation and President of the Tea Planters’ Association of Ceylon. Probably, this was one of the first houses that had electricity in Ceylon, since it was occupied by the Chairman of Whittall Boustead and Co., which was among the pioneers to provide electricity to the country All Southern boundary land which was one-time owned by the grand aunt of the writer and was in several small adjoining plots, has been purchased by business magnet Damro thus inflicting the same fate as to Cintra Lodge. He has spread his tentacle like an octopus and it is rumoured that he is a prospective buyer of Shamrock. Is any government authority ready to stand in his way? Why is no like that of Battaramulla developed outside the Colombo Municipal Council limits for the affluent and rich to live in high-rises giving them the feeling they are closer to heaven. Why allow those who have all the latest SUVs, mobile phones and LT technology and can travel faster from such points to keep what precious little is left of our heritage in and around the environs of Colombo.
"Cintra Lodge demolished to accommodate shopping mall and three star hotel "
Skyscrapers like ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ spoken of in the Bible keep on rising heavenwards. This concrete jungle has caused tremendous hardships to the ordinary citizens of single-floor houses depriving them of fresh air, sunlight, recreational space and disposal of garbage. Vendors of everyday necessities no longer come their way with the wares. The writer agrees that development is essential; but it must never ever be at the cost of permitting history to be destroyed. The rulers in the country, who are appointed by the public, should strictly keep to the plans of the original COLOMBO PLANS and development and expansion of the Colombo municipality and not allow money launders who come under the pretext of development to destroy the “BASIC RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE TO LIVE WHERE THEY HAVE BEEN LIVING FOR GENERATIONS PEACEFULLY UNDISTURBED.” Being a signatory to the UN Convention, the Sri Lankan Government has given an undertaking to safeguard this basic right of each and every citizen and the very “watchdogs” who are sitting in positions have allowed it to be violated since all government departments and councils starting from the mayors, director generals, chairmen to ministers down to the bottom rung clerks and peons are well looked after by these dubious developers with their black money and public complaints hushed up with NO ACTION whatsoever. This residence could be left alone for future generations to gaze in awe instead of only imagine what it could have looked like.
Hence, we should bring an immediate stop to the demolition of Shamrock, the last remaining of Fonsekas heritage in Colpetty, before it becomes a case of “Paradise Lost.”