Mumbai: 120-year-old YWCA building gets a facelift

Updated: Feb 03, 2020, 07:50 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Restored, the Colaba landmark is ready to open its hall for public events and its lounge as a safe waiting space for Mumbai's women

The lounge will be thrown open to members and non-members as a waiting area. Pic/ Vikas Dilawari
The lounge will be thrown open to members and non-members as a waiting area. Pic/ Vikas Dilawari

One of the YWCA's (Young Women's Christian Association) themes is to create safe spaces for women. And now, we are keen to open up the lounge on the ground floor into a space for women, including non-members, to use as a waiting area. We plan to keep it open up to 9 or 10 pm; the logistics are still being worked out but it's definitely on our radar," shares Vidula Raj, general hostel secretary, YWCA, as she walks us through the just-restored 120-year-old space on 18, Madam Cama Road.

For most girls and women who head to Mumbai for work, the YWCA, also known as the Lady Willingdon Hostel, remains a highly coveted space to find accommodation, going by their infamously long waiting list. And rightly so, from its vantage location in SoBo, to its spacious, well-ventilated room plans, close to business districts, the reasons for a key to a room here are a no-brainer. Raj adds that the YWCA also has plans to throw open the public hall for exhibitions, seminars, conferences and other activities, now that the venue on the ground floor bears a carefully conserved character. There are suggestions to also create a walk-in art gallery in its picturesque corridor on the ground floor. "It's a non-airconditioned space, however," she reminds us, to which on-site conservation architect Vikas Dilawari assured, "With its cross ventilation, high ceilings and huge windows, the passage of natural light and air is free-flowing, and will enable a convenient experience for visitors."

The garden-facing façade. In earlier times, due to shortage of open spaces, planners ensured that several buildings in a radius faced that common area for activities. PICs/fiona fernandezThe garden-facing façade. In earlier times, due to shortage of open spaces, planners ensured that several buildings in a radius faced that common area for activities. Pics/Fiona Fernandez

The building, an excellent example of 1900s architecture, marries the Neo-Classical style with an inclination towards Renaissance Revival. The foundation stone was laid on January 8, 1900, and it remains one of the oldest structures for the YWCA in India. Dilawari and his team had worked on the same building in June 2007 and finished repairs in August 2008. That effort had won a UNESCO Asia Pacific Honourable Mention in 2009. "I was fortunate that the management reached out to me once again for this round of preservation that involved re-plastering, painting of facades, plaster-work as well as refurbishing of interiors in sync with the historicity of the building," he shares, as we take note of the challenging effort across the three-storeyed building that was occupied throughout the restoration. "The 68 residents and 10 guests, co-operated during the entire process that took over a year to complete," revealed Raj. "Being a functional hostel, the entire floor or area was not available to us, so it had to be done in segments, without inconveniencing them," recalled Dilawari about his biggest challenge.

The hall and the interior spaces on the ground floor bear the right colour scheme and lightingThe hall and the interior spaces on the ground floor bear the right colour scheme and lighting

By the time we reach the terrace [it's off-bounds for residents and guests], a panoramic view that covers the iconic domes of CSMVS, the BSE tower and the Maharashtra State headquarters greets us. Later, inside one of the main road-facing rooms, the din and bustle of honking cars and buses was miraculously blanked out; it truly is an oasis of calm. "They love it; it gives me absolute joy and satisfaction when the girls share their positive feedback about the space. The rigour and the effort is there for all to see. Lady Willingdon must be looking down and smiling on this well-restored sanctuary for working women in the city. I choose to call it a 'palace' and not just a hostel," Raj signs off.

1900
Year the foundation stone for the hostel was laid

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