Tracing its roots

By V Haripriya

Imagine staying in a double suite at Taj Connemara for Rs. 42. Unimaginable, isn’t it?

But it was possible in 1939. Historian S. Muthiah’s new book, ‘A Tradition of Madras that is Chennai - The Taj Connemara’, which was released in the city on Sunday, had such nuggets and more. The book talks about the story of Taj Connemara – the first hotel in namma Chennai, established probably in 1854 as The Imperial Hotel.

Now run by The Taj Group of Hotels, Connemara was built by Triplicane Ruthnavaloo Moodeliar and he called it The Imperial Hotel. Later, in 1886, it became Albany and was leased to two other Mudaliar brothers. They then renamed it as Connemara in 1889 after Lord Connemara, the Governor of Madras (1881-86).

In 1891, Eugene Oakshott, owner of Spencer’s, then a little shop near Anna Circle, bought Connemara and its nine acres to build a showroom. Oakshott wanted to give Spencer’s a facelift, so he decided to build one of Asia’s biggest departmental store. In the process, he found himself developing an empire in the hospitality business.

In 1930’s, James Stiven, director of Spencer’s, decided to modernise the hotel, which started in 1934 and completed in 1937. It was later in 1984 that the Taj Group stepped in.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the hotel was more a long-term residence for Europeans working in Madras. It offered residential block for bachelors, couples and families, the book says.

The book gives a rare collection of photographs of old Madras roads, buildings, interiors of the hotels and the hotel’s tarrif since 1939.

Muthiah, the author of the book, is a renowned journalist, an editor, a publisher, a successful corporate director and a prolific writer. Some of the books which he wrote on Chennai are Madras Discovered, Tales of Old and New Madras, Madras- the gracious city.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who released the book, said that the hotel is one of his favourites since it provides delicious Chettinad cuisines. N Murali, Managing Director, The Hindu, received the first copy.

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