Old makes way for new

This May, Bangalore lost a piece of its history when St Joseph’s Arts and Science College's old building on Residency Road was brought down.

“For men may come and men may go
But I go on for ever”.

In the spacious library in the basement of St Joseph’s College on Langford road, I read these lines of Lord Tennyson’s poem that aptly captured the spirit of St. Joseph’s educational institutions, which have been in existence for more than a century. However, in May this year a piece of history was lost for ever; the 84 year-old magnificent gothic building that housed St Joseph’s Arts and Science College on Residency Road was brought down.

A few years back, while working out of one of the glass and chrome buildings on Residency Road, my window faced this iconic building. To me the historic building next to the modern structures, had represented a balance of the old and the new – a great contrast in this rapidly changing city. I was also envious of the vast lung space that the students enjoyed in a city where personal space is at a premium.

So it was with more than just a tinge of sadness that I read about the old building being demolished to be replaced by a new structure.

St Joseph’s was founded by the Foreign Missions of Paris in 1854. It was first started as a seminary at a ‘virtually uninhabited quarter of land known as St John’s Hill’, as described in the archives of the college. The small seminary was transformed to a full fledged college by Rev Fr. Vissac. He first shifted the campus from St John’s Hill (near present day St. John’s Church, north-west of Ulsoor) to the vicinity of St Patrick’s Cathedral. This shift is explained in the archives as a move from ‘the isolated north end of the city’ to the ‘heart of the cantonment’. It is amusing to note that the busy St. John’s Church area was referred to as the isolated north end of the city – a reflection of how small Bangalore was in the late 19th century.

St Joseph's Art and Science College

St Joseph’s College of Arts and Science, during Christmas 2000 (pic courtesy: Dr Cheriyan Alexander)

However the building that was recently brought down was built only in 1925. It was built in gothic style with classic high arches. The outer walls were made of stone while the building itself had been built using lime and mortar. An imposing astronomical laboratory atop the main building was erected in 1938, when the management of the college was transferred to the Society of Jesus, popularly known as Jesuits. The silver-coloured metallic dome gave a distinctive look to the college, and this was the only college to have an observatory of its own.

“It was a beautiful building. I also remember there was a concert hall in the top floor”, reminisces Santosh Naidu, an Old Boy (Josephite terminology for alumnus) from the sixties and later the Registrar of the college. How was life in the college back then? “In those days”, described Mr Naidu, “commuting to the college was either in tongas, buses or cycles. In fact there were only two students who came thundering on motor cycles and they could afford the luxury since their parents were rich planters from Salem”, he laughs.

As the city expanded, so did the college. Earlier it was just one St Josephs College; now we have St Joseph’s schools, Arts & Science College, Commerce College, all maintaining the same levels of educational excellence and emphasis on all round development.

Dr Cheriyan Alexander, an Old Boy of the college and now an English professor in the Arts college remarks that while there was the ‘faith and toil’ that is the motto of the college, the students did have a lot of fun. He nostalgically remembers the student union elections in the seventies when a whole lot of students dressed up as native Americans stepped on to Residency Road and regulated traffic for about five minutes to the amusement of passing motorists.

How do the students of this venerable college feel now that the old building is gone? “Obviously there’s a tinge of sadness, but it was inevitable. You must remember that the buildings back then were not built of concrete. Also Residency road has now undergone a sea of transformation. The vibrations caused due to the increase in traffic on Residency Road have perhaps gradually weakened the walls. The central structure of the building was top heavy because of the dome”, Naidu explained.

All that is left of this memorable building now is just memories. However as Mr. Naidu puts it, times are changing and the college will build a spanking new building to accommodate the ever increasing number of Josephites.

With much enthusiasm, he shares that the new building will have a modern 1000 seat auditorium.

Who knows, in 100 years from now, this new building will have become a heritage structure and may be there would be another article like this one that nostalgically talks about the college that was reconstructed in 2009. The wheel of history would have turned another full circle. Maybe buildings will come and go but the one thing that will remain constant is the legendary educational institution that is St Joseph’s. Lord Tennyson’s words have never felt more apt.


  1. Paul Nixon says:

    I saw this story when the vandalism first occurred and I was saddened but not particularly shocked. I’ve been in India for close to six years now and have seen many ‘heritage sites’ in Bangalore destroyed. The same is happening elsewhere in India.

    I think this is a phase that societies go through. Britain went on an “out with the old, in with the new” phase in the 1960s and destroyed some nice old buildings that even Hitler’s bombers had failed to knock over twenty years earlier. In Britain, I’m pleased to say, that destruction-of-heritage phase didn’d last too long and now there seems to be more will to restore and re-use old buildings than knock them down. I only hope that India moves quickly in that direction too.

  2. Pramod Naik says:

    I think the writer fails to mention the key reason was that the building was structurally unsound and falling apart. Would she rather have lives lost while it collapsed or would she love to watch an old decrepit building just for the sake of heritage?

  3. Poornima Dasharathi says:

    Thanks for your views.
    Paul – Its true that heritage buildings are being demolished in the city. However this one has been an exception. In fact they went ahead with the plan only after they got the necessary permission from Urban Arts Commissions & ASI.

    Pramod – I suggest that you read carefully before being judgemental. The article quotes the reason for the demolition through the words of its Registrar and nowhere mentions any strong skewed thoughts.

  4. Siri Srinivas says:

    Awesome read!

  5. Poornima Dasharathi says:

    Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. V.T.Venkataram says:

    Senior citizens are all bound to be sad when old buildings are ravaged. What cannot be cured must be endured. Everything is commercial now and there is absolutely no space for human feelings !!

  7. Ajay Gopinath says:

    Nice article Poornima.
    It is sad that the iconic building of St. Joseph’s college is being brought down. I have fond memories of it as a student more than a decade ago.

  8. Marianne de Nazareth says:

    Good article — however one point I would like to make which is an error –quote ” astronomical laboratory atop the main building was erected in 1938″ It was not an ‘atronomical lab’ but a lab for astronomy!

  9. raghu annaiah says:

    Nice article..but one that saddens me..
    Frankly, i am structural engineer, and i can tell..it is not that difficult to renovate old and preserve it, all you need is some respect for culture.

    i think the need of the hour is a law that prevents random destruction of pre-independence era buildings which may have architectural and historic value.
    Such buildings must get a NOC from ASI, before it is to be brough down for an featureless contemporary building. This process may be time consuming. but it will be worth the effort.

  10. sunil nag says:

    Nice article! thanks for sharing.

    Editor: Comment edited to suit our comments policy.

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