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The Churchgate building was built in the 19th century as the Headquarters of the erstwhile Bombay Baroda & Central India Railways (BB&CI) - now the Western Railway. It was completed in 1899 by it's architect F.W. Stevens after completing the Mumbai CST001 building a few years earlier. Repairs were done in 1905 in the aftermath of a fire caused by illuminations to celebrate the visit of the Prince of Wales. It is an excellent example of Indo Saracenic combined with colonial and Islamic architecture. It is a large stone multi-storey building with multiple domes.
It is a city landmark placed on a very busy and important node of the city, dominating the skyline of the Churchgate area. The Churchgate building stands on the site of an old church gate within the bastions of the Fort that once existed there and is thus integral to the history of Bombay. The area is still known as the Fort area and the ensemble of buildings there as the Fort precinct. It stands across the road from Churchgate Station, which is one of the busiest railway stations in the world (used by around 3 million people in over 1000 trains, daily). It inspires these millions of passengers everyday to reaffirm their faith in Mumbai's ability to make dreams come true through its palatial dream-like quality.
The Churchgate building (like the Mumbai CST building to which its serial inscription is proposed) is one of the finest railway buildings of the world and architecturally one of the most splendid and magnificent edifices existing today. Churchgate is also, intrinsically linked to the identity of the Railways that was established in India as the transport of the age of industrialization. The railway was then the most important development for the economy of the nation and it continues to play a vital economic role in the country's growth - as always a lifeline of India.
The scale and grandeur of this building produces a sense of wonder and awe. It is a statement of national pride, a symbol of Mumbai, India and the world at large. The Churchgate building is a representation of the highest levels of engineering skills available in the 19th century, both in terms of the special engineering skills required for constructing the platform and the civil engineering skills employed for the building. It still inspires awe and grandeur.
As an example of an interchange of human values; the Churchgate building (like the Mumbai CST building to which its serial inscription is proposed) is an example par excellence of the coming together of the great cultures of Britain, Central Asia and India. The British architects (with their styles, plans, methods and layouts) worked with Indian engineers / craftsmen to incorporate Indian and Islamic architectural styles; thus creating a new style unique to Bombay. The patronage to the prevailing arts and crafts traditions brought into existence the modern art movement in Bombay which took shape at the Bombay School of Art (now the Sir J.J. School of Arts). Churchgate is a good example of the blend of these great cultures. The form was also, adapted to take into consideration the local concerns of climate and materials. Further, the Churchgate is the demonstration of the use of the technology / architecture brought by the western culture to create a new architectural idiom with Indian and Islamic styles. It is an interesting example of a Victorian structure capped with Islamic domes. Designed by Frederick Stevens, the prolific architect responsible for the design of the Mumbai CST building, it is quite a radical departure from the high Victorian Gothic style of the earlier building and relies heavily on the use of Indian Islamic motifs to create its striking architectural composition. Mumbai has been described as the finest Victorian city East of the Suez built in the Gothic Revival style, a style that was deliberately chosen as most suitable to express the aspirations of the wealthiest and most dynamic of Indian cities. Compared to the classical revival style of Calcutta and Madras it demonstrated energy, a vitality and freshness of form and image. The ensemble of new public buildings constructed at the turn of the century with a Gothic Revival silhouette formed by towers, turrets, spires, and domes gave a new skyline to the city that was conspicuously visible to ships entering the bay.
As an outstanding example of a technological ensemble illustrating a significant stage in human history; the Churchgate building (like the Mumbai CST building to which its serial inscription is proposed) is a railway structure that is a symbol of the technological revolution brought by the railways that irrevocably changed the pace of travel in India and the rest of the world. One of the important strategic reasons that the British undertook the construction of the extensive railway network across the Indian sub-continent, was to facilitate greater control and penetration over the hinterland, and also make communication and access easier. With the beginnings of the largest railway network in the world having its origins firmly associated with Mumbai, these heritage structures form integral links in the history of suburban train systems. Viewed together with Mumbai CST building to which this serial inscription is proposed and the BMC building, built by the same architect in the 19th century; it makes this node one of the most prominent historic nodes of Mumbai. This node forms the economic heart of the city. Architecturally the node displays a continuity of theme and character achieved by use of similar scale, stone and detailing. The entire station is a pioneering and trend setting example of a Railway Headquarters and is one of the grandest building in Mumbai. Churchgate, as the headquarters of the Bombay Baroda & Central India (BB&CI) Railways in Mumbai, was one of the first terminus and headquarters in the sub continent envisaged on a grand scale to represent the economic might and power of the Empire. The Indian Railway is the largest network of railways in the world, and its builders were aware of the magnitude of this undertaking. It was a fitting step, therefore, when the building to house the headquarters of this network, and receive its passengers, was conceived on a similar grand scale. The Headquarters for the erstwhile Bombay Baroda & Central India (BB&CI) Railways that is now the Western Railway was to be a pioneering and awe-inspiring building, the political significance at the time being to reinforce the might and greatness of the Empire, as it set about consolidating its position in the sub-continent.
Grand public buildings were meant to be landmarks. The Churchgate was designed to be and is a prominent landmark. It was and is prominently seen from the area around and it continues to dominate the Fort precinct where it is located. Today it stands as a symbol of the important role that the railways have played in the development of the Indian economy and in unifying a hugely diverse country.
The building still retains its structural and architectural integrity. The Churchgate002 building is in a good state of preservation and there are no visible signs of impending distress. It has been the Headquarters of the erstwhile Bombay Baroda & Central India (BB&CI) Railways that is now the Western Railway and it is well maintained. With increasing awareness of conservation the railway authorities have been keen on conserving the building in terms of its authenticity and integrity. A comprehensive and systematic phase of conservation works has been identified and currently undertaken.
The Ministry of Railways of the Government of India and also the Western Railway are laying great emphasis on proper maintenance & preservation of the Churchgate002 building in its true original form. This building is also listed as a protected monument Grade-.I by the Indian Heritage Society, Bombay. It also, has the necessary legal / management protection within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Railways, Government of India.
The Churchgate building (like the Mumbai CST building to which its serial inscription is proposed) stands out as the most prominent landmark of Mumbai - an icon of Mumbai's heritage. Some of the significant and comparable buildings in Mumbai, built in the British colonial era, by the same architect i.e., F. W. Stevens, in similar style, in the 19th century; are the Mumbai CST building (already inscribed as a World Heritage Site and the Churchgat is being proposed as a serial extension) and the BMC (The Bombay Municipal Offices). The other significant landmark is the Rajabhai Clock Tower and the library building of University of Mumbai in Gothic Revival style designed by G. Gilbert Scott in 1878. The later public buildings (early 20th century) advocate use of Indo Saracenic style rather Gothic revival. These grand buildings are the General Post Office, the Prince of Wales Museum, and Gateway of India to mention a few. Amongst these; the Churchgate002 building stand out in the landscape of Mumbai at a prominent location as one of the earliest and finest buildings in grandeur, aesthetics and in function.
Considering the Railway station in Mumbai area of both the Central & Western Railways, both having large suburban corridors; only five railway station have been listed as Grade I heritage structures in Mumbai. Churchgate and the Mumbai CST are the two finest of these. Compared to other railway terminus stations built for the other metropolitan cities in India like Chennai, Delhi, and Kolkaata; the Churchgate002 and the Mumbai CST surpass all these in grandeur, style, richness and scale.
With the development of air travel, the rail ways were affected all over the world and many stations in the US like the Union Terminal - Cincinnati (1933), and others in Europe like the Musee D' Orsay, Paris, declined due to fall in railroad passengers. This led to the disuse of the terminals and modification for other uses. However, the Churchgate002 building like the Mumbai CST001 is very much active and in constant use as a station and head-office of Western Railways. In comparison with other railways stations of Europe and US it is still one of the grandest stations.