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This week 50 years ago: Frere Hall declared protected monument

This week 50 years ago: Frere Hall declared protected monument

NO, it hasn’t happened just now. Everybody knows that the magnificent Frere Hall building is a protected heritage structure. The title of this piece refers to a news story published on June 25, 1965 in Dawn’s Karachi city page. In those days there used to be only one city page and reports about the metropolis usually did not cover much space. But this news item was given a decent display.

So what did the report say? Well, according to it, Frere Hall, a century-old building situated at Bagh-i-Jinnah, had been declared a protected monument by the Central government. The other important bit of information it provided was that the building was designed by English architect Lt-Col Clair Wilson.

It would not be a bad idea to share some more information on this high quality stone-made work of construction, since these days Karachi is being co-opted by many groups but not its works of architecture which were once an integral part of the city’s strong municipal identity. Frere Hall was one of the first, if not the first, neo-Gothic structures of the city constructed for civic purposes. This meant it was supposed to serve as a venue for lectures, concerts and stage productions. It was built in honour of Sir Bartle Frere, a commissioner in Sindh and governor of Bombay (now Mumbai), who in the mid-19th century, it is believed, played a proactive role in imparting a ‘modern’ look to the province of Sindh. It is also said that a dozen architects presented their blueprints for consideration of which Clair Wilson’s design was approved. Hats off to whoever approved it, because the building is in a league of its own.

In 1965, if on the one hand colonial structures were being protected, on the other hand some new recreational spaces were being planned for which designs were invited. On June 24, it was learnt that the city would have an ‘ideal beauty spot’, a hill park at an altitude of 165 feet, ‘creating a variety of entertainment’, near PECHS under the KDA Scheme 13-A at an estimated cost of about one million rupees. Thet development was to start after the approval of design for which the KDA had earmarked Rs10,000 to be given to the best designer. Well, Hill Park, when it was first open to the public, was a sight to behold. How many people visit it 50 years later is anybody’s guess!

Then, as has often been discussed in this column, there have always been things which never needed a rethink or a fresh perspective, such as banning books. These days there’s quite a bit of debate surrounding the proposed cyber crime bill. It’s nothing new. In a government gazette issued on June 25 it was notified that the government had prohibited bringing into Pakistan any copy of The Carpet Beggars by Harold Robins. The notification did not specify the reasons for the prohibition.

On a lighter note, which is what Karachi lives by, on June 26, a select audience enjoyed an entertaining variety show organised by Islamia Club at Hotel Metropole. The artistes who performed at the event included Ahmed Rushdie, Nahid Niazi, Moslehuddin, Firdausi Begum, S. B. John, Fareeda and Meena. My word, what a stellar lineup! Wouldn’t you want to go back in time and be at the hotel to see these artistes sing and dance? Absolutely!

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2015

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