Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Nizam Palace and the Legend of J.C. Galstaun

Before it was acquired by the Nizam of Hyderabad, the building known today as Nizam Palace was the home of one man, Calcutta’s Armenian millionaire, Johannes Carapiet “J.C.” Galstaun. It was an art deco palace, designed for his beloved wife Rose Catherine. The man, his immense wealth, and his “many acts of kindness” are the stuff of legends. In this first guest post on the blog, Max Galstaun writes about his illustrious ancestor.

Nizam Palace today

The legend of J.C. Galstaun, businessman, sportsman, Calcutta's biggest real estate developer of all time, philanthropist and social worker - is a legend that stands unequalled in Calcutta history. Like most legends, the story has a humble beginning, with a young, 13 or 14 year old, Armenian lad from Julpha, Iran, learning to ride a piebald pony on the Maidan. His determination impressed the Fort William Cavalry officers and they gave JC early lessons in horse-riding, which grew into the most formidable talent not ever seen again, on the racecourses in Calcutta and England. The pony rider struck fear into bookmakers and horse owners of Royal Indian and British blood.

JC was the only owner with his own stables in England and India. His Palace was the envy of Kings.  The future King Edward stayed in his palatial grounds, instead of Viceroy House. Galstaun's 300 horses clearly surpassed the Viceroy's paid cavalry. During World War II, the palace grounds were turned into a hospital for injured soldiers.  After Galstaun's death, the Palace became the 300 Club, a casino for Kings.    The palace alas, became "government property" after Income Tax seized it from the 300 Club. 

Galstaun could charm Kings and Nuns too. The good Sisters of St. Joseph's home, having lost their work-horse and praying for another horse, were astonished when the good Lord sent them a Horse that literally ran into the homes opposite Galstaun's Palace. Fortunately, it was a prize race horse that Galstaun retrieved from the Sisters after gifting them a pulling horse more suited to pulling their cart. Galstaun's “bankruptcy” is an unfounded story.  Galstaun Mansions and other properties were seized by Prudential Assurance, because of loan default.  There is no legal reference or document suggesting bankruptcy. Long after his death, his son Mario was defending the estate against the Chamarias and Bajorias, present day "developers" of Calcutta.  "Galstaun bankruptcy" would have made headlines. Nothing of the sort can be found. 227 Lower Circular Road and many other properties were or are part of the "Galstaun Estate” which officially still exists. Records in the Calcutta Collector’s office indicate that there are a large number of properties of this hidden estate. The early shellac factories of the Galstauns, Aras and other Armenians in Beliaghata and elsewhere are slums now, gifted by the TMC to the dwellers. Nothing is known about the eventual disposal of Galstaun properties, stables and horses kept in the UK.

One of the least known aspects of Galstaun’s personality is his capabilities as a litigant. Law books have many references to precedents set by Galstaun's litigation. Galstaun's cases set precedents in ownership and easements, mortgages and loans, and are still cited in the Courts. One of the earliest cases in environmental law is Galstaun vs. Dunia Lal Seal 1905 which set a precedent for environmental damages where Seal had to pay Galstaun Rs. 1000 for environmental damages. 

Nizam Palace by night. New government offices visible in the rear.

In Calcutta, one is never far from a Galstaun footprint. Above the main entrance of the Victoria Memorial, Galstaun's name, carved in stone (donated Rs. 20,000.) is among the list of Rajahs and Maharajahs who subscribed to the building of the Memorial.  The area covered by Mayfair, Ballygunge Park and Queen's Park (earlier Galstaun Park) were properties leased by Galstaun from the Military. The Chief Justice residence is one of the preserved properties.  Freemason Lodge, Galstaun Mansions (oops - Queens Mansions) Harrington Mansions, Saturday Club and Dalhousie Institute,  the RCTC  building on Russell St. properties on Dharamtala Street  are among the 350 buildings built or once owned by Galstaun. It is a shocking lapse by the city fathers, that not a single important road has been named after this, possibly the greatest legend of Calcutta.  

- by Max Galstaun

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