Kochi: More than three centuries after the Dutch stepped into Kochi, a local hotel group has taken over the residence of its commander—its highest military official—and converted the property into an open café and cultural centre that opens on Thursday.
Heritage: A gallery in the renovated David Hall, former residence of Dutch commanders in Kochi.
CGH Earth, which runs several eco and heritage tourism resorts, took a 25-year lease on David Hall last year and restored the structure, which is being reopened with three art galleries, an open cafe in its courtyard and a residence for artists.
CGH Earth has so far invested Rs60 lakh in renovating the structure. “We are already in the location and will want to build our brand and also have a new type of visibility,” Jose Dominic, the hotel group’s managing director, said. “There is also a social cause behind this.”
“David Hall will be a performing art(s) centre for India’s lesser known art forms,” he added.
Several hotel groups across the country have taken over ancient palaces and other structures to convert them into heritage resorts and tourist attractions.
The conversion of David Hall into a cultural centre and cafe could relaunch such efforts in Kochi, says K.J. Sohan, Kerala convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, or Intach, and a former mayor of Kochi.
The residence for Dutch commanders was last owned by David Koder, a Jewish businessman from whom it takes its name. His sons sold the house in 1991 to CNO India, a society for preservation of the heritage and culture of the Netherlands overseas.
Not much was done to conserve the building and its roof collapsed some years ago, says Sohan. CGH Earth says it has renovated the building without harming its basic structure.
“From a small brick to the windows and roof beams, care had to be taken to see that nothing which was part of history was lost. Its very structure was so Dutch that it was really difficult to ensure all this remained unaffected,” says Mridula Jose, interior architect for the hotel group.
David Hall is a single-storey 470 sq. m structure in a sprawling 1,425 sq. m area with large windows, thick walls, open courtyards and an oval roof. Its three large halls, verandah, and rooms will now be part of the cultural centre.
Its roof is archetypally Dutch and looks like an upturned ship hull, says Sohan. The courtyard is paved with yellow bricks found in some of the other Dutch monuments nearby, such as the Bolgatty Palace, the Dutch Governor’s residence.
In tribute to the commanders who lived there, the premises will also house a garden with plants mentioned in Hortus Malabaricus, a compilation of the flora on the Malabar coast by the Dutch commander Hendrik Adriaan van Reed lot Drakestein.
The commander was also responsible for shifting the headquarters of the Dutch East India Co. to Kochi from Colombo, according to K.K.N. Kurup, historian and a former vice-chancellor of Calicut University. The Dutch East India Co., like Britain’s East India Co., started as a trading firm and ended up occupying parts of India.