THE PALM BEACH STORY

By the year 1830 ,an Englishman by the name of John Spence had established the Spence’s hotel in Calcutta, making it perhaps the oldest western style hotel outside Europe, which tragically has since been demolished, as the Government had encroached and eventually brought down most buildings around the official ‘Government House’ including the historic ‘Spence’.

 

In 1841 David Wilson built the ‘Wilson Hotel’ now known as ‘Great Eastern Hotel’,also ,in Calcutta, which had started out as a bakery and then became a chronic non- paying hotel but later turned into a thriving prosperous one, where the Hoi Polloi’ made it a part of their everyday life and soon established it as the best of it’s kind, in this part of the world.

 

In far away Simla, a place not unknown to many, two intrepid hoteliers from Italy, Signor Faletti and Signor Pelitti had already established ‘The Cecil’, and ‘The Grand’, which had already set the benchmark in hotels. At that moment a 20 year old, from New Julfa, Armenia, was struggling to sell his wares from a wheelbarrow in the streets of Calcutta. By the year 1911, that Armenian, Stephen Arathoon, had built the ‘Grand’ now known as the ‘Oberoi Grand ‘Hotel, on the foundation of the burnt down ‘Theatre Royal’, making sure that it was better than its two rivals, ‘The Spence’s and Wilson Hotel.

 

No one had really by then heard of Gopalpur and Gopalpur returned the compliment. Barely 16 kms from Berhampore, the commercial hub of Southern Orissa, in the Bay of Bengal, it was extremely uncanny of a young Italian Signor Maglioni ,to mysteriously find home all the way from Sicily, and establish the ‘Palm Beach’ in 1914 making it the oldest hotel of the State and probably the first beach resort of the country.

 

‘Gopalpur-on-Sea’, how very British the suffix ‘on- sea’ like ‘Middleton- on- Sea’, ‘rankton-on- Sea’, was a palm fringed beach and Maglioni’s dream fused with the sepia and romance of the langorous town ,where the silence was broken only by the breakers and the occasional coconut thudding on the ground.

 

Originally a small fishing village on the coast of Odisha when it was so named, after a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, the ‘Krishna Gopal’ temple which was built in the 18th Century. Legend has it that Gopalpur’s sands had witnessed maritime ventures at a much earlier age when Odisha had flourished as part of the Kalinga Kingdom in the 4th and 5th century B.C. Early colonists to Java, Bali and Sumatra were supposed to have sailed from here, carrying the seeds of Indian civilization with them. We, in Odisha, still celebrate this as ‘BALI YATRA’ in November each year, coinciding with the festival of ‘Kartik Purnima’.

 

Between the two World Wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) Gopalpur was overrun by the men in Khakis and became the eastern sectors’ base for ferrying out troops and supplies to Rangoon. The commercial port became the living symbol of its grandeur and the pulsating lifestyle was evident in the packed dance floors of the hotel ‘Blue Haven’. In 1945. the World War II came to an end and India inched towards being an independent, sovereign republic.By 1947 the British had left the Indian shores and the commercial activity of Gopalpur had dwindled to a trickle. The once vibrant, emblazoned ball rooms gaped at open skies. The noisy wharfs moulted and the warehouses became seedy gateways for derelicts. Gopalpur’s importance dwindled when trade with Burma abruptly ceased during the war. When the British left India, even members of rich Bengali homes preferred to holiday in other places and Gopalpur began to revert to what it originally was -a fishing village.

 

In 1938,another enterprising ,courageous Indian Hotelier, Rai bahadur M.S Oberoi had already taken over a closed down ‘Grand’ hotel from the Armenian Stephen Arathoon and reinvented it with trademark Oberoi elan’ as the ‘Oberoi Grand’,to make it the most sought after address in Calcutta. In 1947, on a chance visit to Maglioni’s ‘Palm Beach’ hotel, his keen eyes did not miss the state of disrepair that the hotel had fallen to. His instinct smelled a bargain and Maglioni was only too happy to sell it to the Oberoi’s for a paltry 3.0 lacs rupees., thereby enabling the Oberoi legend to root itself as the ‘Oberoi Palm Beach’. As its doors opened, the who’s who of the country ,from Prime Ministers,to celebrities and royalty left their impressions behind, along with their footprints on the sands of time. History was being created every day, as the hotel played host to the history makers.

 

Maglioni’s Mediterranean Architecture had undergone a makeover by the Oberoi’s ,but the core of the structure was slowly but surely giving way to the vagaries of nature and the corroding effects of the saline sea breeze. The erosion had begun and no amount of hasty repairs could make it anymore safe for its guests. The Oberois closed gates in 2002 and decided to distance themselves and sell this piece of Odisha’s history to any worthy taker.

 

It was at this time, 2011, that ‘Mayfair hotels and resorts’ stepped in.To protect, renovate and restore the’ Palm beach’, where history echoed from every cobble stone, lured by the fact that Gopalpur-on-sea still stood untouched by the concrete commercialism that had destroyed nearby Puri’s equally pristine beach and also because Gopalpur had actually wrapped itself in a romantic mysticism that tugged at history but refused to drown in its excesses.

 

While the Resort captures the appearance and feeling of old colonial with a Mediterranean touch, the outcome is far from simple reconstruction, renovation or reproduction. To preserve the essence of the past but blend it seamlessly with the demands of contemporary life required many original designs and creative re-imaginings.
The blue fret work patterns, rafters, white furniture and artifacts are all of new design but inspired by and in keeping with historical antecedents. Through these tasteful and practical adaptations we hope that the “Palm Beach” will serve a valuable role in preserving of the best of Colonial, Mediterranean Architecture, religious leaning and cultural heritage for future generation.

 

Mayfair has now breathed new life to the ‘Oberoi Palm Beach’ in its all new avatar- ‘THE MAYFAIR PALM BEACH RESORT’. Its the ultimate tribute to your senses and helps in stealing your time and mind in order to find your DNA and recreate you for future generations…Where always, every time, any day, ‘sometimes the sky looks like the sea and sometimes the sea looks like the sky’.