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March 23, 2018
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Kolkata’s iconic Fairlawn hotel begins a new chapterAs new owner Diamond Oberoi checked into the colonial era building, previously owned by Calcutta-born British Jennifer Ann Fowler

An 18th Century building, cradling a 19th Century hotel, and walls of colourful history are the stuff Fairlawn is made up of. The last heritage leisure property of early colonial era, and until late last evening owned by a Calcutta-born British lady Jennifer Ann Fowler, checked in its new owner, Diamond Oberoi, an Indian hotelier, on Tuesday morning.

The 235-year-old building and nearly a century old hotel, that housed Nobel laureate Gunter Grass to French Novelist Dominique Lappiere, where Sashi Kapoor met theatre actor Jennifer Kendal in the 1950s and an umpteen number of writers, filmmakers, journalists and poets still throng its garden restaurant officially changed hand last night.

Before leaving for the county town of Taunton in Somersett with her daughter Cathryn, Jennifer Fowler spent a quiet evening after a weeklong paper chase. After the deal, over a glass of beer, 6-feet and 70-year-old British American lady told The Hindu that she and her parents “found their life partners here in Calcutta.” The receptions had taken place in Fairlawn.

Her mother managed the hotel till her death at 94 in 2014. Her Armenian grandparents Rosie and Minas fled Aremenia after Turkish invasion in 1915 and landed up in Calcutta. They bought over the hotel in 1936.

Just a few steps down the road besides Indian Museum in Kolkata, this quaint little nest for many a legend, changed hands over a get together of sorts between the two “Calcutta families”. Jennifer, Managing Director of Fairlawn Hotel Pvt. Ltd. was in tears and smiles through the evening.

The ‘other’ Oberoi

Sixty-two-year old Oberoi, the Managing Director Elgin Hotel and Resorts, who is the iconic hotelier of a chain of restored heritage properties in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and royal buildings in Gangtok and Peling at the foothills of Himalayas, said a two-year restoration work for Fairlawn asset begins from Tuesday.

This would be done without changing the core character of the operational hotel,” promised the hotelier, fondly known as the ‘other’ Oberoi, nephew of Mohan Singh Oberoi, the founder of Oberoi Group of Hotels. Trained at Oberoi School of Hotel Management, Diamond Oberoi bought out only heritage leisure properties and made a star out them. He felt Fairlawn was the last authentic “British” hotel in independent India. The ambiance, the grandeur, the unique experience of 19th century relaxation and the goodwill of the hotel is still intact.

A modern touch

“We will make it more comfortable. Rooms will have modern facilities but done up in the same old style,” Mr Oberoi said. Since Oberoi took over a small hotel ran by a Scottish lady on a property of Maharaja of Coochbehar in Darjeeling in 1965, it did not look for another furrow.In 1976, the ‘other’ Oberoi bought the Royal Guest House of King of. Sikkim in Gangtok and the Royal Retreat at Peling in 2007. “We restored all, improved and expanded the heritage properties”, he mentioned.

When Jennifer’s Fowler’s mother Violet Smith, who passed away recently at 93, discontinued the practice of accepting only foreign currencies and started taking Indian currency. That was the beginning of the ‘Indianness’ of Fairlawn. On Tuesday, the new legal entity and the brand — Elgin Fairlawn – has turned purely Indian.