Hello and good morning. I hope you are ready for our today’s ‘British Colonial Rangoon Sight Seeing’.
All of the colonial buildings we will visit are located in downtown Yangon, in other words, former British Colonial Rangoon proper, and are positioned relatively close to one another. The simple grit pattern of the city’s layout makes it easy to find ones way around. That’s why the best way to explore Colonial Rangoon is by foot. Another reason for walking instead of using a car is that the permanent traffic jams and a chronic lack of parking space in this area makes the car being more curse than blessing. We cannot and need not to see all colonial buildings for this would be much too much for one day and this article. The tour I have planned for today includes 30 major buildings that bear testimony to Rangoon’s present days Yangon’s glorious colonial past. All of them belong to the most precious jewels of British Colonial Rangoon’s treasure trove. And, please, if you want to do yourself a favour make plenty of photos of them because it will definitely be the last time that you have the chance to see the buildings as they are. In the not so far future there will a yet unknown number of them be completely disappeared, totally run down or ‘restored’ in a way that leaves nothing of their partly still existing, leave alone former, colonial charm. We will of course see a lot of other partly still beautiful old colonial buildings that have interesting stories to tell but have to keep focussed on those I have selected for our tour; we will otherwise be too much distracted and not get ready today. Please stay close together, mind your steps and do not stray from the group. OK, the starting point of our walk through British Colonial Rangoon will be the former Rangoon General Hospital. From there we continue to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, located in direct neighbourhood of the Scott Market, then to the former Burmah Railways Headquarters, the former Rangoon Railway Station, and so on. When we arrive at the buildings I will give you some related basic information. There is of course an awful lot more to say about the buildings and their history but this article does not provide enough space for all these details. Further very important information related to this you will find at the end of this article.
So, ladies and gentlemen, now we have arrived at the Yangon, formerly (Rangoon) General Hospital where our today’s ‘Colonial Yangon Sight Seeing Tour’ begins. We are here on Bogyoke Aung San Road, the former Commissioner’s Road. In front of us you can see on the other side of the road the Hospital, built from 1899 to 1905 and opened on 07 May the same year. It is here were Aung San – who was hospitalised to be treated for the injuries he sustained in 1942 during the Burma Campaign – meets his later wife Daw Khin Kyi who serves here as senior nurse. Later their third child will be a daughter, which they will give the name Aung San Su Kyi. The Yangon General hospital also is the site were Burmese soldiers commit a massacre during the uprising in 1988 by indiscriminately killing a large number of hospital patience, because they believe that said patience have sustained their wounds during the demonstrations. Please make now your photos and let us then continue eastwards on Aung San Road (former Commissioner’s Road) to the Holy Trinity Cathedral at the corner of Aung San Road (former Montgomery Road) and Shwedagon Pagoda Road, the former Pagoda Road. Now you are confused about the street names? Well, this side of Aung San Road is the former Commissioner’s Road and from the cross-roads at the cathedral on it is the former Montgomery Road.
Cathedral Of The Holy Trinity
Right in front of us we have now the primary Anglican cathedral in Burma; the Holy Trinity Cathedral on No. 446 Bogyoke Aung San Road. It is one of Rangoon’s earliest colonial buildings. The Holy Trinity Cathedral is on the Yangon Heritage List. Now it is time to move on to the former Scott Market, now Bogyoke Aung San Market. Its main entrance is about 500 feet/155 metres down Aung San Road from here in eastern direction. We will be there in a few minutes.
Now we have reached the main entrance to the long centre hall of the Scott Market at Bogyoke Aung San Road (former Montgomery Road), since 1948 called Bogyoke Market (by locals Bogyoke Zay (zay meaning market), after the Burmese national hero Bogyoke (General) Aung San. Not widely known is that his real name (birth name) was Htein Lin; Aung San is the name he has taken on at the time he was student leader. The market is built on the premises of a former tram terminus, was opened in 1926 and named after Mr. Garvin Scott, who was from 1917 to 1930 (17 years) Chief Executive Officer of the Rangoon Corporation and during his tenure twice president of the Rangoon Municipality.
The Bogyoke Aung San Market is on the Yangon Heritage List. OK, let’s continue our tour. When we get out of the market we turn left on the Aung San Road, and pass the FMT building and the Zawgyi Restaurant. Then we will see the Grand May Yaa Hta Executive Residence building and our actual point of interest, the former Burma Railways Headquarters at the corner of Aung San Road and Sule Pagoda Road.
Former Burma Railways Headquarters
Here it is, the former Burma Railways Headquarters building complex at the corner of former Montgomery Road, now Aung San Road and Sule Pagoda Road. In 1896 three railway companies merged into one railway company under contract with the Secretary of State for India; the state-owned ‘Burmah Railways Company’ has come into being and moves into this new headquarters.
Central Railway Station
Now we are on Sule Pagoda Road and over there on the right side you can already see the railway tracks and the backside of the railway station. In front of us on the other side of the bridge on which we are now walking you see the Methodist Church (Scots Kirk) and over there on the right hand side the Aung San Sports Grounds & Stadium. Let us now turn right into Kun Chan Road and look at the railway station from its front side. We continue to Phayre Street now Pansodan Street; the stairs there in front of us lead up to the fly-over. On Pansodan Street we turn right, cross the bridge, continue to Bogyoke Aung San Road, turn left, and follow the Aung San Road till Bo Aung Kyaw Road, former Sparks Road. There at the corner of Bo Aung Kyaw Road and Aung San Road is the St. Mary’s Cathedral located, which is our next British colonial point of interest.
St. Mary’s Cathedral/Cathedral Of Our Lady Of Immaculate Conception
Well, my friends, this was quite a little walk but we have made it. Here you see Myanmar’s largest cathedral, the Saint Mary’s Cathedral at No. 372, Bo Aung Kyaw Street. We will now cross the Archbishop’s Residence compound located behind the cathedral’s compound. They have a very nice garden and the Archbishop’s Residence is a beautiful building. It is normally not allowed to take this way in order to get to Thein Byu Road, the former Judah Ezekiel Road, but I know some people here and we can for once use this shortcut. So, we have crossed the Archbishop’s Residence compound and are standing in front of it on Thein Byu Road. We turn right and a few steps further down the street you can see one of the sports grounds of the former St. Paul’s English High School. At the corner we turn right again onto the former Frazer/Bigandet Street, now Anawrahta Road from which we will see the school’s main entrance and main building.
St. Paul’s English High School/B.E.H.S. 6 Botataung
We are in front of the former St. Pauls English High School. The former St. Paul’s English High School is on the Yangon Heritage List. Let’s continue to the former Secretariat Building opposite of the main entrance to the former St. Paul’s High School. Just cross the former Dalhousie Street, now Maha Bandoola Road and make some photos from the school. Then we walk the few yards back to the cross roads, turn right and walk down Thein Byu Road, the former Judah Ezekiel Road, alongside the Secretariat Building till we reach its main entrance.
So we are now at the corner Maha Bandoola Road and Thein Byu Road. The building over there on the other side of Thein Byu Road is the former British Government Press Building on No. 228 Thein Byu Road.. Well, here we are now; on former Judah Ezekiel Road, now at No. 300 Thein Byu Road in front of the main entrance to the Secretariat Building. It is without doubt former Rangoon’s largest and most spectacular and impressive British colonial building filling the space of an entire block. The Secretariat is bordered here in the east by the former Judah Ezekiel Road, now Thein Byu Road, left from us, in the south, by the former Dalhousie Street, now Maha Bandoola Road, right from us, in the north, by the former Bigandet Street, now Anawrahta Road and on the side opposite from us, the west, by the former Sparks Street, now Bo Aung Kyaw Street. The construction begins in 1889 and the first phase is completed in 1902; the second is completed in 1905 and ‘The Secretariat’ is officially opened the same year. After independence on 4 January 1948 the building houses offices of ministers of the Burmese government for which reason it is from 1948 to 1972 by locals called Government Secretariat and from1972 on till now Ministers’ Office. But it is not only the fact that ‘The Secretariat’ is the place from which all of British Burma was governed and all administrative power is executed that makes it such an immensely important part of Burmese history; it also is the place were on 19 July 1947 at 10:30 am the de facto prime minister Aung San was assassinated in the ground floor room at the north-east corner of the building together with 6 ministers of his cabinet. The room in which Aung San and the members of his cabinet were assassinated has been turned into a memorial place. The Secretariat is on the Yangon Heritage List.
General Post Office
Here we are. This building (No. 39-41 Bo Aung Kyaw Street) at the corner of Strand Road and former Sparks Street, now Bo Aung Kyaw Street, must not be mistaken for the original post office from colonial Rangoon times. That has been located further down on Strand Road between Sule Pagoda Street and Mogul Street. It was an exact copy of the Bombay post office and as such an extremely beautiful, heavily ornamented building but does unfortunately not exist anymore. This building is completed in 1885 and serves as Burma headquarters of the trading and agent firm Bulloch Brothers. Later an annex along Sparks Street was added and completed in 1908. The Yangon General Post Office is on the Yangon Heritage List. The next building of our tour is the one adjacent to the left of the GPO, the J&F Graham & Co. building.
J&F Graham And Co. Building
Yes, this here is the former J & F Graham & Co. shipping and insurance company’s building at No. 80 Strand Road and, no, your eyes do not play tricks on you for the building is after Burma’s independence in January 1948 becoming home to the British Embassy. The building was established in 1898 and is on the Yangon Heritage List. Now we continue walking down Strand Road in western direction. We are crossing 39th Street and Seikkantha Street and then we will arrive at our next heritage building the Strand Hotel just a few steps away from the Graham & Co. building.
We have made it and are now standing at No. 92 Strand Road in front of the famous Strand Hotel, which got its name from the street on which it is located. From the architectural point of view the building as it presents itself before us has unfortunately lost much of its original grandeur and it is not anymore the shiny architectural gem it used to be during Rangoon’s colonial era when it was one of the famous luxury hotels of the Sarkies Brothers hotel chain of first class hotels. However, owing to its name and glorious past the Strand Hotel remains well worth to be included into a tour through the British Colonial Rangoon. The Strand Hotel is on the Yangon Heritage List.
Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation Building
Here it is, the nowadays rather insignificant looking building over there on the other side of the Strand Road on No. 104 Strand Road is the former headquarter of a company that has played an enormously significant role in Burma’s history; the Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation Limited. This building is completed around the 1920s and I could not find out where the BBTC’s earlier Rangoon office was. The company is also known as Bombay Burmah Trading Company and was founded by the Wallace Brothers from Edinburgh, Scotland. After Burma Airways (now Myanmar Airways) is founded the company moves into this building and uses it as office. The Building is not on the Yangon City Heritage List. Let’s go to the building next door across 37th Street.
Port Authority/Port Trust Authority Building
This is the Rangoon Port Authority building adjacent to the Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation Building. It is located at No. 2-20 Pansodan Street ( corner of former Phayre Road, now Pansodan Street and Strand Road). The building replaces the former Rangoon Port Trust Authority Building and occupies the entire space between Pansodan Road and 37th Street. The building’s construction is completed in 1928. The building is on the Yangon City Heritage List. We do now cross the Pansodan Road to take a look at the former Accounts General’s Office and Currency Department Building.
Account General’s Office And Currency Department
Here at No. 1 Pansodan Street (corner of Strand Road and former Phayre Street, now Pansodan Road) you see the former government financial centre of British Burma. During the last 35 years of British times (with exception of some 3 years of Japanese occupation) all accounts concerning the colony’s income and expenditure are managed here). It is the 3-storey former Accounts General’s Office and Currency Department Building; one of the big wheels in the machinery of British administration. The Account General’s Office building is completed in 1912. The building’s backside wing on Bank Street located opposite the building of the former Chartered Bank of India, Australia & China is housing the Currency Department and directly hit by a Japanese bomb. It is never rebuild and may serve as warning example for senseless destruction. After Independence the building was used by the Burmese government as civil court. Since the government moved to the new capital Nay Pyi Taw the building is as a court and its future remains uncertain. We are now back at the front facade of the Account General’s Office at the entrance located at the corner tower. The Account General’s Office is on the Yangon City Heritage List. The building next door is the Customs House Building.
This impressive Customs House at No. 132 Strand Road was construction from 1913 and is completed in 1915. In October 1915 the building is officially opened and put into service. The building still serves its original purpose and is on the Yangon Heritage List. Now let us move a few steps farther down the Strand Road so that we are in front of the building left from the Customs House, which is the former Police Commissioner’s Building. The street between these 2 buildings is the Maha Bandoola Garden Street and the street on the left hand side of the building is the Sule Pagoda Road.
Police Commissioner’s Building
Here we are. The monumental 5-storey Police Commissioner’s Building opposite from us is a masonry building constructed within almost 5 years from 3 March to October 1931 when the building was officially opened and put into service. The massive building is occupying the entire space of the block stretching from former Barr Street, now Maha Bandoola Garden Street to Sule Pagoda Road and is comprising the police commissioner’s offices and the New Law Court offices, the court rooms of civil and criminal District Court and the Rangoon magistracy. Since November 2005, when the Burmese/Myanmar government moved to Nay Pyi Taw, the building is abandoned. We will now cross the Strand Road and walk northwards along Sule Pagoda Road. The Main entrance to this building is on the other side of the complex on No. 56-66 Bank Street.
Bank Of Bengal Building
Having arrived at the corner of Strand Road and Sule Pagoda Road we have on our left the premises of the former Bank of Bengal. This very beautiful building is located at 15-19 Sule Pagoda Road. It was completed in 1914. It houses now the offices of the Myanma Economic Branch 3.
Reserve Bank Of India Building
We have now moved on to 24-26 Sule Pagoda Road were the former Reserve Bank of India is located. The building was completed in 1936 and stands diagonally across the former Bank of Bengal Building. The building is now housing the offices of the Central Bank of Myanmar. A few steps farther up on Sule Pagoda Road we have reached the corner of Sule Pagoda Road and Merchant Street and turn right. Left from us you see the Fytche Square, now Maha Bandoola Garden with the Independence Memorial Monument. We go now over to the Maha Bandoola Garden side and turn left into the Maha Bandoola Garden Street, the former Barr Street and continue to the former High Court Building on Maha Bandoola Garden Street.
High Court/Supreme Court
We are now standing opposite the more than 110 years old Rangoon High Court building’s front side at the former Barr Street, now Maha Bandoola Garden Street. The main entrance is facing the former Fytche Square Garden, now Maha Bandoola Garden with the Independence Monument from where we are now looking at the building. It was (with exception of the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945) from 1911 to 1947 home to the highest court of British Burma. The former main entrance on this side is closed. The building’s back side is located at former Phayre Road, now No. 89-133 Pansodan Road. The Rangoon High Court is also known as Rangoon Chief Court or Supreme Court. The building complex forms like many British colonial building complexes a square (or alternative a rectangle) that is enclosing an inner court with lawn and garden. Let’s go back in southerly direction towards Merchant Street. We will go around the block to the other side of the High Court. Adjacent to it is the Rangoon Central Telegraph Office. On our way we will stop at the former Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation Building, the former Mercantile Bank of India Building and the former Oppenheimer & Co Building.
Hongkong & Shanghai Bank Corporation Rangoon
Now we are at the corner of former Barr Street, now Maha Bandoola Garden Street and Merchant Street. The building at this corner is the former Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation’s (HSBC) Building Rangoon. If you like you can make a photo. So, now we continue along Merchant Street. The building next to the former HSBC building is the former Mercantile Bank Of India Building.
Mercantile Bank Of India Building Rangoon
Here we are at No. 554 Merchant Street. Other than that it is in a very poor state not much can be said with respect to this building. Next to the former bank building is the former Oppenheimer Building.
Oppenheimer & Co. Building
We are now standing under the portico of the former Oppenheimer & Co Building on No. 556 Merchant Road. We continue to walk westwards on Merchant Street to the next crossroads Merchant Street and Pansodan Road. There we turn left on Pansodan Road and walk up to the backside of the former Rangoon High Court. We have reached the crossroads. Before we turn left into Pansodan we take a look at the yellow-beige coloured building diagonally opposite from as. That is the former Sofaer & Co. Building that was built in 1906. Let’s continue to the former High Court.
Oriental Life Assurance Building
This is No. 545-547 Merchant Street between 36th Street and Pansodan and the building is the former Rangoon offices of the Calcutta/India based Oriental Life Assurance. The building was completed in 1914 and is although being 100 years old at the time of this writing still a real jewel in the string of colonial buildings on Merchant Street. The building is now occupied by the Indian Embassy. Please make your photos and then we continue a few steps westwards to the crossroads Merchant Street and Pansodan Road. There we turn left on Pansodan Road and walk up to the backside of the former Rangoon High Court.
High Court (Back Side)
We have arrived at the back side of the Rangoon High Court on 89-133 Pansodan Street. This building part alongside Pansodan Road is more symmetric than the front part on the Maha Bandoola Garden Street side. In contrast to the front facade here the main entrance has a huge roofed space outside the main support walls of the building (porch) the top of which is serving as a veranda with stone balustrade. Also, here the front facing gable roof is decorated with a triangular pediment. Since the High Court is in 2006 moved to the new capital Nay Pyi Taw this building is abandoned. The building is on the Yangon Heritage List. Let us now take a look at the adjacent building, the Rangoon Central Telegraph Office.
Central Telegraph Office/Government Telegraph Office
Here we are; opposite the former Government Telegraph Office also known as Rangoon Central Telegraph Office nowadays called Central Telegraph Office. It is located at No. 125-133 Pansodan Street (corner of former Dalhousie Road, now Maha Bandoola Road and former Phayre Road, now Pansodan Road) and another good example for the beauty of Edwardian architecture. The construction began in 1913 and the building was completed in 1917. It is an exact copy of the Government Telegraph Office in Calcutta, now Kolkata/India. The building is on the Yangon Heritage List. OK, now we turn left and continue on Maha Bandoola Road to the Sule Pagoda. You can already see the pagoda ahead of us. We will go straight to the Sule Pagoda because from there we have a good look at the last colonial buildings of our tour.
We have arrived on former Fytche Square with our backs turned to the Sule Pagoda right behind us and have actually reached the end of our ‘Colonial Rangoon Sight Seeing Tour.
We are now on former Fytche Square with the Sule Pagoda right behind us. To our left is the former Rangoon City Hall, located across from us to the left is the former Rowe & Co. Building, opposite this building is the Immanuel Baptist Church and to our right opposite the Maha Bandoola Garden with the Independence Memorial is the former Fytche Square Building. We start with the Rangoon City Hall and continue clock-wise.
This enormous building complex is standing at Maha Bandoola Street on the site of the old Rangoon Municipal building, which was much smaller. It has a basically rectangular floor plan oriented in east to west direction with entrances at cut-off corners. The south-west corner is cut off to adjust to the former Fytche Square shape. The construction begins in 1925 and is completed in 1935. In 1936 the Rangoon City Hall is officially opened by the Governor of Burma, His Excellency Sir Archibald Cochrane and is since then serving as municipal building.
Rowe & Co. Building
Opposite the former Barr Street, now Maha Bandoola Garden Street side of the City Hall you see the former Rowe & Co. Building at No. 416 Maha Bandoola Road. It is the third and last building of Rowe & Co. in Rangoon. In 1901 this new plot of land at the corner Barr Street, now Maha Bandoola Garden Street and Dalhousie Street, now Maha Bandoola Road is found. The construction of the building is completed in 1910.
Immanuel Baptist Church
The original Immanuel Baptist Church building is completed in 1895 and is thus one of Rangoon’s/Yangon’s oldest churches. The church is almost completely destroyed during the Japanese occupation and this new church building is completed in 1952. It is located at No. 411 Maha Bandoola Road (corner of former Barr Street, now Maha Bandoola Garden Street and former Dalhousie Street, now Maha Bandoola Road). Its main entrance is facing the former Fytche Square, now Sule Pagoda Square. The Immanuel Baptist Church is on the Yangon Heritage List. Let us now walk a little bit clock-wise around the Sule Pagoda in order to have a better view on the former Fytche Square Building.
Fytche Square Building, Sharraz Building
So, there it is, the 3-storey former Fytche Square Building, also known as Sharraz Building. It was completed in 1918 and it is located at 77-91 Sule Pagoda Road. In 1946 the companies stopped their businesses and in early 1947 the building was till 1962 occupied by the Civil Supply Board Offices. In the process of implementation of the governments nationalisation programme the building was allotted to the Trade Corporation and then used as office of the Ministry of Hotels & Tourism till the government moved to the new capital Nay Pyi Taw. Now we have to continue walking clockwise half way around the Sule Pagoda in order to see the Sunni Jumah Bengali Mosque..
Sunni Jumah Bengali Mosque
The building over there at 93 Sule Pagoda Road is the Sunni Jamah Bengali Mosque. The mosque was founded and financed by parts of the community of immigrants from Bengal. Now, please look upwards Sule Pagoda Road to where I am pointing. You see the gray building with the tower on the left hand side some 200 yards ahead of us? Well, that is the Rangoon Municipal Central Fire Station and the last British Colonial Building of our British Colonial Rangoon Sightseeing Tour.
Municipal Central Fire Station
This is the Central Fire Station, formerly the Rangoon Municipality Central Fire Station at 137-139 Sule Pagoda Road. It was completed 1912. In 1883 the Rangoon Municipal Committee had a fire brigade established and started to build fire stations in townships. The top of this tower served as permanent lookout for back then it was possible to overlook a wide area because most building were not higher than 2 storeys. This fire station is to this day – more than 100 years after its completion – in use.