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Strand Road, west

c.1920

2018

As with many major cities of the world, access to a river was the engine of Yangon’s economic development. Strand Road, running alongside that river, has been host to various important buildings during that development – though many have also been lost to earthquakes and damage from World War II. We’ll look at three such buildings here: the Imperial Bank of India, which survives to this day, the old Post Office building, and Trinity Church, both of which have disappeared in the last century.

The Imperial Bank of India building

Finished in 1914, this was originally a branch of the Bank of Bengal, which was soon after merged into the Imperial Bank of India in 1921. The Imperial Bank was the most important in colonial India and Burma, and it initially took on central bank functions – managing the accounts and debts of the government, and overseeing the commercial banking sector. This changed after 1935, when the Reserve Bank of India was founded and took over these responsibilities. In Rangoon this new bank was housed in what is now the Yangon Stock Exchange.

The Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation forced banking staff to flee, but there was still money to be managed and made, so after the war the Imperial Bank returned. By then it was essentially a regular commercial bank, though it remained uniquely large and important. It lasted until the mass nationalisations of 1963, when (in line with the new superficially socialist era) it became part of People’s Bank. This particular building was branch number eight.

The nearby Reserve Bank of India in 1945, with visible damage from the war

The initially monolithic People’s Bank has since been divided up, and this branch is now part of the Myanma Economic Bank. Of the four main state banks, MEB mostly provides general banking services, while its three siblings focus on central banking, foreign exchange, and rural banking.

Next to the bank in the original image is the original Rangoon Post Office; surely one of the most attractive buildings of its time. The overhanging galleries that wrapped the building were made of ornate wrought iron, and provided an external route around the building that would have made the most of the view of the river. One slightly snarky visitor in the early 1900s suggested it was the only building of merit in the entire city.

Unfortunately the Post Office building was heavily damaged in the 1930 earthquake. Staff were relocated to a new General Post Office in a vacant office further east along the strand, and the original building was presumably destroyed some time later. Today the plot is taken up by the Strand Square office complex.

A little further west on Strand Road was another building that has now completely disappeared: Trinity Church. It was built in 1865 on the former site of a fish market, and was the first real Anglican church in the city. Prior to this, Anglican enthusiasts had used a monastery building inside the military cantonment, and then for a time gathered at the Custom House to the East.

This photograph of Trinity Church from 1875 is one of my favourite images; few show the change to the city as well

Though it looks the part in photographs, the church was basic. There was no bell, pulpit, organ or – perhaps the most problematic omission – any type of fan or cooling mechanism. Given this and the rapidly growing British population of Rangoon, just 29 years later the Holy Trinity Cathedral was built. The altar was carried from Trinity church to its new home on the backs of British worshipers, in order to avoid any sacrilegious treatment by non-believers.

It’s unclear what then became of Trinity Church, and whether it survived its retirement long enough to be destroyed later by earthquake or war in the 1930s or 40s. The site is now taken up by a residential complex.

An eastern view from the Imperial Bank of India building, showing the detail of the post office, and Trinity Church in the distance
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