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Author: Will

The Strand Hotel

c.1925

2018

“At my hotel two people had been poisoned by tinned food a few weeks earlier, but whatever the table lacked in quality it made up in pretentiousness…Canapes aux anchois. Potage la Livonienne. Barfurtasauce Ravigotte. Filets mignons la Parisienne.” [Author continues for some time]– George Bird, Wanderings in Burma, 1897

Of the two main buildings visible here our focus is on the rightmost: the Strand hotel, most famous of Yangon’s colonial period hotels. It was built in 1901 and bought soon after by the Sarkies, four Armenian brothers responsible for some of the most famous hotels in Southeast Asia, including the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

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The Old Town and Chinese Quarter

1855

2018

“Here many thousands of people literally swarm by day, and sleep twenty in a single room at night. This portion of the city is called ‘The Town.’ It is almost always very dirty, except when washed by heavy rains.”
– Julius Smith, 10 years in Burma, 1902

Though the exact location of the older photograph here is not recorded, the density of the housing and the presence of Shwedagon just visible in the distance does suggest that it was taken from what is now downtown Yangon. Regardless, it provides a glimpse into what Rangoon looked like around the time modern city was beginning to take shape, versus its appearance today.

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Phayre Street, Lower

1895

2018

This is one of the oldest images we’ve looked at, and pre-dates the colonial buildings we can see in the modern photograph of Pansodan Road: Grindlays Bank, the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, and one of everyone’s favourites: the Sofaer Building. The main focus of this article however will be on something else missing from the older photograph: cars.

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The Secretariat

c.1920

2018

Behind these overgrown trees the Secretariat remains the most impressive colonial building in the city. The grand dome and most of its towers were destroyed nearly a century ago, but the scale of the building alone is still staggering. What truly makes the building special though is how deeply tied its history is to that of Myanmar: almost every chapter of the country’s modern history is reflected in the story of the Secretariat.

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The Church Ruins at Syriam

1892

2018

A short drive to the east of Yangon is the town of Thanlyin, once called Syriam, and the remains of a once impressive catholic church. Already abandoned when the early photographers of the late 19th century began to arrive, its red brick walls represent the earlier stage of European arrivals to Myanmar – long before the British laid out the modern design of downtown Yangon. Today the church is often incorrectly referred to as being Portuguese, due to Syriam’s history as a Portuguese settlement.

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Boundary Road

c.1900

2018

“In Kokine there was not a single house until about 1874, when Mr. Alexander Watson of the Chartered Bank built a small bungalow there, though his action in living ‘so far out in a thick jungle’ was viewed with astonishment by his friends”
– B.R. Pearn, A History of Rangoon, 1939

Dhammazedi Road was originally known as Boundary Road, because it defined the upper limit of the city. Past this point was jungle, with just tracks leading to other nearby villages and towns. Through the 20th century new developments expanded the city past Boundary Road, eventually filling the gaps between these various urban centres, and making them part of the present day sprawl of Yangon.

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Arthur Phayre statue and Rangoon Zoological Gardens

c.1910

2018

“He never really bit anybody, but the engineer felt it was safest to get rid of Lala. He got off one day at the village near the defile and took the bear a mile and a half away into the jungle and “lost” him. Soon after the villagers petitioned the engineer to take the bear on board again. It seemed that Lala was haunting the village and stole chickens persistently. So there was nothing for it but to take him on to the steamer again. Then he gave him to the Rangoon Zoo.”
– Alfred Hugh Fisher, Through India and Burmah with pen and brush, 1911

The statue visible in the older image is Sir Arthur Phayre, the first Chief Commissioner of Burma. In this article we’ll trace the journey of the statue across Yangon, from Myanmar’s first museum to its first zoo, and then its current home today.

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The New Law Courts

c.1870

2018

Recently freed from the scaffolding that hid it for much of the last few years, the New Law Courts building we see today was first completed in 1931. The building housed the city’s district and local courts – part of the rapidly expanding colonial bureaucratic and legal systems, and the Police Commissioners office. Part of a second wave of British construction in the city, it replaced the original court in the older photograph.

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Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Merchant Road

c.1920

2018

At the south-east corner of Mahabandoola Garden on Merchant Road is the fortress-like Myanma Foreign Trade Bank. This building was previously the Rangoon branch of HSBC bank, and before that a catholic church. It was remodelled in the early 1900s to make the building appropriate to its new, secular role: the spire was removed, along with most of the ornamentation – particularly the decorative stonework around the windows.

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Dalhousie Park Memorial Garden

c.1910

2018

Located on the north side of Kandawgyi lake is a park that has held a statue of King Edward VII, a mound of ‘victory earth’, and now a statue of General Aung San.

Edward was the first son of Queen Victoria. Given the length of her reign, he spent 59 years as heir to the throne. Edward did his best to enjoy it: he was notorious for his drinking, gambling and general social carousing, as well as for a string of affairs. One of these was with the wife of Lord Randolph Churchill, the man who brought about the end of Burmese independence. We previously discussed this and admired the legendary beauty of his wife here.

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