Kurunduwatta gets a facelift

Saturday, 21 September 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Ranat The Colombo Town Hall area is a hive of activity these days. The whole area is getting a facelift as part of the ‘Beautification of Colombo’ project. A nearby building just behind the Town Hall, also of the colonial era, was renovated sometime back but possibly went unnoticed. It is the Cinnamon Gardens Post Office building which was in a dilapidated condition but was totally restored by Sampath Bank as part of its CSR program. What’s come to be considered as the City’s most posh residential area – Cinnamon Gardens – was once literally a ‘kurundu-kele’ – a forest full of cinnamon trees. Later it became ‘kurundu-watta’ (cinnamon garden), by which name the area was identified and a municipal ward carved out. Gradually the area became the classy residential area and demarcated as Colombo 7 – synonymous with the upmarket trends in the capital city. Cinnamon was one of the main items of export from the days of the Sinhalese kings along with arecanut, elephants and gems. It was cinnamon which attracted the early Arab traders as far back as 15th century. Then the Portuguese attempted to gain control of the cinnamon trade. King Rajasinghe (1581-93) of Sitavaka was conscious of the need to preserve the cinnamon trade and managed to keep under his control almost all the cinnamon lands. Cinnamon was a key source of State revenue under the Sitavaka kings. Cinnamon continued to be a major export item during the time of Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. After the British took over, in the first three decades of the 19th century, cinnamon was the mainstay of the colonial finances. In 1802 the British East India Company was given the sole right to buy cinnamon from Sri Lanka for the European market. By the 1840s, the cinnamon industry started to decline and gradually lost its place. A solitary cinnamon tree in the front garden of the Post Office remains a symbol of the one-time popular crop. As one enters the Cinnamon Gardens post office the year of construction – 1905 – can be noticed. The custom-built red post box at the entrance has the colonial emblem on it. Two safes where cash and valuable postal material is stored are also reminiscent of the times of the colonial administration. The old architecture remains. The decaying sections in the two-storied building have been done up. So is the interior which has been repaired maintaining the original form, designs and patterns.  The old imported teak is reminiscent of the quality of the timber.  It is an archaeologically protected building due to its antique value. For many years, the post office building could hardly be noticed due to the huge trees in front. Many a pedestrian would go past it yet not see it. The trees have been cut, making the building visible with plenty of light. As for its status, Cinnamon Gardens PO is a Supra Grade post office – one of the three city post offices in that class. (The other two are GPO and Kotahena). Supra grade post offices are only a few – strictly one per district. After restoration by the bank, the post office is worthy of its status.