Makeover restores glory of Freemason Lodge
November 18, 2011
Renovation of a hundred-year-old historical Freemason Lodge Building in Karachi has almost been completed. The building is being renovated for the first time after it was constructed during British rule (World War I).
As a symbol of an important era, the building deserves to be preserved. Sources revealed that after the renovation and restoration of the Freemason Lodge Building, the Sindh government is planning to establish the first ever wildlife museum of the province on the ground floor of the structure. They said that on the first floor, the government is planning to establish a library to facilitate researchers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Standing adjacent to the Governor’s House near the Karachi Press Club, the Freemason Lodge is currently being used as its office by the Sindh Wildlife Department Conservator. The wildlife department was shifted in this building in 1978. At the time the information department also existed on the ground floor.
The Sindh Department of antiquities initiated a project to renovate the building three years ago. In the first phase, the extra plaster and thick layers of paint will be removed. The Sindh Antiquities Department has planned to remove all the additional cemented structures, wooden cabins, rooms and all the small changes that have been made to the structure during the last few decades in order to restore the original shape of the historic building.
A framework made from bamboo poles is seen encasing the building so that laborers can climb it and scratch away the many layers of paint and plaster which is not part of the original construction. The shrubbery that grew around and on the base of the building walls has already been removed and cleared.
The roof on the two corner rooms in front has been changed because of its poor condition. The old doors of rooms have been removed and new doors have been put in place. The wood which is used in doors is Burma teak. The doors have not been changed only the main hall on the ground floor of two- storey building. They have just been cleaned by the labours.
Muhammad Yousuf, a carpenter belonging to Hyderabad, said he’s been working since renovation of the structure began. He said the renovation work started two-and-a-half-years ago and was still going on. Yousuf said all the wood which was being used in renovation was the same as the British used at the time of its construction. He said 3.5 million rupees worth wood (Burma teak) was imported from Burma a few days back. The stairs and the doors of the ground floor hall are still in their original shape. He said all the renovation work is going on under the supervision the antiquities department.
The Sindh Wildlife Department Conservator Hussain Bux Bhagat said his department had moved a summary for renovation of this building to the Planning and Development Department, but it was rejected and later the Sindh Antiquities Department was asked to initiate the project. Different experts had conducted a lengthy assessment to ascertain the current condition of the historic building after which renovation work was initiated, he added.
The history of the Freemason Lodge reveals that the Freemason’s Trust originally built this building before World War I. For the locals, this building always remained a mystery and they used to call it ‘Jadoo Ghar’, or the House of Magic.
Jeevan, 72, said most of the people in the area at that time called the building ‘Jadoo Ghar’ because it was under the control of the British. Jeevan’s father Birbhu was an office assistant to the Freemason Society. Birbhu and his family used to live in a small house adjacent to the building. His father Birbhu served the British for more than 45 years. Later on, Birbhu’s elder son Mohan Lal served 8 to 9 years after the death of his father.
Jeevan said he served the British rulers seven to eight years; later on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto imposed a ban on all the freemason lodge buildings in Pakistan (1977). “Most of the people could not understand and speak English so they couldn’t communicate with the British. There were also many class and social differences between the British and the locals, so most people in the area could not ask about what actually went on in the building and assumed that something mysterious used to happen in it, hence they began calling it Jadoo Ghar,” said Javeen.
Jeevan said the front side of two corner rooms was used for sitting and British officials used those rooms as a bar. The main hall of first floor was used as library and two rooms at the back were used as stores. There is also an iron staircase on the back side of the building, he said.
The original building structure has a big rectangle hall with a high roof and four doors on each side. On every corner, there are large rooms where members of the Freemason Society used to conduct meetings in the past. A well-structured pair of wooden stairs led to the first floor. The first floor has the same construction as the ground floor of the building; there is a big hall in the middle and rooms on each of the four corners.
The architecture of the building is a mixture of Edwardian and Victorian style with elevated round pillars and a lot of wood. Despite the passing of a century, the building still stands and the wood has survived vagaries of time and has never suffered from termite infestation.
Most of the pillars, the old marble floors, wooden stairs and windows are in their original shape and just need to be cleaned. The office bearers during the British rule installed marble nameplates that revealed the building’s history. These nameplates can still be seen at the entrance wall of the Freemason Lodge.