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The history of Karachi’s Homi Katrak Chambers

TPL Properties will convert it into a luxury high-rise

SAMAA | - Posted: Mar 19, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 years ago
Posted: Mar 19, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 years ago

Photo: Twitter/@annusraza

If you head to Clifton after passing Sind Club and Frere Hall in Karachi, you’ll come to a traffic signal at Lilly Bridge, with a piece of history on its left: Homi Katrak Chambers.

This stunning pre-Partition heritage building was bought by TPL Properties and will be converted into a luxury real estate complex. This is its story.

The building’s story begins with a Zoroastrian businessman by the name of Kavasji Katrak. He came to India in the early 1900s and was based in Rawalpindi where he worked with a trader as a mid-level clerk.

Eventually, Katrak made his way to Karachi and set up a clearing and forwarding business called Katrak & Company.

Katrak got lucky when he came to Karachi. His business grew steadily and by the time he passed away, he held 20 different agencies. His firm was the first agent for Lever Brothers in Pakistan till the multinational company came to the country.

Katrak was also a great philanthropist, he made a lot of money and gave a lot away. He gave the city of Karachi some important monuments as well. A great example of this is the Katrak Bandstand at the Jahangir Kothari Parade in Clifton.

Then there’s the St Johns Ambulance building. No one is certain if Katrak built it or bought it, but he donated the building to St Johns.

You may also have heard of Katrak Parsi Colony located near Numaish, named in his honour. He built around 18 small flats for people who could not afford rent.

The family
The Katrak family patriarch had several daughters and one son, Sohrab. When Sohrab Katrak had two sons of his own, Jamshed and Homi, Cowasjee Katrak, their grandfather decided to give them a building each.

Jamshed, the eldest, got a building near Merewether Tower called Jamshed Katrak Chambers. Homi’s building Homi Katrak Chambers became a popular heritage site at the junction of Hoshang and Abdullah Haroon roads.

According to a family member: “I don’t know if he built them himself or bought them readymade but I know that at least for three generations: since he was alive, they have been family properties.”

In the early 2000s, Jamshed decided to sell his late brother Homi’s property. (Homi had moved to the UK to become a chartered accountant and settled there. He passed away after a battle with cancer.)

The family is unaware of who bought the building. When they asked Jamshed’s staff after he died in 2008, they were told that a lawyer bought it. For years, family and friends wondered that if the property had been bought, why was it just sitting there.

The residents
The building was split into apartments with garages for the residents and large gates which the children used to call “the elephant gates”.

The HKC used to have five flats upstairs and five below. The rooms were spacious and one room led to another. There was one bathroom per flat along with sprawling dining and drawing rooms.

Some of the residents included the Ravaian family, the Homji family, Hamdanis, Bahadur Shah family, Mr Pinto and the DeAbro family. Anwar Maqsood’s Ziggurat Art Gallery was set up here much later. On the ground floor, there was Niyazdin & Sons Tailors and Outfitters (1930) for upmarket customers and the Katrak Retail Store which was run by Mrs Pereira for years and then taken over by the strict Perin Katrak.

Recently, the Homi Katrak Chambers were bought by TPL Properties and will be turned into a residential-commercial property, confirmed its chairperson Jameel Yusuf. It was acquired in June 2017.

The pre-Partition mansion will not be turned into a high-rise structure but will maintain its status as a commercial-residential property. They intend to create a museum on the property as well. Yusuf told SAMAA Digital that the building’s facade would remain intact but they need to strengthen the structure. It will be a beautifully green building, he added.

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