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The city centre that was

By | September 15th 2011

By Allan Olingo

Looking at Nairobi's Central Business District, one can hardly tell the history behind most buildings and places.

Torr House (Currently the CFC Stanbic, Kenyatta Avenue)

The bright red brick building at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue (then called Delamere Street) and Kimathi Street (then Hardinge) was the first brick building to be put up in Nairobi around 1910. It now houses the Stanbic Bank.

The current Kenyatta Avenue.

Ewart Scott Grogan, a British general and one of Kenya’s eccentric pioneers, built it as a hotel, designed after the City Hall in Stockholm, Sweden by the architect H Henderson.

General Grogan, also known as Bwana Chui, later sold it to Joe Torr who renamed it the Torr Hotel. The British soldiers from Rhodhesia turned it into their hideout, where sex and binge was their order of the day.

Stanbic Bank acquired the building in 1992.

Delamere Street (currently Kenyatta Avenue)

Rather interesting to discover was that Kenyatta Avenue, with its ‘concrete island’ smack in the middle of the multi-lane, was designed wide enough such that a full team of oxen could turn around in it. There were also raised boulders, which traffic officers would stand on and direct traffic.

This street hosted the then Torr House, the Cameo Cinema (then known as Theatre Royal), the Phoenix House, the statue of Lord Delamere, the Barclays Bank House, and Standard Bank of South Africa (currently the Standard Chartered Bank).

Kipande House

Kipande House used to be a railway depot. The Africans working for the colonial masters in Nairobi used to come here to be registered and then issued with identification cards. That is how it got its name, Kipande House. The architecture was unique and timeless, which its current tenants — Kenya Commercial Bank — have maintained.

The Stanley Hotel

It’s built in a Victorian-style theme. In 1902, The Stanley was a boarding house on Victoria Street (the current Tom Mboya Street), but was shifted and constructed on its present site in 1913 and named the New Stanley after the great explorer — Stanley Henry Morton.

On the ground floor of the New Stanley was Thorn Tree CafÈ. This cafÈ had a single acacia tree at the centre where travellers would leave notes, letters and messages for fellow travellers pinned to the trunk. That tradition became so popular that the thorn tree became an icon for African travel.

Jeevanjee Gardens

The Duke and Duchess of Connaught unveiled a statue of Queen Victoria, which was presented by Jeevanjee. The statue stands at the Jeevanjee Gardens, which in 1906, was known as Victoria Gardens. The garden was letter renamed after Jeevanjee who was a pioneer millionaire and the first member of Municipal Committee of Nairobi. The City Council of Nairobi currently manages Jeevanjee Gardens.

National Bank of India (Currently Kenya National Archives)

The Kenya National Archives on Moi Avenue was initially built as the National Bank of India, with a commanding position at the heart of the city. The old Nairobi bus station was located opposite the current National Archives building where the Hilton Hotel stands.

Indian Bazaar (Now Biashara Street)

It was inhabited by Indians, infested by rats and twice hit by plagues in 1902 and 1906. Then known as the Indian Bazaar, when the Kenya-Uganda railway was being built, it was muddy, dirty and had cowsheds.

Theatre Royal (Now Cameo Cinema)

Cameo Cinema was built in 1912 as Theatre Royal. In the early 1990s, it was a cinema hall, but later changed into a congregational hall at the ground floor and as a restaurant and bar (The Verandah) at the top. It is currently a casino.

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