During the early parts of the 1900s, there was a major influx of Jews from Baghdad to Calcutta since it was a place filled with opportunities. Apart from that, in those days Calcutta was considered as the safest place for the Jews, away far from the oppression of the Arab rulers. David Joseph Ezra was one among them, who started his life as a trader in indigo and silk and was also an exporter of opium. He was one of the shipping agents for the Arab merchants, arriving in Calcutta from Muscat and Zanzibar with loads of date-palms and other products from their countries. Here, in Calcutta, they used to trade their items in exchange of rice, sugar and other food items.
Later in his life, David Joseph Ezra invested his profits in prime real estate and became a prominent member of the Baghdadi Jewish Community in Calcutta. He constructed many magnificent buildings in the city of Calcutta, which included Esplanade Mansions, Ezra Mansions, Chowringhee Mansions, and Ezra Terrace. Along with Ezekiel Judah, another member of the community, David Joseph Ezra also funded the construction of Beth El Synagogue in 1856 on Pollock Street. It is interesting to note that after his demise, a road in Calcutta was named after him and is known as Ezra Street.
When he died in 1882, he was the largest property owner in the City, leaving his huge estate to his eldest son Elias David Ezra. David followed the footprints of his father, and also invested in real estate. He contributed a large sum of money to build the Maghen David synagogue in honor of his father. David Elias Ezra, the son of ;Elias David Ezra and the grandson of ;David Joseph Ezra, was awarded knighthood. He was the first Jewish sheriff of Calcutta, President of the Asiatic Society and also a director of the Reserve Bank of India.
Esplanade Mansion, owned by David Joseph Ezra, is located at the crossing of Esplanade Row (East) and Old Court House Street, just opposite to the Eastern gate of the magnificent Government House (Raj Bhavan). On one side it faces the Raj Bhavan, with its beautiful wooded gardens and on the other side it faces the Curzon Park, which also had a lush-green look in the past. It is said that the spot was formally occupied by Scott Thompson’s shop and two other adjoining houses. The gorgeous structure was built in 1910, by Martin & Company of Sir Rajen Mookerjee. Possibly, it is the only Art Nouveau building in the whole of India. ;
The magnificent structure with some 24 flats was originally built for residential purpose. ; However, during WW II, it was leased out to the American Government, mainly for the accommodation of the American soldiers. Later, for some time, it also housed the American Library in the city. ; ;
The iconic building is currently owned by the Life Insurance Corporation of India. Apart from accommodating some offices and rest houses of LIC, it currently houses the offices of the Chief Public Relations Officer of the Eastern Railways, the Railway Claims Tribunal, and the Vice Chairman & Member Technical’s offices. However, several of the flats still remain residential.
Probably it will be not out of place to mention here that, during the shooting of “Parash Pathor” (The Philosopher’s Stone), Satyajit Ray took a shot for the film, from the top of the building.
For many years, this unusually designed exotic building remained neglected, unattended, and forgotten. However, the recent restoration has made it graceful again, with a dazzling white look. The renovated Esplanade Mansion is an example of what little renovation of Colonial architecture can do to our dear old lady Calcutta.