Historic home turns hotel
By V.S. Sambandan
@ The Hindu 17MAR2005
COLOMBO, MARCH 16. Sri Lanka's historic mansion — the private residence of the Bandaranaikes — will soon become a boutique hotel.
`Tintagel,' in the heart of Colombo, which Sri Lanka's first family called home for decades, will join a list of handsome European and Indian castles and palaces that are now elegant hotels. The sprawling size and costs of maintenance were cited as the reason for the decision."This is far too big a place for me to live [in]," the Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga's sister, Sunethra Bandaranaike, was quoted as telling The Sunday Times. The decision to convert the more than 12,000 sq ft mansion into a hotel was endorsed by Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga and her brother, Anura Bandaranaike, the newspaper said. The house, built in 1929 by a Sri Lankan gynaecologist and writer, Lucian de Zilwa, owes its name to the castle in which King Arthur is believed to have been born.
Tintagel is historic as the residence of three Prime Ministers and a President — the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the late Srimavo Bandaranaike and their daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was Prime Minister before winning the presidential election. To add to the list, Mr. Anura Bandaranaike, a former Speaker, is now a Cabinet Minister.
The house was witness to defining moments, both tragic and celebratory, in Sri Lanka's post-independence history. On its verandah, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike fell to an assassin's bullet. The mansion, however, has not been an official residence since 1962, when the late Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike moved to the Prime Minister's official residence, Temple Trees, for security reasons.
Sri Lanka's `First House' also has an India connection. Its architect, Homi Billimoria, was among the several `Indo-Lankan' professionals who made Sri Lanka their home.
According to Dr. de Zilwa, the marble for its steps and verandah came from north India. During the Second World War, the British military asked Dr. de Zilwa to vacate it "within eight days," and took it over as "a hundred soldiers could be housed there," his autobiography said. After the military occupation, Tintagel was "a wreck," and Dr. De Zilwa subsequently sold it to the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's father.
Udayashanth Fernando, who runs a boutique store and hotel in Colombo, the Gallery Café, has taken the house. He plans eight suites, each with its own sitting room and private balcony. No major alterations are on the cards, but "a few walls will have to be opened out," and a swimming pool added.