Race Course: From A Posh Residential Colony To A High End Commercial Hub

Race Course can be called as the Switzerland of Coimbatore. However commercial activities have made it into a big mall. If one takes a small stroll down Race Course, it is possible to see that it has become the Khader Nawaz Khan Road of Coimbatore. With changing scenario, it got transformed from a residential colony to a citadel of high fashion area.
I remember the Race Course of my childhood when my brother Suresh and my cousins Vijayalakshmi, Yamuna and Vinod used to race in order to reach the club first. Great grandfather P.A.Raju Chettiar used to take a stroll with his ‘Verandah Club’ friends from Cosmopolitan Club. R.K.Venkatachalam Chettiar, S.R.P.Ponnuswamy Chettiar were part of this group. We used travel in his huge room sized Chevrolet (MDC 8999) and Murugan used to drive us to the club. Club meant snacks, sweets and cold drinks. Great grand father used to introduce us to his friends with great pride. He used to get us ‘Thenga Manga Pattani Sundal’ from a man who used to bring it in a ‘thookhu’ those days. It used to be very yummy and all of us loved it.
Race Course of those days used to be quiet and full of bird life. It was absolutely calm and the silence used to interrupted by just one honk from a big Plymouth or a Mercedes passing by. Gurkhas used to guard the bungalows and we were told that they had a special license to carry daggers ! I used to be fascinated with swords and guns those days and used to get carried away with such stories. The Income Tax Office, Central Excise Office and Sakthi Sugars were the only busy places other than the Government Arts College. We witnessed the play on Bharathi during his centennial year in the same college. One day, my friends Santossh, Manoj and Rajamanickkam wrote our B School entrance exams in this ancient place of learning.
I remember the day when a huge crowd was walking by and my father K.Govindarajulu told me that the Sharadhaambal Temple was getting consecrated that day. Father used to take my mother Aravindakumari, my brother Suresh and myself for long drives those days and Race Course was one such destination. He used to encourage us to share our views and would go the extra mile by driving more and more in order to facilitate the conversation. Father used to tell us about the residents of the bungalows in Race Course. That is how I came to know about K.V.Balasubramaniam of Balasubramania Mills. The nice bungalow used to have an attractive yellow coloured car parked in the portico. I used to collect match box cars and I had one yellow coloured car too.
The huge bungalow belonging to A.T.Devaraja Mudaliar used to be an attraction. We used to pass by ‘Jothi’, the residence of former Member of Parliament P.R.Ramakrishnan and ‘Jayashree’, the Sri Hari Mills bungalow. SIMA (Mills Association) office was also nearby. We were told that Race Course was free of power cuts due to the presence of a number of official residences. I was told that one of the first 100 Siruvani water fountains was placed in Cosmopolitan Club in 1929.
We used to see the many houses in the property belonging to K.S.Thirugnanasambandam Chettiar of Om Parasakthi Mills, the residence of A.L.Govindarajulu & Rukmini Ammal, S.Devaraj, V.Rajan of the P.S.G Family and L.G. Ramamurthy.
The big bungalow cluster of the KG Family would be followed by an LMW guest house, Sakthi Sugars and the residences of Kumaran Mills D.Krishnamurthy, R.Shantharam, Coimbatore Law College and the residence of Madhavan. The A.T.D Street took us into Tea Estate Compound. This compound had been acquired by the industrialists of yore more than fifty years ago from Tea Estates India. The Lakshmi, Premier and the Elgi families had created a wonderful residential colony.
The bungalows belonging to the family of Dr.R.K.Shanmukham Chetty were big in size and the full family has been living in Race Course for nearly 100 years. The residence of R.Venkatesalu was located right next to these houses. 108 Vinayagar Temple is right opposite to this bungalow Sulur House is another big compound and S.R.Nanjundiah lived there with his brothers. The residence of T.A.Ramalingam Chettiar was well known. Rotarian T.R.Sundaram Pillai was was a good social leader. C.P.Meenakshisundaram Sastri, the residence of K.Narayana Sastri & Family (Courtyard Apartments) have been there for long. The residence of A.T.Lakshmanaswamy Mudaliar has become the Masonic Medical Centre for children.
Hotel Surya came up in the eighties of the last century and it made romali roties popular. T.T.R Pillai was a popular advocate who had lived in Race Course. Rotarians K.G.N.Pillai and V.Ganesan began living next door to each other in the same neighbourhood. The lovely heritage building All Souls Church is a must to cherish for its endowed with fine aspects.
I passed my tenth standard and was blessed with a two wheeler numbered TDB 1433. It was a Luna TFR Plus and it gave me enormous freedom. My friends A.R.Srinivaasan and V.Padmanabhan (grandsons of R.Nammalwar Naidu of Radhakrishna & Co) used to roam around with me in their two wheeler.
I used to jog on Race Course during my school days and the brothers Ganesh & Rajesh used to keep me company. Anand Prasad was the other friend with whom I jogged often. Father got me a Hero Honda CD 100 during my college years (TCG 6050) and it helped us to circumnavigate the locality a lot more. The Ramaswamy annachi kadai was the place for biscuits and toffees.
There was a time when a few of us including Rajesh and Srikanth used to visit the Sharadhambal Temple every Friday. Eventually I started visiting the temple virtually everyday. My uncle Sridharan used to jog and play tennis in the Bimetal Bearings compound with Velayudham. He made me join Noor Mohammed in Cosmopolitan Club earlier. Later I migrated to Bimetal Bearings and began playing tennis with Velayudham.
We used to often meet up in the club library and read a lot of books. Many of us tried to learn billiards under Vellingiri, the marker in the Cosmo Club. It used to be a lovely sight seeing the members playing Bridge under the huge banyan tree in the club.
The club was our favourite haunt and it was our prime meeting point. Some of our friends used to play tennis in Coimbatore Club and we used to frequent the club regularly. Santossh and Rajesh used to take us to Rainbow Theatre in order to watch movies. Vikram Dhamodharan used to join us during our outings.
I remember Sundaram Apartments, Subbu Apartments and Raheja Enclave coming up in Race Course. The area started changing slowly and Park Avenue came up in the early nineties of the twentieth century. Race Course had changed a lot from the time Noor Mohammed used to walk around with doge Jerry and Ruby. Changed a lot more from the time industrialist G.K.Sundaram used to take a walk around with his friends regularly. The lovely bungalow Lianca belonging to Nejedley of Praga Buttons, the bungalow belonging to G.T.K.Mani of Tirupur Textiles and the Rajrathna Mills Bungalow were next to each other.
Race Course had the best cars, dogs and bungalows. Architect Ramani Sankar began his career by designing a few houses in Race Course and this included that of Dr.J.Sanathkumar, S.R.Subbarayar and a few others. The place is known for many firsts and has been first to conserve old buildings and trees. The LMW group of companies have preserved the old heritage bungalow built in 1895 and need to be accoladed for that. People still remember the industrialist L.G.Varadaraj taking a walk in Race Course for years. D.Vijaymohan of Pricol used to jog regularly those days. Race Course was full of sports enthusiasts.
Prices have also come a long way. We used to pay Rs.2 for a cauliflower soup at Cosmo Club those days. The Fountain maintained by Ashok Travels was famous and now Dr.C.Subramaniam’s statue occupies the same spot. Race Course had a wine shop too and now food eateries like Put Kadalai, Valarmathi, Velan Coffee are ruling the roost. Annalakshmi was much welcomed in 1989.
Race Course has changed a lot over the years but the trees around the walking track have increased. The trees have added to the bio diversity of this region which was once used for agriculture prior to the arrival of the Europeans.
The East India Company Mess used to be located in Race Course and a remnant continues to be found in the form of a pillar in the Soundaram residence. Let us celebrate the heritage of Race Course at the time of the Coimbatore Vizha 2020.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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