It was December, 1921. The venue? The Royal Calcutta Turf Club. It was an exciting day for bookies, betters and horse owners waiting with bated breath to see who would win the coveted Prince of Wales Trophy. The Prince himself was present as Galway Gate, surged ahead of the other competitors to reach the finishing line. Its master, the most colourful personality among the racing fraternity of Calcutta in his times had been sure of lifting the trophy, as he had been, ten years ago when he received the prize from the Prince's father, His Highness, King George V. While being handed the trophy he calmly told the royal visitor that he would donate his entire stake to charity.
Johnnes Carapiet Galstaun, the Armenian tycoon was equally well-known for his flamboyance, risky speculations, his immense wealth and his charities. His story was indeed one of rags to riches and then to almost rags once again since he lost all his wealth before his death in 1947. Galstaun was an Armenian, born at Julpha in Iran in 1859 and sent to Calcutta for a better education at the Armenian College. Initially, he started off by helping one of his uncles and then went on to build his own business and career as a racer, racehorse owner, rider, real estate tycoon, exporter and a philanthropist. He became a living legend of Calcutta, particularly in racing circles. A compulsive builder he is credited for building nearly 350 beautiful houses in the city of Calcutta including the Harrington Mansions and Galstaun Mansions which was later renamed as Queen's Mansions when Queen Elizabeth II visited Calcutta in 1961 and beautifying streets such as Pretoria Street and Lansdowne Road.
No wonder he built his own residence Ghalstaun Park with the same keen aesthetic sense and in lavish scale. Close to the race course, on Lower Circular Road, it had stables, paddock and outhouses on its sprawling grounds. A neoclassical building, it shows clear influence of Indo-Sarcenic architecture with its large central dome and four others. There is a huge portico in front and a giant hall with marble pillars and flooring meant for balls and parties held in grand scale. The attic like top floor has balconies overlooking the hall. The stained glass windows add to the beauty of the structure. The friezes are noteworthy and the face moulded on them is thought to Galstaun's own. The appurtenance was of the finest cuisine, wines and meals fit for a king.
There is also an amusing anecdote about his horses. Once while his horses were returning from the course, one of his prized fillies, Paddy Darling entered into the grounds of a convent of Little Sisters of the Poor which was just opposite Galstaun's residence. The nuns refused to let her go as the horse of their carriage had died a few days back and they had all prayed for a replacement. It was only after a lot of convincing that she could not be used as a carriage horse that the nuns relented.
Galstaun's palatial building was honoured by a private visit from His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales in the month of December, 1921. He allowed the park to be used by British Military Authority during World War I. He earned the Order of British Empire (OBE) for his charitable gesture. Afterwards, the Nizam of Hyderabad bought the Galstaun Park and renamed it as Saba Palace.
Today Nizam Palace houses the office of Central Public Works Department and innumerable office blocks have come up in its sprawling grounds ruining the ambience of the heritage edifice. The encroachment by vendors, cooking on stoves outside its pavement is another eyesore and damaging to the structure reminiscent of the king of race course.