Affluence, Aspiration and Art Deco in Salsette: The Story of Bombay’s Once Northern Neighbour

Art Deco, the dynamic and modern architectural style, arrived on Bombay’s shores by the 1930s, and became an enduring image of the city. The sophisticated and modern constructions along the Oval Maidan and Marine Drive, at the southern tip of the city, are some of its best examples. But there is a Bombay beyond south Bombay, and there is Art Deco beyond its southern end. By the 1960s, the limits of Bombay expanded northward, well into Salsette island [1], the region above the Bombay Island City. Art Deco travelled with it, modifying what it represented along the way.

The stylistic movement, which served as a stepping stone to modernism in India, created an array of possibilities not only in architectural production, but also an ideological advancement that marked radical changes in ways of living. With the availability of a new construction material – reinforced cement concrete (RCC) – immense possibilities opened up and inspired a new generation of architects to experiment with form, which dictated how the city would be shaped in the subsequent decades. Analysing this newly emerging socio-urban fabric of the suburbs opens up speculations of how Art Deco spread beyond the island city limits.

Through a reading of the suburban development between 1896 and 1960, this essay examines the influences that prompted Art Deco’s growth in the extended suburbs of Greater Bombay. It tries to analyse how the style, which was initially adopted by wealthy and affluent members of society, became associated with aspiration for the middle-classes who occupied a large part of the city and its suburbs.

Surrounded by Ulhas river and Vasai creek in the north, Thana creek in the east, Arabian Sea in the west, and Mahim creek in the south, Salsette Island is often regarded as the “large northern neighbour of Bombay.”[2] Like Bombay, it consisted of the smaller village islands of Juhu, Versova, Malawani and Marwa at the western end, to name a few, and was also collectively named after its largest island.

Figure 1 (a): Map of Bombay and environs showing islands of Bombay, Salsette, Trombay, Juhu, Versova before reclamation (1893). Source: 'Constable's hand atlas of India' by J.G. Bartholomew (Editor), 1893
Figure 1 (b): Map showing the administrative divisions of Salsette from 'The Greater Bombay: A Study in Suburban Ecology' by C. Rajagopalan (1962). Source: Bombaywiki
It was divided into 140 villages and fell under the jurisdiction of Thana District before a part of it was incorporated in the municipal limits of what came to be known as “Greater Bombay” after 1957. In 1920, the southern part of Salsette, with 54 villages, was constituted into the Bombay Suburban District (BSD), while the remaining continued to be administered under Thana.[3]

Anchored into the urban histories of a few villages of the Bombay Suburban District’s Salsette and Trombay, this essay attempts a reading of Art Deco’s emergence in Bombay’s once northern neighbour.

Impact of the Bubonic Plague on Salsette’s Development
By the 1890s, the population of Bombay had reached close to a million, with migrants pouring in for economic opportunities from different parts of the country.[4] Textile and paper mills, dockyards, railway workshops, chemical industries, leather tanneries and pharmaceutical factories attracted people in great numbers. A working-class population, this section of the newly-forming society often could not afford train and tram fares or road commute. Consequently, a number of single-room chawls were built around commercial and industrial hubs in the Island City, like Byculla, Tardeo, Mazagaon, and Parel. These were immediately occupied to their maximum capacity, leading to a scarcity of clean water supply and sanitation facilities.[5]

The Bombay City Improvement Trust (BIT), which was constituted in 1898 to oversee the challenges of overcrowding and sanitation in the wake of the Bubonic plague, focused on expanding towards the north to ease congestion in the south. According to the BIT’s plans to decongest Bombay Island, the western suburbs of Salsette like Juhu, Andheri, and Bandra were allocated to wealthier families. The middle and lower classes were left to either occupy the neighbourhoods that were vacated during the plague years; set up temporary camps in the Dadar-Matunga-Sion region; or migrate even further northwards. 

They either migrated annually for several months to avoid recurring instances of the plague, or settled permanently in the northern suburbs of Bombay and Salsette. These settlements were often concentrated along major north-south arterial roads in the city; between Kurla and Kalyan stations on the Great Indian Peninsula railway line; and between Bandra and Virar stations on the Bombay, Baroda & Central India railway line.[6] Such organic settlement patterns around railway stations largely formed the template of urban development in Greater Bombay.
By 1913, the Bombay Development Committee (BDC) was constituted to propose a clear framework to expand Bombay’s municipal limits. The BDC retained the BIT’s plans to accommodate the upper middle-class population in the western suburbs of Salsette. Though several soap, rubber toys, chemical and biscuit factories were opened in the western suburbs of Bandra, Chakala, Andheri and Vile Parle,[7] these neighbourhoods remained especially reserved for “capitalists and speculators”[8] and an upper middle-class demographic. The northeast suburbs beyond Kurla, like Mulund, Bhandup and Vikhroli were predominantly proposed to accommodate mills, factories, and “all offensive trades” like tanneries and dyeing works [9] – collectively making them the largest industrial zone in the suburbs.

This would ensure that employment opportunities in the east would attract mill workers and labourers, who would settle closer to their place of work. The west would be developed more residentially and commercially. This move was considered to be crucial to decongest former industrial areas and utilise agrarian lands for new construction.

These new industries and commercial opportunities not only attracted wage-workers, but also saw a rise in educated intellectuals and middle-class professionals like clerks, salespersons, bankers, managers and bureaucrats.

Salsette Deco 

The diverse populace that migrated to these newly emerging suburbs carried with them ideas and aspirations of what their new homes should look like. The Ideal Home Exhibition of 1937 showcased a plethora of applications of new innovations in art, architecture and design, through drawings and photographs of buildings and its furnished interiors. Art Deco, with its sleek aerodynamic designs, smooth curves, geometric forms and understated relief work, was rampantly marketed. 

In 1942, the Cement Marketing Co. of India published “Modern House in India,” a catalogue of building designs that were executed successfully in various parts of Bombay City and its extended suburbs. Subsequently, the cement company also introduced a range of brochures like “Designs for Modern Living,” and “Sixty Designs for Your New Home,” among various others which encapsulated the essence of a modern house, with modern amenities and spaces.

These periodicals, journals, and expositions created much fanfare around Art Deco, which was further bolstered by its prompt appearance in the design of picture palaces, as well as in the backdrop of movies. Art Deco’s design implications reached homes, not only through architecture, but also through furniture, home appliances, textile, jewellery, sculpture, painting, and cinema. It curated a standard of living deemed fit for the wealthy, upper-middle-class sensibilities, appealing greatly to a larger public’s aspiration. More significantly, RCC made it possible to construct mass housing schemes quickly. The relative convenience of construction, coupled with the easy adaptability of the style, manifested in several variations of the style across the city.

The Railway Line as a Node

Architects like G. B. Mhatre and Suvernpatki & Vora were commissioned to design buildings in the city as well as suburbs[10], which gave further impetus for Art Deco to travel to these areas. They took lessons from their successful experimentation of modern RCC buildings [11] in southern neighbourhoods like Kalbadevi, around Oval Maidan and Marine Drive, to the suburbs in Salsette, where the style gradually made its mark. The geographical linearity of Bombay and its suburban districts, along with rapid industrial expansion, also led to the development of new railway stations that transported raw material and personnel for construction in the south.

From the quarries of Kandivali that provided stone for filling up the Back Bay, to the industries of Mulund, the railway eased issues of transfer of goods. These “less important suburban stations” [12] became nodes around which the working class population resided[13], sometimes with their families. It served as a direct link for the transfer of tangible construction materials to the city from quarries at Kandivali, and intangible ideas of modernity back to the suburbs.

Magan Baug, situated near Kandivali railway station, is a fine example. It follows a layout of flats in a row along a single-loaded corridor. Two wings flank the central staircase turret, the centrepiece of this building. The balconies are bedecked with sunburst concrete grilles and are repeated throughout the facade of the building. The adoption of the swastika motif – a symbol considered auspicious across various faiths – in the concrete grille of the turret is an example of how Art Deco was locally adapted.

Figure 2 (a): Magan Baug, Kandivali following the layout of flats in a row along a single-loaded corridor. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 2 (b): Concrete grille with the 'swastika' motif set within. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
The Philanthropy of Stakeholders

The gradual increase in the influx of people to the north also served as an incentive for entrepreneurial visionaries like the Wadias, Tejpals and Tatas to tap into the lucrative potential of lands in Salsette, especially the western neighbourhoods by the sea. Avenues for resorts and vacation houses to be built along the shore opened up. Prominent public figures of the time like M. C. Setalvad [14], the first Attorney General of independent India, and pathologist K. T. Gajjar [15] commissioned architects like Messrs. Master, Sathe and Bhuta, and Gajanan B. Mhatre, respectively, to design their homes in the balmy palm groves of Juhu. These bungalows used RCC, colourcrete and terrazzo flooring to create sweeping curves, continuous eyebrows and a sprawling floor plan that exuded elegance and opulence apt for their occupants.

Figure 3: Chevrons of window panes, terrazzo flooring, and a brass palm tree inlaid in the wooden door in M. C. Setalvad’s bungalow. Source: Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects, 1936.
Figure 4: East Elevation of the bungalow of K. T. Gajjar Source: Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects, 1942.
While Juhu became an enclave for lavish bungalows and second-homes, Vile Parle simultaneously developed under the illustrious Tejpal and Paranjape families. Gokuldas Tejpal, a cotton merchant and philanthropist, and Vishnupant Paranjape[16],, a silversmith, acquired large tracts of land in the aftermath of the Plague. According to historian and indologist Sandeep Dahisarkar, Gowardhandas Tejpal, son of Gokuldas Tejpal, convinced the government it was necessary to build a railway station, and in 1907 donated a large part of his land for its construction.[17] Factories that set up in Vile Parle following the railway station, including the popular Parle Products Factory in 1929[18], gave further incentive for the development of residential areas.[19]
As people started settling in the newly urbanising Vile Parle, the Tejpals and Paranjapes split their lands in smaller plots, built roads and sold them to individuals who desired homes closer to their workplaces or the railway station. These plots came to be known as Tejpal and Paranjape Schemes, respectively.[20] Now engulfed in a frenzy of rapid redevelopment, this area has lost several Art Deco properties in recent years. 

Parvati Niwas is an example of one of the few endangered Deco properties that has stood the test of time here. Built in 1947, it is situated within its own compound, with a sweeping curvilinear balcony that holds sunbursts in its concrete grilles. The rest of the facade is interspersed with typical Deco details like curvilinear balconies and the corresponding eyebrows, chevrons, sunbursts and speedlines.

Figure 5: Balcony of Parvati Niwas, Vile Parle. Source: Art Deco Mumbai

These Deco motifs, often simplified, and sometimes crudely implemented in the suburbs, were adapted from the more extravagant ones in the southern parts of Bombay. As we move towards the eastern and north-eastern suburbs, where Art Deco emerged last on the heels of industrialisation, its influence wanes but is still discernible.

Industrialisation and Housing

According to the Bombay Development Committee’s Report, Mulund was one of these north-eastern suburbs that was allocated to industrial development.[21] With Asbestos Cement Company setting up a factory here in 1934, several other companies in the fields of paints, pharmaceuticals and metal works followed suit.[22] The presence of industries in the west of Mulund station prompted a spurt of development on that side of the railway track. The grid-patterned road network, reportedly commissioned by local zamindar Jhaverbhai Narottamdas in 1922 and executed by a German architectural firm Crown & Carter[23], abuts the western fringe of the railway station, facilitating ease of access to these places of work. The eastern fringe, on the other hand, continued to be largely agricultural and started to develop a few decades later.

Figure 6: Kandpile Sadan sporting sunburst bas-relief on its curved balcony, Mulund.

Pramod Kandpile, a resident of Mulund, reminisces about the suburb in the late 1950s. Hailing from Panvel, his father purchased a plot east of the railway station in 1957. Largely swampy and full of trees, he recollects that this part of the suburb had a few prominent agricultural and fisherman family homes, with sloping Mangalore-tile roofs, vast stretches of farms, orchards and salt pans. 

His residence, Kandpile Sadan, was built on the east of the Mulund railway station in 1960, following the Art Deco style, albeit a later rendition. He remembers seeing more bungalows and apartments from an earlier date on the west, within a radius of a kilometre from the railway station, including Bodke Building, his aunt’s residence built in the Art Deco style.[24]
Figure 7: Bodke Building, Mulund West. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
The Vision of a Garden City

The examples of Vile Parle, Mulund and Kandivali showcase that modern urban development in Bombay was largely concentrated around the railway station. But, a conversation with Nachiket Joshi, a resident of Chembur and an enthusiast of its history, presents surprising revelations about the suburb. The Chembur village was situated in the valley of Trombay Island, with hills on one side and an open stretch of land with Agra road on another. 

Figure 8: Clem Cot, an Art Deco bungalow in Chembur. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
According to Joshi, this gaothan [25] of Chembur, which was proposed as a garden suburb, developed primarily around the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour along Central Avenue.[26] The largely East Indian and Koli-occupied village expanded to accommodate a diversity of people. With its spacious plots, Chembur allowed people to build detached and semi-detached bungalows at costs lower to those in Dadar or Matunga.[27] Its proximity and accessibility to Bombay and Salsette also made it popular for officials and middle-class families who desired spacious homes at a lesser cost, yet be close to their workplaces in either Salsette’s industrial districts or Bombay’s finance, insurance and commercial offices.

These plots were sold to individual owners, who developed the houses themselves. Clem Cot, built in 1953, is a uniquely asymmetrical bungalow, with angular bay windows on one side and a long balcony on the other. The bay windows are framed by semi-octagonal overhangs or “eyebrows,” which run continuously along the front facade and turn with the building at the corners. The aesthetic, though rooted in Art Deco, plays by its own rules.

Unlike the Art Deco of the Island City of Bombay, the style in Salsette and Trombay imbibed local cultures and ornamentation that were used in more vernacular or traditional architecture.

It ranged between an eclectic hotch-potch of Art Deco elements like diluted streamlining limited to its curved facades and eyebrows, mixed with vernacular motifs on grilles and stucco work, as observed in Leela, an Art Deco bungalow in Juhu with floral motifs and a multifoil arch. Likewise, the sun motif in Magan Baug’s turret grille (see Fig. 2) is an actual representation rather than the usual variations of geometrically abstracted sunburst motifs.

Figure 9: Bay window of Leela, Juhu with multi-foil arches. Source: Art Deco Mumbai

Another important point of distinction between the Art Deco of Salsette and Bombay is the use of mass-produced grilles. Geometric grilles often appeared on several buildings of the extended suburbs, as opposed to the customised designs seen on buildings around Marine Drive and Oval Maidan. 

While the grandeur of Art Deco may have faded as one went northwards, its elegance was retained in its streamlining, curvaceous facades, banding, staircase shafts and continuous eyebrows, making them obvious markers of Art Deco’s influence in BSD.

Figure 10 (a, b, c): An example of how the same design occurs in several buildings across different neighbourhoods - Top (L) Krishna Kunj, Sion; Top (R) Juvekar House, Chembur; Bottom: Ritzmar, Bandra; Source: Art Deco Mumbai
In Conclusion

The emergence of Art Deco in Salsette and Trombay is intricately interwoven with the history of urbanisation, and dynamics of several government departments and stakeholders involved in the development of the BSD. The Plague, the construction of railway stations and road networks, and a shift and diversification of industrial manufacturing boosted the population of the city and snowballed growth in the suburbs. These plans of expanding the city’s infrastructure coincided with the Art Deco movement that had already taken a solid form in Europe, America, and nearly simultaneously also in the Island City.

Before Art Deco’s inception, spread and popularity, the architectural styles that preceded it were mainly recognised for their application in prominent public buildings, like places of worship, universities and government buildings. The widespread popularity of RCC as a new and versatile building material further enabled Deco’s construction possibilities. It opened up a plethora of options in designs, and encompassed all building typologies. 

In addition to architecture, Art Deco’s application in allied design fields like textile, home appliances and furniture, and its appearance in cinema, embedded the style in people’s minds beyond religious, educational or authoritarian connotations. Its universality and versatility was rampantly advertised, especially targeting the urban middle-class, and presented as a lifestyle that was “modern” and appealing to their sensibilities.[28] The general air of fantasy it created drew hordes of the public, rich and poor, into its appeal, which led them to aspire for such an aesthetic for themselves.

In Salsette, the zoning of the suburbs, the diversity of the masses, and affordability often dictated the varying degrees in which Art Deco was adopted in different building types. The town planning initiatives for this district aimed at creating self-sufficient neighbourhoods with proximity to places of work and easing commute to other parts of Bombay, leading to the construction of suburban railway stations in the early decades of the 20th century. 

This paved the way for the first ring of development around these nodes to be predominantly Art Deco, but with certain points of distinction. While the buildings in the southern parts of the Island City exhibited a rich display of Deco motifs, suburban Deco appeared more “watered down.”[29] Some design features like the eyebrows and streamlined balconies are constant indicators of the style, while features like the observation turret, geometric grilles and nautical motifs play a cameo. Mass-produced Deco grilles appear in low-income housing schemes in several neighbourhoods, with intricate and more traditional motif work, and an eclectic blend of subtle influences from different architectural styles, showcasing the desire to be a part of this Deco phenomenon.

The title of the essay includes the terms “affluence” and “aspiration,” in an attempt to describe the idea of Art Deco in the minds of people hailing from contrasting cultural backgrounds and sensibilities, and understand what made it so popular in people’s cultural imaginations. It challenges the notion of exclusivity of Art Deco to southern Bombay’s elite, and presents examples where the style thrived and was wholeheartedly embraced by different social groups. Its innate modernity allowed diverse groups to adopt it, thus making this fantastical style their own.

Pranjali Mathure for Art Deco Mumbai

Pranjali is an architect and researcher by profession, a photographer and graphic designer by passion. She is always on the lookout for details and calls herself a “parallel line addict”. She has a Master’s in Architectural History and Theory, from CEPT, Ahmedabad, and a B. Arch from Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai. At Art Deco Mumbai, she reads, writes and designs for social media and outreach platforms. 


    1. Though the central focus of the essay is the southern Salsette Island (Bombay Suburban District, or BSD, as it was called after 1920), it also discusses the context of Chembur and the Island of Trombay to strengthen the argument, and look at Greater Bombay as a whole.

    2. Amar Farooqui, “Urban Development in a Colonial Situation: Early Nineteenth Century Bombay,” Economic and Political Weekly 31, no. 40 (October, 1996): 2747,

    3. Nikhil Rao, House, but No Garden: Apartment Living in Bombay's Suburbs, 1898-1964 (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 205.

    4. Royal Commission on Labour in India, Report of the Royal Commission on Labour in India (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, January 1931), 11,

    5. Preeti Chopra, “Free to Move, Forced to Flee: The Formation and Dissolution of Suburbs in Colonial Bombay, 1750–1918,” Urban History 39, no. 1 (February 2012), 83–107,

    6. Ibid.

    7. “Industries,” Maharashtra State Gazetteers: Greater Bombay District, accessed July 3, 2023,

    8.  Nikhil Rao, House, but No Garden: Apartment Living in Bombay's Suburbs, 1898-1964, (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 208.

    9. Government of Bombay, Report of Bombay Development Committee (Government of Bombay,1914), v-xvii, 

    10. The Cement Marketing Company of India Limited (Publicity Department), The Modern House in India (Bombay: The Cement Marketing Company of India Limited, 1942). 

    11. Ibid.

    12. Bombay Municipal Corporation, Our Bombay (Bombay: Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1953), 65.

    13. Ibid.

    14. “A Bungalow at Juhu, Bombay,” Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects (April 1936): 125-128.

    15. “A Seaside Residence at Juhu, Bombay,” Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects 8, no. 3 (January 1942): 258-259.

    16. Sandeep Dahisarkar, email to author, June 13, 2023. 

    17. Janes Borges, “This Vile Parle resident's new biography documents the area's rich history,” Mid-day, January 8, 2023, 

    18. “About Us,” Parle Products, accessed June 8, 2023,; “Industries,” Maharashtra State Gazetteers: Greater Bombay District, accessed July 3, 2023, 

    19. Borges, “This Vile Parle …”.

    20. Zoya Ajani et. al, “Vile Parle,” Urban Design Studio, Semester 7, Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies, 9

    21. Government of Bombay, Report of Bombay Development Committee (Government of Bombay, 1914), v-xvii,

    22. “Industries,” Maharashtra State Gazetteers: Greater Bombay District, accessed July 3, 2023,

    23. Meher Marfatia, Once Upon a City (Mumbai: 49-50 Books, 2020), 211.

    24. Pramod Kandpile, telephonic conversation with author, May 31, 2023.

    25. A “gaothan” is a colloquial term used for a parcel of village land specifically used for the settlement of its “original inhabitants.” The development of the suburbs of Mumbai happened around or near these gaothans, which have existed since before any development control rules were implemented. D. Parthasarathy, “Hunters, Gatherers and Foragers in a Metropolis: Commonising the Private and Public in Mumbai,” Economic and Political Weekly 46, no. 50, (December, 2011): 59,

    26. Nachiket Joshi, telephonic conversation with author, June 16, 2023. 

    27. “The New Bombay: Chembur Garden City - Ideal Homes for Workers,” Times of India, March 8, 1924, 12.

    28. Suhasini Krishnan, “Advertisements and Consumer Culture: An Illustrated Glimpse of Modern Life in 20th Century Bombay,” Art Deco Mumbai, last modified October 18, 2022,

    29. Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra, Bombay Deco (Mumbai: Eminence Designs Pvt. Ltd., 2008), 277.

Research / Mumbai`s Art Deco / History