Built in 1905 by Armenian merchants, who ran a trading company called Messrs Balthazar & Son, the structure known as the Balthazar Building on downtown’s Bank Street has in recent years become the quintessential example of Yangon’s neglected colonial architecture.
Though still an active residence for low wage government workers and small private businesses, the interior of the structure has become dilapidated in almost every aspect. Grime and abandonment has left the walls dark with soot and the drywall, largely ripped away, exposing the brick that lay beneath. The panels at the undercarriage of the stairs that climb from the center of the building are missing in many places, while hanging loose in others.
At the core of the building, the foyer is in no better condition, though the original black and white tiling and iron stair railings remains. The lift that resides at its core however has long been defunct. Up the creaking staircase, cobwebs have overtaken the virtually every corner of the building, while residents now us the narrow open-air courtyard as a dumpster.
This once gorgeous Edwardian red-brick structure does however play an important role for the history of the city as the former head office of Messrs Balthazar & Son, as well as independent merchants and international companies that includes German multinational conglomerate Siemens. It was also used as lawyers’ chambers after the opening of the New Law Courts in 1927 directly across the street.
The man behind Balthazar & Son, B.C.H. Balthazar, was a prominent businessman who had landed in Bombay in 1853 to start a general business before moving to Rangoon in 1866, where he would then leave the business to his sons before moving back to Persia. It was under British-ruled India where Armenians enjoyed flourishing business and were considered to be of a higher social status than the natives, being condescendingly referred to as “almost British.”
One of Mr. Balthazar sons, Samuel, also played a prominent role in the public life of Rangoon serving on the Municipal Committee as the representative for the Chamber of Commerce.