Exploring Nairobi: A Journey Through Time – Part VIII

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As we turned onto Kenyatta Avenue, the echoes of history reverberated with each passing moment. Formerly known as Delamere Avenue in honor of the pioneer white settler and colonial administrator after his death in 1932, Kenyatta Avenue bustled with weekday human traffic. Despite the rush, we paused to pay homage to the fallen heroes of WWI (1914 – 1918) and WWII (1939 – 1945) at the Askari Monument (the Carrier Corps Memorial – To Our Glorious Dead) – constructed in 1928 (Myrander SC) and re-erected in 1945, a solemn reminder of sacrifice and valor. Its inscription, “If you fight for your country, even if you die, your sons will remember your name,” spoke volumes, alongside dedications to the native African troops, the carriers who supported the Army, and all who died for their King and Country.

On our left stood Jamia Mosque or Jana Masjid, founded by Sayed Maulana Abdullah Shah in 1902 – an Afghan Sunni Muslim and direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad. Constructed between 1925 and 1933, it stood as a testament to enduring faith. Adjacent to it was the McMillan Library, named after Sir William Northrup McMillan, an American philanthropist known for hosting American President Theodore Roosevelt during his scientific expedition (1909 – 7 months) at his Juja Farm, Ol Donny Sapuk, on May 13, 1909, along with his son Kermit. The library, opened in 1931 by Governor Sir Joseph A. Bryne, the first Irishman to aspire to this appointment, was a beacon of knowledge.

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Next, we encountered the Bank of India, opened in 1904 as the official bank for the railway project, which later housed the Legislative Council (Leg Co) from 1924 to 1957, known then as the Memorial Hall. The Standard Bank of South Africa, now Standard Chartered Bank, opened its first Nairobi branch in 1911, continuing its legacy in the same Roman-style building with a colonnaded entrance.

Adjacent buildings included Pan African House and Westminster House, the former initially built in 1928 as a hotel/lodgings for colonial administrators and now housing Ecobank. Next to it, Pan African House, a branch of Family Bank, stood as a testament to Nairobi’s architectural heritage.

Cameo Cinema, initially constructed in 1912 as Theatre Royal, held a rich history of entertainment, transforming over time into a cinema hall, a congregational hall, and a restaurant and bar, and now serves as a casino.

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At the corner of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street stood the former Torr’s Hotel, currently Stanbic Bank, built by Colonel Ewart Grogan in the 1920s. Opening its doors in 1929, it was the first brick building in Nairobi and the first to feature an elevator. Grogan closed the hotel in 1958 as colonial rule became increasingly unstable, selling the building to a bank, which stands today as Stanbic Bank.



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