Wellawatte now a bustling neighborhood of highrise apartments, clothing stores, and eateries was little less than a century ago, in the colonial period a sparsely populated area surrounded on three sides with water, the sea on one side and beautiful canals on two sides via which merchants bring their daily produce for sale in the markets. Most of Wellawatte was occupied by coconut estates owned by burgher families of European origin
The Name Game:
Wellawatte translates directly to “Sandy Garden” suggesting a sparsely occupied area in Sinhalese. This has been mutated by the area’s large Tamil migrant population to Wellawathai, meaning ‘White Garden’ in Tamil. Today, however, it is referred to as ‘Little Jaffna’ after its large Tamil population.
Businesses that stood the test of time
Wellawatte today, with its hustle and bustle, is a far cry from the quiet, confined town it once was. Here are three well-known places that defined the Wellawatte of the fifties, sixties, and seventies when it was developing into an urban landscape and throbbing with life.
The savoy cinema:
Named after the Savoy Cinema of London, the ‘Savoy’ as we know it was owned by a man named CV De Silva, who is said to have started life providing entertainment for overseas troops stationed here during World War II. Back in the 60s, it had Usherettes, mainly burgher women, clad in white frocks and red and white dotted cravats with a torch in hand to show cinema-goers their seats, and who in the intervals would make another appearance holding trays filled with sweets and ice chocs
This was probably the oldest bakery in town, located on the seaside of Galle Road. Founded by Podisinno Perera in the early 1900s, it is still very much a family company. Unlike today’s storeyed edifice, with its sunshades and hardy steel scaffolding, back in the 50s and 60s it was then a modest bakery.
Moira’s was run by a Burgher lady by the name of Moira Van Cuylenberg. Moira’s was at the ‘cutting edge’ of women’s hairdressing at the time, since it was the first to introduce creative innovative styles at a time when women had their hair cut at ordinary barber salons. It employed the latest hairdressing technology, including Kerka dryers from London. It is no surprise then that it was patronized by the elite of the area.
While all these businesses stood the test of time, the residents of Wellawatte and Colombo, in general, were shaped by a few others as well. Such as ‘The Polytechnic’ affectionately knows as ‘The Poly’ a place where the youth used to meet to pursue vocations and career skills. The Kinross Swimming & Life Saving Club produced several outstanding spear fishermen and introduced the sport of spearfishing to Sri Lanka.
These are our favorite memories of Wellawatte. Have we missed anything? Share with us your favorite memories or places in Wellawatte. Write to us at [email protected]
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