India-West presents this special report on the restoration of the Gadar Memorial in San Francisco, Calif., on the occasion of India’s Independence Day. — Editor

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – A $9 million tear down and reconstruction of the historic Gadar Memorial here is expected to begin in July 2017, four years after the project was initially announced.

The Gadar Memorial – initially built in 1914 and refurbished in 1974 – is the birthplace of the Gadar Party, a movement led primarily by Sikh Americans to support India’s independence from the British.

“The hearts and minds of the valiant patriots who fought for India’s freedom are engraved there,” Inder Singh, chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, told India-West. Singh has been an ardent advocate of the restoration project. He and other Indian American community members have advocated for the building to be restored to resemble the original structure, for historical accuracy.

“The current building does not give the impression of the old Gadar Memorial, where the people who sacrificed their lives for India’s freedom slept, worked and lived.”

The Gadar Hall – at 5 Wood Street in San Francisco’s Richmond District – was known as the Yugantar Ashram for several years. Singh noted that the Gadar Party, led and funded by farmers from the Central Valley and students at UC Berkeley, had an electric printing press onsite, and printed out 10,000 copies of a six-page newspaper every week, which was then distributed throughout the U.S. and sent by ship to India. The newspaper was first written in Urdu by Lal Har Dayal, then translated into Punjabi, and stamped and addressed manually.

Ten to 20 people worked day and night on writing, printing and distributing the newspaper, said Singh. Their rations came free from local Sikh farmers.

The first newspaper was sent out on Nov. 1, 1913.

The memorial hall was partially rebuilt in 1974, at a cost of $183,000. Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first proposed a restoration of the structure during the Gadar Party’s centenary celebrations in 2013. Singh made the announcement during the Pravasi Diwas celebrations in Kerala that year, noting the impact of the Gadar Party to gaining India’s independence.

Plans were submitted that year by the Indian Consulate in San Francisco, and the Indian Government allocated $4 million for the restoration project.

But project costs have now soared to $9 million, according to architect Paul Dhiman, who is overseeing the project along with MEI Architects, based in San Francisco. Dhiman told India-West that the initial proposal did not factor in interior improvements, nor a replication of the façade to its 1913 image. Showcases, a kitchen and a multitude of additions were not factored in, said Dhiman, adding that the new proposal – with an additional $5 million cost – is awaiting approval from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, headed by Sushma Swaraj.

The architect said he did not know when the additional funds would be approved, though Swaraj signaled a “go-ahead” on the project in May.

Venkatesan Ashok, India’s consul general in San Francisco, confirmed to India-West that the existing structure would be completely torn down, and a new four-story building – with a façade resembling the original Yugantar Ashram – would be built.

The new Gadar Memorial will have a library where researchers can peruse digitized copies of Gadar Party archives, said Ashok, noting that the digitization project has been taken on in collaboration with UC Berkeley.

The memorial will also house a museum displaying various memorabilia of the Gadar Party, said Ashok, adding that living quarters will be built for a permanent, onsite curator. The ground floor will be a parking lot.

Ashok said the existing space does not allow for expansion of the small auditorium, which annually hosts Independence Day celebrations organized by the Consulate.

The consul general said that plans cannot be submitted to the City of San Francisco until the Indian Government approves the additional $5 million cost. He noted that the Modi administration was “very interested in completing the project,” and added that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to the San Francisco Bay Area last September, there had been discussion of having the premier lay the foundation stone for the new structure.

“This is a memory that we need to keep alive, of the patriots of the Gadar movement. It is very important that we do this,” Ashok told India-West, adding: “The community here has a personal attachment to the Gadar Memorial, and I will personally take it to the hilt to get this done.”

Ashok urged the community to find memorabilia related to the Gadar Party and to donate it to the new museum, once it is built.

Dhiman said that after the additional funds are approved, letters must be sent to all neighbors within 300 yards of the building at 5 Wood Street. He said he expects some concern from neighbors about increased traffic and large buses coming through to view the museum.

San Francisco’s Planning Commission must next approve the project, which may take up to six months. A hearing will then be held at a City Council meeting.

Dhiman predicted that construction would begin in July 2017. Construction is expected to take 18 months; thus, the new memorial will open in the early months of 2019.

Dhiman said he hopes the prime minister will come back to San Francisco to lay the foundation stone.

“The story of the Gadar Party is completely amazing and must be preserved,” said Dhiman.

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