A Timeless Treasure
An extraordinary building endures the test of time in the heart of Yangon.
Occupying the corner of Pansodan and 37th Street in downtown Yangon sits the grandiose Lokanat Building. It stands out amongst the other buildings in the area even though its cream-yellow facade is heavily covered with soot. There are relics everywhere, reminding us of its glory in its heyday.
Originally named the Sofaer’s Building, this magnificent edifice represents the successful trading business of Isaac and Meyer Sofaer. They were descendants of Baghdadi Jews in late 19th century Yangon who initially imported alcohol and specialty foods before expanding into other business ventures. An architect himself, Isaac Sofaer worked on the building drawings with Thomas Swales, who at that time had already designed several prominent buildings in Yangon such as the British Embassy and the former Fytche Square Building. Sofaer’s Building, now known as Lokanat Building, was built in 1906 with much more opulence as compared with other surrounding buildings from that era.
What makes this four-story British colonial building so special is its rich ornamentations. It has high ceilings with longitudinal windows and steel beams that were manufactured from Scotland. It features a dome tower on top of the building and had one of the first electric elevators – a rarity in British colonial times. The original turquoise blue and beige mosaic tiles (reportedly from Manchester, England) decorate the floor throughout Lokanat Building, and amazingly, they still exist today. Some of the best conditions of the tiles can be seen in the restaurant, Gekko, and in the Lokanat Art Gallery that now occupy a part of this historical, Victorian-style building. It also features wooden staircases with iron covers on the wood, though their conditions have deteriorated over the years.
Because of its luxurious design, Lokanat Building was once a highly sought-after address for many commercial businesses. It once housed Reuters, Bank of Burma, and China Mutual Life Insurance company, to name a few. It was a bustling building where powerful companies gathered in the British colonial era. Over the years, a mix of smaller businesses on the first two floors and residents on the third and fourth floors have made it their home instead. In fact, a lady has lived inside the dome tower for the past 40 years, and she has added a veranda that adjoins the top-floor flat.
Despite its weather-beaten condition, the splendor of Lokanat Building still shines through today (visitors are more than welcome to admire the unique features by strolling through the various shops or dining at the eateries). Parts of it have already been restored, and with continued preservation efforts from various organizations, the history and value that Lokanat Building holds will endure for years to come.