Formerly:    Fytche Square Building
Address:     77–91 Sule Pagoda Road
Year built:   1905
Architect:    Thomas Swales

This three-storeyed building is 90 metres wide and displays an impressive, ornate neoclassical façade. It was commissioned by an Indian merchant and later leased to a wealthy Burmese businessman, U Ba Nyunt. He turned it into the first Burmese-run department store, Myanmar Aswe (roughly translating as “Myanmar Friend”). With its prime location on the Sule Pagoda roundabout, this building should have pride of place in the area’s conservation efforts—especially with the next-door Asia Green Development Bank and Centrepoint Towers impinging on the cityscape.

The glazed tower of a neighbouring bank dwarves the largely empty building

The building’s historical significance is hard to overestimate. Not only was it the first Burmese department store; it also housed the office of the newly established Dagon magazine, a springboard for many famous Burmese writers. The office of one of the first Burmese film studios, the “A1 Film Company” was also here. The company closed down in 1983. (Unfortunately many of its historical documentaries, filmed in the wake of Burmese independence, perished in a fire in 1950.)

The ornate neo-classical façade stands in stark contrast to its concrete-and-glass neighbours

The building was taken over by the government in the 1970s, which coordinated foreign tourism here until the transfer to Naypyidaw in 2005. The building is now almost completely abandoned. It is missing many windows and some of its doors are shuttered.

There was speculation about the building’s future use, from boutique hotel to office space. You will notice emergency repairs, including new roofing and damp protection that took place following the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.