Formerly:   Rangoon Times Building
Address:     Merchant Road / Bo Aung Kyaw Street
Year built:   Unknown
Architect:    Unknown

The Rangoon Times was colonial Burma’s oldest English-language newspaper. This three-storey building was its main office at the turn of the 20th century. The paper’s circulation was always small—as was, in fact, Rangoon’s European population. Founded in 1856, it changed hands a few times and went from weekly to daily publishing. In the early 20th century, the newspaper was run by S Williams, who previously opened the first Reuters office in Burma, then located in the brand-new Sofaer’s Building. The Rangoon Times continued to be published until the retreat of British forces from the city in 1942.

In 1951, a few years after independence, this building was purchased by the first Indian ambassador to Burma, MA Rauf. He rechristened it Mahatma Gandhi Hall. It was used mainly for religious, social, intellectual and political gatherings over the following decades.

In July 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) issued its “Gandhi Hall Declaration” after convening here. Having won a stunning victory at the polls just months before, the junta chose not to recognise the results (even though the elections were their idea). A large crowd greeted the NLD leaders and listened intently as the declaration was read out in front of the building. Heavily armed security forces were on standby next to them. The declaration called for a power transition and the release of jailed members of the party. The call went unheeded. The junta proceeded to annul the vote and declared its sole legitimacy in ruling the country.

Characteristic porthole openings can be found above each window

More recently, Gandhi Hall was in the news when the trustees unveiled their plans to destroy the building and replace it with a new condominium. The Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) intervened and lobbied—successfully—for the Hall’s preservation. The bid was supported by the Yangon City Development Committee and the Indian Embassy.

Today the country’s main English newspaper is the Myanmar Times. (Its offices are across from St Mary’s Cathedral.) It was founded by a larger-than-life media entrepreneur from Australia, Ross Dunkley, who also owns the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia. Thanks to connections with Burmese authorities, Dunkley was able to found the Myanmar Times as a joint venture with local businessman U Sonny Swe. Swe sold his shares in 2006; he now runs a rival publication, ­Mizzima. Dunkley was briefly imprisoned in 2011 amid what was deemed to be an internal power struggle with Dr Tun Tin Oo, the Burmese shareholder who replaced Swe. (In late 2014, prominent businessman U Thein Tun took a majority share in the paper.)