If I tell you half of the history some of the oldest buildings in Nairobi hide in their walls, you would be shocked beyond words, to say the least. Take the building that houses the CfC Stanbic Bank on Nairobi’s Kimathi Street, for instance.
Back in colonial times, the building was reputed to be the ‘most sinful place in Nairobi’, perhaps after Naivasha’s Happy Valley.
In those days in 1926, under the ‘leadership’ of one Col Ewart Grogan, who ironically also built the Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital, existed a popular hotel patronised by the rich colonial elite of the time. It was only known as Torr’s. Ewart had named it after his manager, Joseph Ewart Torr.
Torr’s was the place where all the decorum and decency that one would be required to maintain in a gentleman’s club such as the Railway, Muthaiga and Nairobi Clubs, was thrown to the wild winds as patrons indulged in all manner of pleasures of the flesh.
It was, as you may imagine, a popular joint for the soldiers, the railway officers and the police who could be afforded a moment of liberalness here. One book describes it aptly as the ‘favourite of soldiers, the just-arrived farmers, backpack tourists and journalists’.
Grogan had managed to establish a social centre of chaos in the heart of the city just as superbly as he had put up a place of nurturing new life at the Gertrude’s. If you are wondering how one mind is capable of such extremes, you are not alone.
After nights of drowning in forbidden happiness, Kimathi Street, then Hardinge Street, and Kenyatta Avenue, previously Delamere Avenue, became the theatres of shame where it was all played out as motorists knocked down revellers lost in their moments of joy and ecstasy.
Torr’s was built by Henderson and Partners, who also constructed Muthaiga Club. It is a beautiful work of art in bright red brick originally known as Torr House. Ewart Scott Grogan became its first occupant in 1910.
The house is said to have been the first brick building in Nairobi. Torr House was later bought by Joe Torr, who named it the Torr Hotel. In 1956, he sold it to the Ottoman Bank, which was nationalised in 1972 and named Grindlays. Grindlays was later acquired by Stanbic in 1992.
Grogan, who could not fathom the idea of an African government, wound up his operations at Torr Hotel Limited in Kenya. He moved to South Africa as the sweet smell of Kenya’s independence grew stronger. During his time in Kenya, he had managed to acquire a whopping 500,000 acres of land!
Consider CFC Stanbic’s rich history whenever you do your banking there. Imagine Col Ewart Grogan walking around Torr’s. Pretty satisfied with the ongoing merry-making and thinking to himself what a brilliant businessman he is.
When the teller or the other customer behind you in the line nudges you back to reality, you realize Torr House is now a bank and you need to do business instead of having a good time!