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cover story ipoh echo issue 141 - Kong Heng

Shining Through: Ipoh’s Heritage Spirit

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By James Gough

Ipoh, the Town that Tin Built, is beginning to come alive and heritage preservation is playing a big role. Since the collapse of the tin industry in the late eighties Ipoh has slowly but surely been on a downward spiral. Many of its youth, attracted to the more progressive cities of Kuala Lumpur and Penang, have left Ipoh in a mass exodus, earning it the label of being a retirement town. Concomitantly, old buildings, some of them well worth preserving, have been left to rot and decay, some even collapsing, as in the case of Concubine Lane.

Movement at Last

Finally things are beginning to move in Ipoh. Ipohites with nostalgia, as well as property developers, are beginning to take an active interest in preserving Ipoh’s rich heritage and some of its buildings. If we drive along several roads in New and Old Town, we will notice that progress has been made in certain old shop lots which have been upgraded with their exterior façades maintained while their interior have been modernised.

Currently, we are seeing a proliferation of this ‘preservation of Ipoh’ with the ‘restoration’ of multiple units of properties which their owners say will be turned into boarding houses or boutique hotels or “restored just to keep the spirit of Ipoh alive”. A welcome spirit indeed and one which Ipoh Echo has set out to explore and document.

cover story ipoh echo issue 141 - ‘Sekeping Kong Heng’
‘Sekeping Kong Heng’

‘Sekeping Kong Heng’: A Guest House

Over at Old Town amongst the Heritage Trail lies the Dramatist Hostel, more popularly known as Kong Heng coffee shop famous for its kai see hor fun and other local food fare. The property which is bordered by Leech Street (Jalan Bandar Timah), Jalan Panglima, the adjacent lane till Belfield Street (Jalan Sultan Yussuf) was purchased by its current owners in 2008.  This is a 3-storey building where actors stayed and rehearsed and performed at the Chinese Opera Theatre next door which has since been demolished but the hostel remains.

One of its owners is renowned landscape architect Ng Sek San, an Ipoh boy, who said that “Ipoh was a good place to grow up” and felt that “it should be preserved for the next generation”. However, for Ng “restoration is not just about restoring, that would become a museum. I want something that is living. Every building has a spirit. We should visualise and build around that spirit.”

Adaptive Reuse: Building 2 stories above the old kitchen area.

Late last year Kong Heng coffee shop was closed for five days for a clean-up and that was all the attention paid to it. Not so for the hostel that Ng has transformed into a guest house – ‘Sekeping Kong Heng’ (a slice of Kong Heng).

The wood walls of the partitioned rooms on the first floor have been replaced with concrete sheets and each room has been fitted with its own bathroom. There are eight rooms on this floor.

(l-r) Ng Sek San. 2nd floor with suspended glass houses

On the second floor, the open floor now has two bathrooms plus two suspended air-conditioned glass houses above the rehearsal floor which can also be used as a function room. As Ng explained “we provide the space and allow the users creativity to take over, which should appeal to young people”.

Adaptive Reuse

While the main Kong Heng building has been restored the kitchen at the back has been maintained and made an excellent example of adaptive reuse by building another two storeys over it which adjoins it to the original building by the staircase in between.

Open-air family room. Mosquito nets provided

The first floor annexe is ‘literally’ a covered open-air family room. It can accommodate one double and four single beds. The bedroom walls are of wire mesh and the tall uncut trees keep the room cool and comes with a mosquito net.

Open-air Communal Room

The second floor annexe is an open-air communal room with tables and chairs.  The “kitchen is planned to become a café later on” while the there are no plans yet for the ‘store’ which has been cleared of its intruding roots. The space between the two buildings has been paved with cobblestone and the entire ground floor is kept cool under a canopy from the original matured trees.

From the main road, the building appears that nothing has changed other than the paved lane and newly-planted trees. But then Kong Heng coffee shop is just 25% of the total property. As for the cost, Ng says he pays more for labour than material as he uses mainly local material. Ng only uses T5 fluorescent tubes (it’s environmentally friendly) and has installed grease traps (I don’t want to pollute the Kinta River). His plan for the rest of the property is “not thought of yet”.

5-Star Boutique Hotel In New Town

Unlike Kong Heng, 63-year old Fong Soo Har, the owner of Tin City Hotel which is still under construction, has his hotel’s plans all laid out.

(l) Tin City Hotel owner Fong Soo Har..'the whole Hotel will be a tin mine story'. (r) Fong (l) on his daily round.

The hotel located on three units of shop houses along busy Brewster Road (Jalan Sultan Idris Shah) is scheduled for completion in May next year. It will be a 5-star boutique hotel, eight storeys tall and will have just 26 rooms with two being duplex penthouses on the top floor which also houses the swimming pool. The hotel will also be the first in Ipoh to have an elevated car park for 12 cars.

(l-r) Fong with architect Booth. Posing along Brewster Road (Jln Sultan Idris Shah)

Eight years ago Fong began investing in property in New Town and subsequently purchased three units along Jalan Sultan Idris Shah for the hotel and another seven units across the road. His reason for investing in Ipoh is because “I love Ipoh. KL is like New York – too busy. I grew up in Ipoh. I love it here and want to keep it looking like before.”

Fong was born and raised in Tronoh. His father owned a tin mine there but when he grew up he made furniture cabinets at Gunung Rapat and later expanded his business to a factory at Lahat.

He left for New York in the late 80s “when business was very bad” also making furniture cabinets there. After two years working with a friend he started his own business in New York.

The original building was a three-storey building with half-moon French windows for its frontal façade. Fong maintained the front façade because “that is what it looked like driving down Brewster Road”.

In order to ensure his ideas stayed focused, Fong brought in his New York architect Renny Booth whom he worked with for over 14 years.

He chose the name Tin City Hotel “because the whole hotel will be a tin mine story”.

The view from the top. Main street and roof-tops.

Fong hasn’t worked out the details for the interior yet but he plans to put a replica of a palong on the top floor complete with water flowing down to the pool area which can be seen as one drives along Jalan Sultan Idris Shah.

More Restoration in the Pipeline

Lim Ko Pi is a Kopitiam-style coffee house, located at 10‑16 Hugh Low Street (Jalan Sultan Iskandar) before the intersection with Belfield Street. It is one of two red buildings (to the right) with the yellow Oversea Building in between.

Lim Ko Pi. A kopitiam-style coffee house.

Interestingly, its owner Lim Chai Hock is a Kedah citizen who married Ipoh girl Lee Yoke Chee and with their three daughters are all interested in preserving Ipoh’s heritage.

Lim who has worked around Malaysia, currently works overseas. He compared Ipoh to China Town Kuala Terengganu “which is less than a kilometre long but has been well preserved and is a huge tourist attraction there”. Lim hopes to duplicate that model for Ipoh explaining “Ipoh is a hundred years old and spread out and preservation opportunities are everywhere.”

(l-r) 10-16 Hugh Low Street. Oversea Building (in yellow). formerly OCBC Bank being upgraded. Lim Ko Pi is on its right side.

One of the reasons he purchased 10-16 Hugh Low Street is because the Oversea Building “is a landmark in Ipoh and should be preserved”.

The 'Neo-Renaissance' SPH De Silva building being upgraded.

To cement his conviction that Heritage Tourism in Ipoh has potential, Lim has since made some very significant property purchases. Another landmark he has purchased is the 3-storey SPH De Silva building at the intersection of Belfield Street (Jalan Sultan Yussuf) and Station Road (Jalan Dato Maharajalela). This ‘Neo-Renaissance design building is one of Ipoh’s oldest commercial buildings and restoring it “contributes towards the city’s fine streetscape”.

At the intersection of Hugh Low Street and Chamberlain Road (Jalan CM Yussuf), Lim has also purchased seven shop lots which, wife Lee says, will be painted the seven colours of the rainbow. The reason for the purchase: “the buildings are still in their original condition but more importantly they all have a balcony which makes them unique”. Already two of the buildings have been painted red and yellow.

cover story ipoh echo issue 141
Two units of the planned ‘rainbow’ shop lots

Lim’s vision for his properties is to restore and preserve them. All the properties are currently being upgraded and restored. However, his plans for 10-16 Hugh Low Street is to turn it into a boutique hotel with nine rooms, function room and two diners.

The efforts of these three entrepreneurs are testimony that the spirit of Ipoh Heritage is catching on. The heritage activity that may have started at the Old Town Heritage Trails has now spread to New Town so maybe it is timely that the Kinta Heritage Group should come out with heritage maps 3 and 4 which will cover New Town.

Hopefully with the featuring of the efforts of these three entrepreneurs more individuals, and possibly corporations, will come forward to preserve Ipoh town for the next generation to be able to appreciate its past.

Panglima Lane is Falling Down

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Updated 14 September 2011

Last December, Ipoh Echo reported that the front upper floor and roof tiles of No. 5 Panglima (Concubine) Lane, fell to the lane below. No one was hurt although the incident occurred at 9.30 a.m. Earlier in June the back portion of an unoccupied unit collapsed.

On September 7 at 10.45 p.m., the upper walls of another two units, Nos. 25 and 27, fell to the lane below. As luck would have it again no one was hurt although No. 27 is just a unit away from Yoon Wah Restaurant which serves the popular “snow beer” every evening.

Nos. 25 & 27 Panglima Lane which collapsed. On the right is Yoon Wah Restaurant
Debris and a 'wood rot' wooden beam litter the lane.The falling debris damaged the building opposite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The falling debris from No. 27 also damaged the building immediately opposite it and the column of the adjacent building, Yoon Wah Restaurant, damaging a total of four buildings.

Senior Exco for Local Government Dato’ Dr. Mah Hang Soon chaired a meeting the next day with owners and residents of Panglima Lane. Later on the same day he announced that JKR, the State Works Department, had in its preliminary report carried out on the same day, declared “7 of 24 units” on Panglima Lane are “deemed dangerous”.

Under the Street, Drainage and Building Act, owners of the units, upon being issued a notice by Ipoh City Council, will have 14 days to repair or demolish their units, otherwise legal action will be taken on them. A detailed report is also being carried out and will be available in a month’s time.

Dato’ Hamidah talking to residents. On the right in blue shirt is Residents Committee Chairman Dr Mike Gurmil

In the meantime, the Chairman of the just-formed Panglima Lane Residents Committee, Dr ‘Mike’ Gurmil said that he would be calling a meeting with the owners and residents to determine their next course of action.

JAG

Preserving Old Town

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Over the last year there has been a lot of talk about keeping Old Town preserved as a heritage enclave. However till today, there are little concrete initiatives seen to ensure that heritage preservation becomes a reality.

Nevertheless, a group of individuals have taken the initiative by purchasing a prime heritage property in Old Town no less, for the sole purpose of preserving it.

The property, consisting of six shop lots, of which only three are currently occupied (Star Barber, Star Optical and Choon & Co.), is bordered by Jalan Sultan Yussuf (Belfield Street) on the West, Jalan Bandar Timah (Leech Street) on the East (currently occupied by Kong Heng, Dramatist Hostel and a former furniture store), Panglima Street on the North and the lane shared by Thean Chun and Kong Heng on the South.

When asked the reason for purchasing the property, one of the group of co-owners, who requested anonymity, said “Ipoh was a good place to grow up and felt that it should be preserved for the next generation”.

At this present time the group has no specific plan for the area other than to upgrade the structures of the property and clean up the area to make it more presentable. “We want to keep the atmosphere of the place the way it is except that we want to upgrade it to be neat and tidy, for people to appreciate it as is.”

The group has informed the food stall operators at Kong Heng of their intentions and has extended the offer to the business premises on Jalan Sultan Yussuf. The property will undergo six months of upgrading work.

Again, the goal of maintaining the existing operators is to keep that heritage feel of a fading trade like the barber shop, with its existing interior decor capturing a bygone era. Unfortunately, despite the ‘favourable terms’ for continuing to operate, only Mr Thirunavukarasu, 71, a barber for over 50 years is considering continuing. The optician will be shifting permanently while the picture frame operator ‘might’ come back.

Incidentally, Star Barber has a long social history. One of the property owners was a Michaelian who used to be “hauled into the barber shop by St Michael’s School’s discipline master” for keeping long hair which fortunately has left an impression on him to preserve the premises.

Whatever the outcome of the upgrading work, Ipohites can be assured that part of their history will be around for another generation.

JAG

Ipoh’s “Hidden” Old Architectural Buildings

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By Jerry Francis

Just like any other century-old city, Ipoh has its share of old architectural buildings constructed according to various era and cultures.

Some of these buildings may be near where we are staying or where we would pass daily on our way to the markets or work. But, most of us are taking them for granted and fail to notice them.

It is not until some owners decided to demolish their buildings that we begin to realise and appreciate them and make an outcry over their demolition.

Despite many being demolished to make way for redevelopment, there are still over 100 of such beautiful buildings in the city,” said Ang Heng Swan, who has compiled a collection of photographs of the old architectural buildings.

Apart from Railway Station, Town Hall, Hongkong & Shanghai Bank and High Court, which are well-known landmarks of the city, there are other notable architectural buildings. Among them are mosques, churches, temples, schools, commercial buildings, mansions and residential houses.

They include Straits Trading Building, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Darul Ridzuan Museum, Dato Panglima Kinta Mosque, Old Fire Station, Old State Secretariat Building, Perak River Hydro Building, Perak Chinese Mining Association, Foong Seong Building and shops and residential houses along Jalan Bijih Timah, Jalan Dato Cheang Lee, Jalan Raja Ekram and Jalan Lau Ek Ching.

Ang feels that such buildings need to be highlighted and to get the authorities and owners interested in preserving them.

“They are our heritage and need to be spruced up as part of the beautification of the city,” he added.

In an effort to get the residents of Ipoh to be aware of such buildings, the Ipoh Barat MCA Youth together with Gerakan Belia Malaysia and Pertubuhan Foto Imej Perak is organising “1Malaysia Perak Heritage Buildings 2010” photography competition.

“We feel the best way to get Ipoh residents to notice these beautiful buildings in their midst is to publicise them, perhaps even publish the photographs in a book,” added Ang, a committee member of the competition.

The closing date of the competition is on August 14 and prize-giving and exhibition will be held at Glamour Square in Bercham on August 31.

Closing date is August 14. Entries to be sent to: Poon Foto, 26 Jalan Laxamana. Tel: 05-2559491.

Heritage: Where have all the buildings gone?

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OBITUARY


Sung to the Tune of ‘Where have all the flowers gone’

(Apologies to Pete Seeger for music and lyrics)

Where have all the buildings gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the buildings gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the buildings gone?
Guys have downed them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Ipoh Echo mourns the passing of many of its old buildings.


Ipoh Heritage Walk

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Heritage Trail Map 1

About 120 Ipohites from the private and public sectors involved in promoting Ipoh as a tourist destination will be participating in a familiarity tour of a portion of Ipoh City on April 25.

The tour, commencing at the Ipoh Town Hall at 8.00 a.m., will visit a total of 24 heritage buildings located within the perimeter of Club Road (Jalan Dato’ Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab), Post Office Road (Jalan Dewan), Clayton Road (Jalan S.P. Seenivasagam) and Belfield Street (Jalan Sultan Yussuf).

The event, jointly organised by the Perak Tourism Association and Tourism Malaysia, will launch the Ipoh Heritage Trail Map 1 that covers the North-Western portion of Ipoh Inner City. Produced by Kinta Heritage Sdn Bhd, this map represents the first of four that together will cover the whole of the Old City centre. This and the other maps to follow are intended to be used as tools to encourage tourists to visit Ipoh’s heritage sites.

The organisers, recognising the need for those involved in promoting tourist attractions to be very well informed of the products they promote, will during the tour provide an in-depth briefing of the history and architecture of each of the heritage buildings and the locality.