Old Does Not Equal Heritage


By Jerry Francis

Recently, when I wrote about condemned and dilapidated buildings in the city centre being left to rot as “eyesores”, I drew some flak from readers. It shows there are a lot of people here who are enthusiastic about preserving heritage buildings and thought I was advocating that such buildings be demolished.


Condemned building at the junction of Jalan Sultan Idris Shah and Jalan Raja Musa Aziz



I had highlighted those “eyesores” with an intention to draw the attention of the city council to get the owners to do something as the buildings, which have been left abandoned and condemned for years, are posing a danger to motorists and pedestrians. If they could be restored well and good, but if not what do we do? Do we allow the buildings to rot and collapse on their own?

Many readers appear to be very emotional where heritage buildings are concerned and prefer that such buildings be left alone with the hope that they would be eventually restored. They do not seem to be concerned that those ruins along main streets are dangerous to motorists and passers-by.

An example was the building at the junction of Jalan Sultan Idris Shah and Jalan Raja Musa Aziz, which was left in a dilapidated condition after a fire damaged it some years ago. The building has since been demolished after I highlighted it a couple of times.

In a city such as Ipoh, that was built over a century ago, many of its buildings are bound to be old. Is just being old of heritage value?

Whenever some of these old buildings are torn down, there is much hue and cry that heritage is not being preserved; for example, the demolishing of a block of double-storey residences along Jalan Chung On and more recently, five pre-war shophouses at the corner of Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil and Jalan Lau Ek Ching for redevelopment. There also have been other old buildings in the city, which have faced the same fate.

We need to look from the point of view of the owners of such properties. What can they gain from preserving their buildings as heritage? Certainly they would prefer to redevelop their prime land for a greater economic return.

Of course, heritage needs to be preserved. In the case of our city, who is responsible for preserving heritage and to what extent are we willing to take it? There are not many owners of old buildings who can afford to restore their condemned and dilapidated buildings to their original forms.

Can they sustain, like the owner of the well-known FMS Bar & Restaurant, slowly restoring the building? Unless they have deep pockets, they will want to see their investments bear dividends quickly.

Therefore, if we are really serious about preserving heritage buildings in our city, we need to take stock of all the old buildings and decide which of them are of heritage value and gazette them as heritage sites, and what kind of enforcement will be in place before property owners are allowed to demolish their buildings. Also what financial incentives are there for the owners to restore the buildings to their original splendour?

The city council has taken the right step, though long overdue, by carrying out an extensive programme to identify old and heritage buildings around Ipoh and will ask the Heritage Department to gazette those heritage buildings. It has identified 120 buildings for the purpose.

Buildings which are of significant architecture and have stories to tell should be taken into consideration, not just because they are old. It is better to have a few heritage sites than not at all.

Otherwise, we can go on protesting and yet we will continue to see buildings which we consider as heritage being torn down periodically.

When even preserving a unique mining heritage – the only tin dredge, which I have been advocating for over two decades, has yet to be achieved, what chance do we have to preserve all the old buildings in the city?

And finally is the Heritage Department willing to put their money where their mouth is?

7 thoughts on “Old Does Not Equal Heritage

  1. Certain parts of Ipoh should be designated as heritage areas (like the Old Town and Little India) while other parts be allowed to be redeveloped into new. Like it or not, Ipoh is just too big to be preserved entirely. The effort costs too much and involves too many property owners.

    The community at large had lots to say but have done very little else, especially to raise money to preserve heritage. It seems that everyone expects the state government and/or MBI to come up with the money.

    The rights of property owners is also being sidelined in the name of heritage. Probably because most of the people clamoring to preserve heritage buildings don’t own any of the buildings concerned. Money is not everything, only when the money is not yours.

  2. It seems that the preceding comments missed the main points that Francis is trying to get across. I agree with him, not all old buildings have historical or architectural significance. Many Ipoh buildings are just plain old and dilapidated. Some are too old that they become not only an eyesore but also pose potential hazard to pedestrian and motorists. My son and I witnessed the fire at the corner building that was highlighted by Francis several years ago. The building actually caught fire twice that day. I was hoping that, for safety reason, it would burn to the ground but alas the structure remained standing until the city council demolished it. So it was not a sinister plot to create a car park that brought down the building. Buildings that are totally scorched and in danger of collapsing are of no significant value and do not deserve to be preserved anyway.
    The love for old things, in this case, old buildings that may or may not have significant historical or architectural values, requires a lot of sacrifices…to property owners, aside from sentimental values they have to justify the financial burden of restoration and having limited or no re-development potential of such building. Not all owners have the capacity to restore those buildings. So certain incentives must be given to encourage them..say, nominal or waiver of yearly, business license fee, quit rent and assessments, or a grant/low interest restoration loan could be created. At the very extreme, the government or private institutions may have to come in to acquire those buildings if they represent such a significant value to the society. But then, deciding which building is important and which is not requires high level of activism among those who have the passion for heritage building restoration and preservation and the power to move things fast, before more building have to bulldozed due to old age…that is what i believe Francis is calling for.

  3. Not all old buildings have heritage values. That picture on the left is a false representation of the real condition of the building on the ground, which was horrendous. That building was totally ravaged by fire and has been left there standing in a precarious condition to pedestrians & posing as a complete eyesore & image spoiler (both for the city & the authorities) for over 2 years. Being sited at one of the busiest junction in the middle of the city makes it even worse of an image spoiler ! As I understood it, notice after notice were sent to the owner (who is residing overseas as usual :/ ) but there were no reply. So, the authority’s action in this particular case is actually justified. Heritage preservation issues should be dealt with on a case by case basis. Assuming each & every building in the city having heritage values & needs to be saved by the authorities & not by the owners themselves is terribly flawed & such irresponsible attitude ! If you value your old properties so much, why not stay back & take care of them yourselves instead of burdening others unnecessarily with the responsibilities, heritage or not !

  4. I have been waiting patiently for an explosion of comments against this article, but true to form we get the same few dedicated heritage buffs making their point, but where are those that matter?

    There does not seem to be any opposition from the President and members of the Perak Heritage Society (PHS) nor the Kinta Heritage Group. Does that mean tjhey agree with the article or they are “saving their powder” for “Letters to the Editor”.

    Our position is quite clear. The article is appalling and misguided.

  5. The built environment is the history of man. Each of these buildings have their own story lines. Thus, the life of man in the past, its values in the present and directions for the future are embellished on these old heritage buildings. Therefore to save ” heritage buildings” and recommend heritage promotion of these buildings through Perak Tourism Board is what one should embark, demolishing is not the solution.

  6. To Mr Jerry Francis, the people of Ipoh and the people of Perak.

    I have read, with some interest, Jerry Francis having his say in Ipoh Echo.
    Having read Mr Francis’ ramblings for a while now, I am goaded, finally, to respond – to have my say about his having his say, and respond to Mr Francis’ latest lambast on Ipoh history and heritage.
    In Ipoh Echo Issue 123 (July 1-15 2011) Mr Francis remarks that he had ‘..highlighted those “eyesores’ with an intention to draw the attention of the city council to get owners to do something…..’ That is all well and good Mr Francis, but need you preen and pride yourself when those same building are pulled down?
    Need you grin, as you claim responsibility for yet another section of Ipoh’s heritage being destroyed, and to create what exactly – a car park!
    Reading Ipoh Echo Issue 123 brings to mind Joni Mitchell singing ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’. However, in this case, they – the shadowy and mysterious ‘they’ pulled down a heritage building to put up a car park – a car park!
    Much more of this wanton destruction of Ipoh’s heritage, and there will be no reason to visit Ipoh. Why should tourists come, and too see what exactly? Mr Francis is so very much mistaken in his view – building can and should be renovated, restored to retain a flavour of Ipoh’s past, its heritage, bringing a much needed character to what will otherwise be a characterless city. There should be no cheer when heritage is lost, for once lost it is lost forever.
    Ipoh’s heritage buildings are the very reason why Ipoh has been so popular with film crews over the years. Tear down those buildings and film crews will cease to come and, pretty soon, other tourists will cease to come.
    Ipoh needs to preserve its past. What Ipoh does not need is yet another car park, nor more contemporary, Art Brut, concrete eyesore buildings marring the once picturesque city of Ipoh.
    Mr Francis you are wrong – oh so very wrong in your views – we do need to preserve the ‘old’ least, one day, you too be declared an ‘eyesore’ and be torn down and a car park erected in your place. Mind you, on second thoughts….

  7. Heritage is importantt. Tourists are important as they put money in the coffers. When all the old buildings are demolished and brand new monsters replace them, no one is going to visit Ipoh when it looks just like any other town. Buildings need to be maintained and not left to rot. Money is not everything. The charm of Ipoh has gone – I weep for the town I knew and loved.

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