KL Car-Free Morning: Part 2 – Colonial Walk

by Eric Lim

This article continues on from “Part 1 – Morning Run”, which can be viewed at https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/11/17/kl-car-free-morning-part-1-morning-run/

There is no better way to start the Colonial Walk around Dataran Merdeka than to start at Sultan Abdul Samad Building (SASB) – the most iconic and instagrammable landmark in KL. The building was officially opened on 3 April 1897 by Sir Frank Swettenham who was then the Resident General of the Federated Malay States (FMS), and it was at the time known as The Government Offices. The name changed to Sultan Abdul Samad Building sometime after independence in honour of Sultan Abdul Samad, the fourth Selangor Sultan (1857-1898) who reigned when the building was constructed.

The famous features of the building include a 43.6-metre clock tower with a large magnificent copper dome, two smaller staircase towers also with copper domes at either side and smaller domes made of white cement on top of pillars in front of the building. The building’s design is a blend of Indian and European architecture. On record, the building was designed by British architects Arthur Charles Alfred Norman, Arthur Benison Hubback and Regent Alfred John Bidwell of the Public Works Department. The SASB now houses the office of the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture.

Next stop – the Old Supreme Court. This two-storey building was built on the bank of Gombak River and it took 2 years and 9 months to complete – in 1915 to the cost of $208,500.00 Straits Dollars. It replaced the first High Court building located at Court Hill (currently where Menara Maybank is situated). A.B. Hubback did the design and Ang Seng Mooi was the contractor. Ang was also the contractor for the Government Offices. Hubback designed it in the Indo-Saracenic style, which blended well with other buildings of similar style in its vicinity. This building is now being used by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Located next to the Old Supreme Court is the Old City Hall. Again, it was A.B. Hubback who was given the responsibility to design the building. Construction began in 1896 and it was completed in 1904. Again, Hubback used the Indo-Saracenic eclectic style including the use of different arches and chatri (domed-shaped pavilions) on the roofline. It was occupied for a time by Panggung Bandaraya DBKL to stage plays and musicals. The interior of the theater was destroyed by fire in 1992 and City Hall restored it soon after. The building is vacant at the time of writing.

Moving across the busy street of Jalan Raja on the north of Dataran Merdeka is the Saint Mary’s Anglican Cathedral. The original St Mary’s was a simple wooden building, built in 1887 and located on a hill on Bluff Road (now known as Bukit Aman). In order to cater to a larger expatriate congregation, the church was moved to the current site where the first brick church in the Federated Malay States (FMS) was built in 1894, designed by none other than A.C.A. Norman. The following year, a pipe organ built by Henry Willis was installed in the church. Willis also made the organ for St Paul’s Cathedral in London as well as the grand organ of the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. Today, the church conduct services in English, Iban, Nepali, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin.

The Royal Selangor Club was my next stop. It was originally known as The Selangor Club, and opened in a tiny wooden building with attap roof in October 1884. Five years later, a two-storey Clubhouse was completed at the current location thanks to a donation made by the Selangor Government. By 1910, the Clubhouse had been extended and redesigned in mock Tudor-style. The original building was designed by A.C.A Noman while A.B. Hubback redesigned it to mock-Tudor. In its early years, the club was fondly known as “The Spotted Dog”, purportedly named after the two Dalmatian dogs owned by the wife of one of its founding members, Captain Harry Charles Syers. Over time, the club was simply called “The Dog”. At its 100th Year Anniversary in 1984, it was granted a royal charter by DYMM Sultan Selangor and from thereon, it is known as the Royal Selangor Club. The club was further expanded with the opening of the Royal Selangor Club’s Kiara Sports Annexe at Bukit Kiara in 1998. Today, RSC is regarded as one of Asia’s oldest sporting institutions.

Moving past the 100-metres flag pole and large outdoor screen, and located next door to Perpustakaan Kuala Lumpur (KL Library) is the Old Government Printing Office (GPO). The Selangor Printing Office was initially established on Bluff Hill (now Bukit Aman) in 1890. John Russell who arrived from England was put in-charge of the Selangor Printing Office, and he helped A.C.A. Norman to design an ideal building to fit the large printing machines and this building was completed in 1899. The Perak Printing Office, established earlier in 1888 in Taiping, was consolidated with the Selangor Printing Office in 1904 and the single Federal department was housed in this building. In 1961, the Ministry of Labour took over the building until 1977 when it was converted to the Metropolitan Postal Security Office. DBKL purchased the building in 1986 for a sum of over RM3 million and turned it into Memorial Library, then renamed it KL Library in 2000. In 2004, a new building was constructed for the KL Library. The Old GPO now houses the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery and has become a popular tourist destination.

Just before reaching the traffic lights, the building on the right is the Old Chartered Bank Building. The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (later known as Chartered Bank and today, Standard Chartered Bank) was the first bank in KL. It started operations in 1888 at Clarke Street (Jalan Mahkamah Tinggi), then shifted to Market Street (Lebuh Pasar Besar) before moving to the current site in 1891. It then expanded into a three-storey building designed by A.C.A. Norman in 1909. In the 1960’s, it housed the National History Museum before it was turned into a restaurant and later, became the Music Museum in August 2014. Floods in this part of the town were very frequent due to the close proximity to the Gombak and Klang River, right behind Sultan Abdul Samad Building. During a flood in December 1926, the strong room of the bank was inundated. After the flood water receded, currency and documents had to be taken out to the Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) and dried in the sun. Again, bank staff had to do the same when another flood disaster happened in January 1971, even though they had moved to a new location!

After crossing the traffic lights, I reached the Old Central Railway Offices & North Goods Yard. The previous building on this site was single storied that housed the Railway’s offices and it was designed by A.C.A. Norman. The building was extended in 1905 to cater for the expansion of the tin industry and railway requirements. This time, it was designed by A.B. Hubback and built by contractor Ang Seng for $116,122.00 Straits Dollars. Besides the North Goods Yard, there was a South Goods Yard located at Brickfields where KL Sentral stands today. The Railways Central Offices then moved to the present KTM Headquarters in 1917, subsequently FMS Public Works Department occupied the building. From 1959 to 1971, this building was the first headquarters of Bank Negara Malaysia. It is now the National Textile Museum, having started its operations in 2010.

And the last stop of the Colonial Walk is the giant field now known as Dataran Merdeka / Merdeka Square / Independence Square that sits at the centre surrounded by the colonial buildings that I had visited earlier. The British called it the Parade Ground when it was cleared in 1884 but it later evolved into the Malay word “Padang”. DBKL acquired the field in 1987 and named it Dataran Merdeka in October 1989, to coincide with the Visit Malaysia Year 1990 campaign. History was made here at 12.01 am of 31 August 1957 when the Union Jack flag was lowered for the very last time and the flag of the Federation Of Malaya was hoisted up for the very first time to the world. It marked the end of British rule of our country and the end of colonisation. Since then, many of our Independence Day parades were held here. Also located at the Dataran Merdeka, is the Queen Victoria Fountain. It was supposedly built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 but it was only assembled in 1904 by which time Queen Victoria had passed away. Queen Victoria was Victoria Regina and she lived from 1837 to 1901. There is another Queen Victoria Fountain in Melaka, this one was erected by the people of Melaka.

Top Queen Victoria Fountain at Dataran Merdeka. At a glance, the top of the fountain looks similar to the top of KL Tower in the background. 

Do not miss this spot when you visit Dataran Merdeka.

I had finally completed my morning run and Colonial walk, with a time of 1 hour 59 minutes. And that was the time it took Eliud Kipchoge to complete the marathon (42 km) run recently. Eliud is the first man to run the marathon in under 2 hours, and for this great effort, he is now the Greatest Marathon Runner of All Time. With that, it was time for me to enjoy my breakfast.

Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

3 thoughts on “KL Car-Free Morning: Part 2 – Colonial Walk”

  1. I visited KL for over 10 times since I started to travel in the past 40+ years, I find this article very informative. Though it is a virtual ‘literate tour’ while I am reading this article from overseas, it motivated me to follow the writer’s step some day in my future revisit. Huge thank to Eric – the amazing writer!

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