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  • Ammar, R. & Izzaty, N.

Heritage Series - Chow Kit Mansion


Driving along Jalan Kinabalu, one should be able to catch a glimpse of an intricate mansion just off the roadside, commanding presence through its bright yellow exterior and European-styled architectural facade. Recently dubbed as 'Rumah Tangsi' in 2017, the mansion was originally built as the grand residence of Loke Chow Kit, one of Kuala Lumpur's prominent entrepreneurial figures in the early 20th century.

View from Jalan Tangsi.


Loke Chow Kit Mansion, (or simply 'Loke Hall') was constructed around 1903 - 1907, a time when Kuala Lumpur was still a growing tin mining town under the British colonial administration. The manor was believed to be designed by A.K. Musdeen (sometimes spelled 'Moosdeen' or 'Moosden'), the same architect responsible for a number of other outstanding buildings in the early development period of Kuala Lumpur, including the Industrial Court Building (formerly Chow Kit & Co. emporium) and the row of shop lots in Medan Pasar (formerly Old Market Square).

Decorated pediment adorning the main entrance gable end,

with windows decorated by emphasized keystones and hooded moulds.


As the modern name 'Rumah Tangsi' suggests, the building is located in Lot 10 & 11 of Jalan Tangsi, a minor road that links Jalan Kinabalu and Jalan Parlimen. 'Jalan Tangsi' was translated directly from the old name of the road; 'Barrack Road', named after police barracks and armory buildings located around the area in the colonial days. Situated on the west bank of the Klang River, the area was an exclusive spot in Kuala Lumpur as the lot was flanked by the Selangor Club building (now Royal Selangor Club) and Parade Ground/Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) on the east, and British government offices and police quarters on the west. The nearby Bluff Hill (now Bukit Aman) was established in 1880 as the 'official quarters' in Kuala Lumpur, an initial location for British government offices after the administrative capital was moved from Klang. Being a major road at that time, Barrack Road was even selected for the first experimental strip in Kuala Lumpur for laterite paving/metalling in 1883.

Royal Selangor Club and Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad visible across Jalan Kinabalu

Born in Penang and English educated in Penang Free School, Loke Chow Kit started off in his younger years employed by Kratz Brothers, followed by Huttenbach Brothers & Co. in his home state. After moving to Kuala Lumpur, he worked alongside the famous Wong Loke Yew, widely considered to be the richest local businessman during the late Kapitan China period in Kuala Lumpur. Chow Kit then ventured into opening department stores, leading to the establishment of the Chow Kit & Co. emporium (of which he was a tenant under Loke Yew). The store was said to be the first locally owned department store in Kuala Lumpur and the largest of its kind at that time.


His entrepreneurship brought him further into other branches of business including tailoring, insurance, and printing among others. By the time the Loke Hall was built, Chow Kit was already an established figure in the local Chinese community, a vice-president of the Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and actively involved in the mining industry.

Restored facade, carefully painted back to its original white and milky yellow color scheme.

Doors facing the yard near the now-demolished stables and carriage house.

Part of the mansion, now turned into an exhibition space

(Bukit Aman Royal Malaysian Police Headquarters in the background)

Regency-styled iron gate.

Not known to shy away from showing his success, Chow Kit built his mansion to be magnificent. The mixed Neo-Classical and Palladian style of Loke Hall was said to be inspired during his travel to Europe with Loke Yew in 1903, which was then integrated with local eclectic influences and climate through the commissioning of architect A.K. Musdeen. Included in the construction was a main mansion building, a suite of offices (Annex block) for his mining business, an internal courtyard in the main symmetrical mansion building, stables, and a carriage house (now demolished).


Aesthetics of the building include decorated pediments, hooded moulds and emphasized keystones for arches and windows, several designs of corner quoins, timber-louvered windows and fanlights, eclectic mosaic tiles, Regency-style cast-iron balconies, balustrades, double loggia for the internal courtyard (also described as colonnaded), decorated column capitals and blind arcades.

Open-air two-storey internal courtyard with eye-catching balustrades.

Column capital with floral relief.

Eclectic floor mosaic tiles in the mansion halls.


Chow Kit and his family however did not stay here for long, as Loke Hall was leased and taken over in 1909 by Empire Hotel Company Ltd., adapting the residential building and refurbishing it as the 'Empire Hotel'. It was one of the few hotels at that time accommodating the increasing traffic of business visitors to Kuala Lumpur (possibly spurred by the new railway link to Singapore in 1909). By 1913, the hotel was considered to be one of the only two 'first class' hotels in Kuala Lumpur, with the other one being the Station Hotel. The Annex block was utilized as rooms for longer-staying hotel guests, while the manor was used as the main hotel building and dining purposes.

Loke Hall as Empire Hotel, between 1909 - 1916

(Sources: Site exhibition and DBKL plaque)

Regency-styled balcony terrace with decorated cast-iron railing, Lot 11 (Annex block)


In 1916, the hotel was sold off to Loke Yew's son, Alan Loke, who then proceeded to renovate and establish a new hotel called 'Peninsular Hotel' on the same site. The hotel was a popular meeting spot for numerous planters and trading house members in Kuala Lumpur. At one point, it was also temporarily used as the Second Guards Brigade headquarters after World War II. Despite the initial success, Peninsular Hotel eventually closed down many years later due to intense competition from other hotels such as the Station Hotel, Majestic Hotel, and Eastern Hotel. The building was left unoccupied for a few years until the Loke Trust was set up to maintain the property.

Hall near the main entrance.


The mansion was then rented out to Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) in 1973, then established as the 'PAM Centre' (also known during this period as 'Wisma Loke') for the organization's secretariat. Ironically, it was said that after a while PAM received a notice from the property owner to vacate the property as Loke Hall (along with the Annex block) was sold to Intan Development Sdn Bhd with plans to demolish the building and develop a high-rise property on the site.


After much outcry from the public, Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) made the decision in 1983 to acquire the site and appointed PAM as 'tenant architect' and act as custodian for Loke Hall. Further initiative was taken by DBKL in 1989, placing the building's repair and maintenance under PAM, leading to the commissioning of Akitek Majubina's John Koh to restore and refurbish the dilapidated buildings on site.

Chengal timber staircase, only one of the two on site that was able to be restored to its original state.

Restoration work was done for two years through two phases starting in 1989; phase one (exterior part of the building) and phase two (interior part, including decoration). These stages are implemented with reference to a number of surveys done previously, including a structural survey conducted in 1983. A host of problems were discovered, including termite infestation, rotten timber elements, leaks, soil settlement, dilapidated facade paint condition, fungus growth, broken windows, and dangerous structural condition of the main roof. Another 5 years of conservation work was conducted in 2012 after DBKL finally requested PAM to vacate the property, further restoring the building to its original state. In the same year, Loke Hall was also successfully gazetted under Akta Warisan Kebangsaan 2005 and registered under the name "Bangunan Bekas Rumah Loke Chow Kit", placing the building under the authority of Jabatan Warisan Negara.

Plaque by Jabatan Warisan Negara on the side of the main entrance.

Main building roof repair work, with temporary protective metal deck installed during refurbishment work. (Source: Site exhibition)

Restoration work was done in a meticulous way. Major roof repair was conducted by replacing broken roof tiles and sagging rafters in identified areas. The roof tiles replaced were even sourced from other historical buildings that use the same type of material, including Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad. The building paint was scraped off, treated, and repainted with anti-fungal lime wash paint. A chemist from a paint company was also consulted for this particular work so as to make sure the restoration was done in the best possible manner.

Restoration work photos between 2012 - 2017.

(Source: Site exhibition)

Subsequent conservation work led to the replacement of rotting timber flooring to make the second floor of the building safe for use. A number of old wells were also found on site during repair work, along with recovery work of the original flooring material. A conservation management plan (CMP) was created for future building maintenance, making sure that the building remains protected through detailed reference of information and instructions.

Discovery of old flooring material (left) and well (right). (Source: Site exhibition)

Replaced second-floor timber panels.

As of this post in 2020, the site is managed by Seetizens Lab with the main building stylishly re-branded as 'Rumah Tangsi', providing an attractive premise of having a beautiful heritage building in the middle of Kuala Lumpur as a venue for conventions, weddings and even live music performances. The nearby Annex block on the other hand is now occupied by the Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bureau.

Event space on the second floor, fitted with glass partition walls.


Loke Hall is a gleaming example of a heritage building that has gone through multiple stages of adaptive reuse through numerous different tenants, now finally successfully restored to its past glory.


With both DBKL and Jabatan Warisan Negara continuing to advise on the site's maintenance and conservation along with Seetizens Lab responsibly managing the building, its safe to say that Loke Hall is currently in good hands.


***

View from the Loke Hall main entrance, 2020.


See Also:

Heritage Series - Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad (BSAS)


References/Further Reading:

Kuala Lumpur History: A History of Kuala Lumpur; 1857 - 1939 (J.M. Gullick, 2000) - MBRAS

Loke Hall Design History: Back to its Past Glory (17/8/1990) - Malay Mail

Loke Hall Design Analysis: An Influence of Colonial Architecture to Building Styles and Motifs in Colonial Cities in Malaysia (Ho Kah Chun, 2005) - 8th International Conference of the Asian Planning Schools Association 11-14th September 2005

Loke Hall Conservation Details: Conservation of British Colonial Buildings Built Between 1800 and 1930 in Malaysia (A. Ghafar bin Ahmad, 1993) - The University of Sheffield

Loke Hall Building Maintenance: Common Issues of Maintenance Cost in Adaptive Reuse Heritage Buildings Towards Maintenance and Operation Approach in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia (Nur Izzaty Ismail, 2020) - Masters Thesis - Universiti Teknologi Mara

Loke Chow Kit History: Malaysian Road Names: Who's Who? (18/6/2013) - Malaysian Digest

Loke Yew History: Book Review 'From Poor Migrant to Millionaire' (Uqbah Iqbal, 2016) - Journal of Business and Management Affairs

Rumah Tangsi: Turning Old KL Buildings Into Art Spaces: Does it Really Work? (Dinesh Kumar, 9/2/2020) - The Star