Heritage buildings fronting sea in Penang turned to rubble

Buildings in The Runnymede colonial heritage enclave in George Town demolished – with green light coming from the city council.

A few more city heritage buildings here were bulldozed on Tuesday, the second day of Chinese New Year.

The buildings were in the colonial heritage enclave, The Runnymede, in the George Town city sea front.

A check showed that all ancillary buildings, including one close to the sea, had been torn down.

Only the main building, which houses a big ballroom, was spared the axe by the landowner.

The Penang Island City Council had allowed the landlord to proceed with the demolition last week.

This was confirmed by state executive councillor in charge of Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Chow Kon Yeow in a text message yesterday.

Under the city council green light, the main building will however be spared.

Located just outside the city heritage enclave, it has been listed as a Category Two Heritage building by the city council.

The owner, Runnymede Hotels Sdn Bhd, had submitted a plan to redevelop the land – Lots 131, 132 and 133 – into a hotel and office lots in 1999, which was approved by the then island municipal council.

The project to redevelop the colonial-style hotel building is yet to take off, but the approved project plan is still valid since the KWSP Tower on Lot 131 has already been constructed.

The Runnymede has a rich history.

Historical records show that Sir Stamford Raffles and his family resided in Runnymede when he lived in Penang in the early 1800s before leaving for Singapore.

The house was named Runnymede after the field on which King John of England signed the Magna Carta.

Originally it was a single-storey building with louvred wooden window shutters, carved balconies, deep cool eaves and large, open living spaces within.

The main three-storey seafront building was later built in the 1930s. It housed a huge ballroom on the ground floor, with guestrooms on the first and second floors.

In 1935, the Runnymede Hotel, run by Scotsmen, W Foster and H Parker, had its own post office, telegraph office, hairdresser, book store, reading room, billiard room, railway ticketing office and a fleet of chauffeured cars.

The British Navy took over the hotel from 1940 to 1942. During the Japanese occupation, it was used as a Japanese military base.

It was again used by the British military from 1951 to 1957 before the British sold it to the new Malayan government for $1.

Runnymede was renamed Wisma Persekutuan and was used as a government rest house. It was once used by the Division 2 base of the Malaysian army before it moved to Bukit Gedung.

The demolition has predictably caused a storm on the Web, with social critics taking to social media to raise questions on whether permission was granted.

“Has any approval been given for their demolition, and if so when?” wondered prominent blogger Anil Netto.

Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group coordinator Yan C Lee slammed the city council for going ahead with the demolition, stressing that heritage buildings should be conserved at all cost.

“These heritage buildings are the icon of our state and now we have lost them. It was a big mistake to demolish the buildings.”

He questioned whether the Penang government had done a detailed study on the heritage enclave before permission for “Demolition Runnymede” was granted.

If there was any study done, Lee asked the state government to publicly reveal the findings.

“Don’t blame the previous government or federal government for this demolition. Just get your own house in order and explain to the people.” - By FMT

1 comment

February 11, 2016 at 5:46 PMJacquie

Grand history gone forever, all in the name of greed, terrible shame.