Penang Town Hall, June 2005

For the long-awaited site visit to the Penang Town Hall on Sunday, 26 June 2005 there were 45 PHT members. The Town Hall is a Grade 1 Muzium Negara gazetted building under the Antiquities Act and the oldest municipal building on Penang Island. The foundation stone was laid by Colonel Anson and the building was officially declared open by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Frederick Weld, in 1880.

The municipal offices were in the Town Hall until 1903 when they moved to the newly built City Hall nearby. The Town Hall contained an assembly hall, ballroom and library and was the premier social venue for the town’s elite in the early years. The old Hokkien name for it was “Ang Mo Kong Kuan “or European Club. The completion

of Dewan Sri Pinang in 1970, in time for the PATA conference, marked the beginning of the Town Hall’s decline in the public life of Penang. This historic building was used as a set for the 1999 film Anna and the King.

Assistant architect Encik Ahmad Firdaus bin Haji Ahmad of HY Consultant gave the briefing on the renovation works being done in the Town Hall. HY Consultant was appointed by the Penang City Council to oversee the conservation aspect of the renovation and repairs.

This project is monitored by the National Museum Board and the renovation is required to follow very strict guidelines. Like other Class 1 conservation projects, the renovation work has to take into consideration the social and historic fabric plus the intended use of the building. On the authenticity aspect, most of the damaged objects had to be replaced as close to the original as possible. The whole project costs RM 4.5 million. Work started in 2004.

There are nine new chandeliers hanging in the ballroom which has very good acoustics. Parts of the timber flooring which were damaged by termites were replaced with hardwood such as teak, cengal, balau and merbau. The original fan can still be seen at the central portion of the ceiling in the ballroom. In 1890, the entrance hall was enlarged and four more rooms were added. The extensions and renovations done in 1890, 1903, 1938 and 1991 were also pointed out to us.

The Town Hall’s previous tenant put up a lot of partitions which had to be taken down. The piping for the air conditioning which can be seen outside the building remains an eye-sore.

The rubberized tiles on the ground floor had to be scraped off. The roof which was leaking badly had to be repaired. In order to avoid such blunders in future, the intended use of the building must be spelled out clearly with strict guidelines as to repair and renovation works. To ensure adherence to these guidelines for the building’s protection and management, there is a need for a body or NGO to be the “guardian” of this historic building. With proper care and maintenance the conservation of the imposing Town Hall building will be an impressive reminder to Malaysians and visitors of Penang’s grand civic heritage.

by Toh Kim Hock

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