Saturday August 4, 2012
The Star Pitt St. among sites covered in Starwalk’s new route
By CHRISTINA CHIN
AT three storeys high, The Star Pitt St. is one of the most stately buildings along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (formerly Pitt Street) in Penang.
The building, with a rusticated facade similar to other buildings in George Town built in the early part of the 20th century, had towered over the shophouses flanking it at the time of its completion in 1906, according to Penang Travel Tips web writer Timothy Tye.
Way before noisy typewriters, printing machines and frantic reporters called it home, the building had housed the ‘Penang Opium & Spirit Farm Offices’.
Built by the Straits Settlements Public Works Department at a cost of about 49,000 Straits dollars more than a century ago, the building was where contracts and licences were issued for the running of opium dens and gambling dens as well as for the sale of liquor.
“This form of revenue farming was not new with a history going back as far as the settlement itself.
“It provided much needed revenue for the settlement to run itself,” he said.
Tye said prominent personalities and Penang societies were involved in the revenue farming of opium.
“They bought the contract that gave them the monopoly in collecting taxes on the operation of opium dens. The same goes for gambling, the sale of liquor and the operating of brothels.
“These vices were an accepted part of society during that period as we accept casino gambling today,” he said.
Tye added that by the early part of the 20th century, there was greater awareness of the fight by China against the British-controlled opium trade.
“With the collapse of the Qing Dynasty government of China, there was greater local awareness and movement against the consumption of opium.
“This led to laws curtailing and eventually prohibiting the sale of opium. The other vices also faced curtailment over time,” he said.
Tye, who is a keen researcher on significant historical structure and urban morphology all over the world, was pleased that The Star has taken steps to restore the building to its original appearance.
“The Star Pitt St. has been an impressive landmark along the road for the past 106 years,” he said.
The newspaper started in a rented building in Weld Quay in 1971 before Star Publications (M) Bhd executive director Tan Sri Kamal Hashim was tasked with negotiating with (the late) tycoon Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew to buy the building.
After The Star’s northern operations moved to Bayan Lepas in 2002, the building in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling became known as The Star George Town bureau, and it has now been renamed The Star Pitt St.
The Star Pitt St. is expected to open to the public once the project is completed by the first quarter of next year.
Restoration of the pre-war building started in 2010 and was completed last year.
The first floor of the building will be turned into a resource centre and exhibition space housing documents, books and photographs donated by prominent personalities and the top floor will be home to the Penang Philharmonic.
There are also plans for the public to “walk through” the building which links Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling to Queen Street.
The building was among those recognised as heritage monuments by the Government when George Town was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008.
The Star Pitt St. Project, a collaboration with Think City and the Penang Philharmonic, was launched on July 14 by Star Publications (M) Bhd group managing director and chief executive officer Ho Kay Tat in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of The Star.
A loyal reader of The Star C.C. Loo was impressed with the future plans for the daily’s iconic former head office.
Recalling how he used to work in the building some 50 years ago after leaving school, Loo said the ground floor was a showroom selling Honda motorcycles and Ford cars like the Ford Taunus and Ford Falcon (expensive cars in those days).
“No. 15, Pitt Street (as it was known then) was a well-known address in the 60s and 70s when business boomed and Honda motorcycles were a great success.
“Those were the days when people from northern states, especially from Perlis and Kedah, would come mainly to buy the Honda cub model. This was the address that made Loh famous and rich,” he added.
“The Star was fortunate enough to take over the premises from Loh and thus build up the paper to what it is today,” he said.
Describing the building as “wonderful and destined to be a successful place”, Loo said the building would continue to be great and magnificent in the years to come.
The Star Pitt St. at 15, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is one of the heritage sites covered in the new 6km route for non-competition Starwalkers on Sept 17.
Entries for competition and non-competition walkers will close on Aug 15 and Sept 3 respectively, or when the targeted 20,000 has been reached.