The elegant heritage building above was first occupied by The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (Now known as Standard Chartered Bank). The bank was the first ever bank that started its operation in Kuala Lumpur. It opened its first Kuala Lumpur branch in 1888 occupying shophouses on Clarke Street (Jalan Mahkamah Tinggi) and Market Street (Leboh Pasar Besar). It however moved to the newly completed premise at the current site in 1891. The current site was chosen for security considerations as it is close to the police headquarters on Bluff Road (now Jalan Bukit Aman). The original building had to be replaced by the present three-storey structure as it proved inadequate to cater for its fast expanding business.
The present three-storey edifice above was designed by Arthur Charles Alfred Norman or more popularly known as AC Norman. He was the same prolific architect responsible for other prominent heritage buildings in Kuala Lumpur such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, The Royal Selangor Club Building, the Cathedral of Saint Mary The Virgin, the Government Printing Office located next door and some other beautiful heritage buildings in the vicinity.
This heritage building was designed with Mughal architectural style to blend in with the other Mughal style (also written Mogul, but often incorrectly referred as Moorish) buildings in the surrounding area. Its construction was completed in 1909 to house the Chartered Bank in its new premise. Initially, there was a single-storey wing to the building which extended onto Jalan Raja (see picture above). This part unfortunately had to be demolished when Jalan Raja was widened. In its place, arches were placed there to embellish the blank wall (see the top picture). There were also verandahs that are today enclosed with windows.
Typical of Mughal architecture, domes are among its prominent features. There are four domes on the roof of this building placed at its four corners. The domes were constructed of belian wood, the tropical hard timber which can normally be found in Sarawak forest. Besides domes there are also pointed horseshoe arches forming the extended entrance to the building as well as the window frames on the ground floor. While the other top half of the facade’s window utilised a slight scalloped window frame as part of the opening to the structure to infuse the Mughal architecture style.
This great building has recorded several notable historical events. The great flood of 1926 caused the bank’s vaults to be inundated. Business continued as usual upstairs in the living quarters, while staff had to be ferried by sampan. Millions of dollars of wet bank notes were laid out on the Padang (now Merdeka Square) in front to dry and guarded by the police. Meanwhile, during Japanese occupation this building was used by Japanese Telecommunication Department. After the World War II was over, the function of the building as the main commercial bank was revived and it lasted until 1965 when The Chartered Bank was relocated to its new and bigger premise on Jalan Ampang.
The building was later occupied by the Kuala Lumpur District and Land Office which is now known as the Federal Territory Department of Land and Mines before it was taken over by the Federal Territory Religious Affairs Office or now better known as the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JAWI). On the 24th October 1991 this building was officially handed over to the Department of Museum and Antiquities to be turned into the National History Museum. In November 2007 the National History Museum was closed down and its entire collection was permanently transferred to the National Museum.
This majestic edifice was once occupied by an upmarket restaurant after being vacated by the National History Museum but operating a restaurant from this classic building which has become a national treasure doesn’t do justice to its ‘status’. When I last photographed this heritage building on 1 February this year, the upgrading work was in progress to transform it to be the Music Museum. I am grateful that at least this masterpiece by AC Norman will be put to good use appropriate for its status and grandeur.
You may want to read more of my blog entries on heritage building of Kuala Lumpur here:
- Heritage building of Kuala Lumpur | Central Market
- Heritage Building of Kuala Lumpur | Masjid Jamek of Kuala Lumpur
- Heritage Building of Kuala Lumpur | the Old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station
- Heritage Building of Kuala Lumpur | KTM Headquarters
- Heritage Building of Kuala Lumpur | City Theatre
- Heritage Building of Kuala Lumpur | the Old High Court Building
- Heritage Building of Kuala Lumpur | the National Textile Museum
- Heritage Building of Kuala Lumpur | The Old General Post Office
- Heritage Building of Kuala Lumpur | The Sultan Abdul Samad Building