The Disappearing Historical Buildings of Kuala Lumpur

By Sumiitra Yiohan Sooriaarratchi

Imagine my shock when I visited the old historical center of Kuala Lumpur near Central Market (Pasar Seni). Another beautiful old building demolished! When will this carnage stop. It’s such a shame that the owners of the old buildings and the Government authorities don’t recognize their archeological value. Commercial greed overrides everything else in the mad desire for profit. $$$$$$$$$$ !!#%@!!

This beautiful heritage building…

has now been reduced to rubble … and is being redeveloped as a lousy hotel.



If this continues KL will no longer have any historical buildings left.

After recovering from seeing the tragic end of this once beautiful building ; I continued to on to some of my other favourite spots just to make sure that they were still in existence. Thankfully there was some good news for me as I noticed most of the old buildings still standing (for how long? we can only hope they remain for generations to come) and also saw an interesting urban gardening project in the old center of town.

My first stop was the Sin Sze Si Ya temple built on land donated by Yap Ah Loy who was one of the founders of Kuala Lumpur and helped develop this frontier town when the tin mines were first opened.  That period in Kuala Lumpur’s history was a bloody and brutal time to live in. An era when opium dens and brothels operated legally and death due to clan warfare or disease was a common occurrence. It was only the toughest people who survived. Until today some things haven’t really changed much;  Chinese Triads exist all over Malaysia and the brothels still operate in the center of town but are a little more discrete and go almost totally unnoticed by the the majority of the public. No doubt the troublesome law enforcement of the city has been bought off and likely gets a cut of the profits. You know what they say – “Money talks, bullshit walks.

I bumped into Mr Koay, who works at the temple and was busy as usual (the temple gets crowded on the first and fifteenth day of the month when Chinese Buddhists follow a vegetarian diet and pray at temples like the Sin Sze Si Ya temple) and he asked me jokingly why I haven’t had children yet. I replied “soon, soon” ha ha. Inside the temple is a statue of Yap Ah Loy.

Mr Koay who works at the Temple. Getting the incense ready for the worshipers.



Yap Ah Loy statue at the Sin Sze Si Ya Temple


We also happened to walk past an old building (on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee) and had the good fortune to meet the owner of the property who also bemoaned the loss of KL’s old-world charm – Mrs Tang was very generous in sharing her knowledge of the area and told us that Yap Ah Loy lived at the building painted in red near the Sin Sze Si Ya temple.  Mrs Tang’s shop is more than one hundred years old and used to house a printing business run by her family. She now does photocopying services. The shop is filled with antique furniture and old photos of Kuala Lumpur.

Mrs Tang at the entrance to her shop-house.



According to Mrs Tang, Yap Ah Loy lived at this house.


After leaving the temple I stumbled upon this very cool urban gardening project that promotes a self sufficient life style where urban dwellers can grow their own food. Located on Lorong Bandar13.




After this I continued on to the Old Market Square that still has many examples of beautiful colonial era buildings. Do visit the Kuala Lumpur heritage buildings and let us know if you would like a tour of the place from a local point of view. Lets also hope that sanity prevails and our gorgeous old buildings are spared the wrecking ball. 


OCBC Bank Building
Old building known in Colonial times as the “Cathedral”
The Old Market Square with Clock Tower to commemorate the coronation of King George VI in 1937. This used to be the open air market where opium dens and brothels operated.


Anti establishment graffiti in KL. Yeah we won that fight against the TPP didn’t we ?  🙂

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