What you don’t know about Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman
Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman has some of the most fascinating buildings lining the path.
Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman was the commercial hub of Kuala Lumpur before modern shopping malls took over the city. Along this path, one will see many pre-war buildings in Art Deco and Neoclassical styles, the beautiful exterior of which has been preserved to house modern retail shops. Anyone walking down the street will be greeted by a riotous scene of people, bags, and rugs.
Tourists who are dying to escape the tourist areas and are eager to see how “normal” Malaysians live will find Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman fascinating as it gives them a glimpse of real Malaysian life.
Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman or as it was formerly known as Batu Road, was named after the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong or King of Malaysia. Oddly enough, many Malaysians mistake him for the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman. One is Tuanku, which means King, and the other is Tunku, an honorific for royalty. Just knowing this, he is ahead of many Malaysians!
The road itself is very prominent in KL, and one will find it crowded most of the day and even at night. Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, is within walking distance.
The white and orange building at the beginning of the street is the old PH Hendry building, or what remains of it. PH Hendry was the oldest existing jeweler in Malaysia, being appointed Royal Jeweler of Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and Kelantan states in the 1920s. In the early days, stone craftsmen and carvers came from Sri Lanka.
PH Dineshamy founded the Hendry dynasty. In the 1920s, his son PH Hendry opened a jewelry store on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. In fact, the Hendry family business still exists.
The striking white and orange was recently painted. Its style is Neoclassical and its façade has three large pilasters, which are slightly projecting vertical columns. If you trace the columns to the top, you’ll see that they are covered with Corinthian capitals, or the ‘heads’ of the columns. The pediment, which is the triangular structure at the top, is a feature of neoclassical architecture that gives the building an imposing feel. The windows on both floors are different; the first floor has a bay window while the second floor has a Venetian window consisting of a semicircular arch and four vertical pilasters. It is covered in plaster; and right at the top of the triangular structure, see if you can spot the star and crescent, the Islamic symbol.
Number of stores 1-19
The buildings across the street from P. H Hendry are fine examples of neoclassical features. Painted in white and sharing a similar architecture with the PH Hendry Building, the buildings were built at different times and built by Malay and Chinese magnates.
Tourists find the giant pilasters, which are the slightly protruding columns that support the pediments, or the triangular structure at the top, very fascinating. Beautiful bay windows adorn the first floor and the block is linked by the cornice treatment typical of the period. You can also see the huge rectangular pillars that are part of the one and a half meter covered path. The façade is adorned with plaster scrolls and emblems.
Art Deco and Neoclassical buildings along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman
The fascinating buildings along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman are repainted in bright colours, while some retain their original colours, but all exhibit the theatrical qualities of Art Deco. Art Deco was an art movement that lasted from 1925 to the 1940s. It was seen as elegant, glamorous, functional, and modern; and you will no doubt find these qualities in many of these buildings. The movement mixes many styles such as neoclassical, constructivism, cubism, modernism, art nouveau and futurism. It was most popular in Europe during the Roaring Twenties.
In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Art Deco style was shaped “by all the nervous energy accumulated and expended in the war.” The Art Deco characteristics are very evident here. Cubic shapes, ziggurat shapes: a stepped pyramid that gets smaller as you go up, complex grouping of rectangles and squares, bands of bright, bold colors, zigzag pattern, strong sense of line, and an illusion of pillars.
Many have been restored and preserved to house retail stores and restaurants.
One of the most famous places in Malaysia, it is the oldest continuously operating cinema in the country, save for a short break during the Japanese occupation. It was built by Chua Cheng Bok, a well-known Chinese businessman and real estate developer, who finally leased it to a group of gentlemen who opened this cinema back in 1921. It was built with reinforced concrete, with a double roof. The building was then considered one of the coolest places in the city, literally, with its many fans and ventilation. There are expansive terraces on the upper deck, with balcony seating and private boxes elegantly fitted with fans and independent lights, catering to the comfort of wealthy guests. The Coliseum had its own power plant, making it independent of the town’s system. Next to it you will see a square, usually with fairs, sales or exhibitions organized by the KL tourism body every month or so. It was one of the first buildings in Southeast Asia to have security designs such as emergency lighting and fire prevention systems. In addition, the latest generation ventilation grills and extractors improve air circulation.
It was not uncommon to go in the 1930s to see bangsawan or Malay opera performed by local companies. However, since the 1940s, the cinema has shown films in Hindi and Malay. Moviegoers of yore loaded up morsels like sunflower seeds and fried peanuts and drinks into plastic cup holders before heading inside.
It was beautiful the way these movies were advertised as they were not printed on a press but hand painted on huge billboards! This process continued well into the 1990s and proved quite conspicuous to passers-by. Of course, painting on canvas was discontinued with the rise of computers and other graphic design tools, so it’s rare to see hand-painted billboards.
Adjacent to the Coliseum Cinema, is the Coliseum Hotel and Restaurant, which was also built in 1921 as part of the same complex. It was a popular watering hole for colonial planters, miners and merchants, much like the Selangor club down the road, but less exclusive. Tea dancing was a popular pastime among young people as a way of courting and dating in those days. It was a chance to waltz with a boy or girl you liked under the watchful eye of the chaperones who sat with their tea and sandwiches surveying the room. Among the famous patrons of the Colosseum was Somerset Maugham, the English author, who made it a point to visit the cafe and the Selangor Club when he was in Malaya.
The special atmosphere of yesteryear is preserved with its unchanged decoration and furniture, and the waiters dressed in white linen. But the waiters are much older now, and some are hard of hearing, and don’t wear white clothes. The tablecloths and walls look stained while the indoor air smells of grease! The Café mainly serves English cuisine, and the menu has remained largely the same. Many of the dishes are still cooked on coal and wood stoves. When you order the sizzling steak, it comes to the table sizzling and the waiter pours sauce on it right in front of you. Since most of the waiters are older, expect them to be a bit grumpy, but that’s part of the Coliseum Cafe’s charm.
Along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman is the popular childhood cinema of many baby boomers, Odeon. It was built by the Cathay Organization in 1936 and became an expression of the links between cinematography and Art Deco. AO Coltman was the architect.
‘Odeon’ is a Greek word for a building for the musical competition. This building had new security designs, such as emergency lighting and fire prevention systems for the projector room. There was also a state-of-the-art ventilation grill and extractors to improve air circulation, while the lobbies were laid with locally produced rubber flooring.
Above the entrance, a horizontal beam, adorned with a mosaic depicting drama, comedy and music, intersects the strong vertical window dividers. On the side façade, the “ribs” create a vertical rhythm.