Pre-war shophouses collapsed due to neglect, say activists

Penang-Prewar-shophousesGEORGE TOWN: An unused shophouse next to the historic Sia Boey Market here collapsed yesterday morning due to neglect, say Penang heritage activists.

The intermediate unit is among 24 other shophouses along the lesser known Maxwell Road. The unit in particular was already in tethers after fire gutted its interior many years back.

The shophouses are largely shielded from public view as boards have been erected around them for an archaeological excavation that is to take place there.


Heritage activists here say the structure of the pre-war shophouse suffered further due to sheer neglect by the authorities, made worse by the dense growth of small fig trees inside the buildings.

A heritage activist who wanted to be known only as a “disgruntled neighbour” told FMT that the relevant authorities had neglected the building by failing to conduct regular checks on the site.

“It could have been salvaged. It used to be a beautiful building comparable to the famous Blue Mansion here,” the activist said when asked for comment.


Interest-group George Town Heritage Action (GTHA) first revealed pictures of the building on Facebook, showing the site before and after the collapse.

“The combination of poor heritage management and lack of political will, will be fatal for George Town heritage conservation in the medium to long term.

“Most involved with heritage at the government level already know this but are either indifferent or too scared to speak out.

“It’s really a lost cause, which is why GTHA has largely gone silent,” the group commented on Facebook yesterday.

The shophouses and the Sia Boey market was cleared out in the 1970s as part of the larger Komtar Phase 5 “urban renewal project”.

The first phase was the Komtar tower, followed by the rolling out of subsequent phases comprising a five-star hotel and a mall.

A high-density commercial development was planned for the 1990s but never took off.

In late 2010, the Penang Development Corporation (PDC), which owns the land on behalf of the state, had plans to conserve the area.

An urban park was to be built and a historic canal on the site was supposed to be brought back to life by rehabilitating its waters.

In September 2015, the Penang government even announced the conservation of a section of the Prangin Canal, the Victorian-era market and a row of shophouses facing the canal.

The RM100 million project, entitled “Sia Boey Reborn”, was intended to change the area into a Penang Heritage Arts District. A private gallery called Ilham was supposed to have opened there as well.

The PDC reportedly spent several million ringgit rehabilitating the 5.5-acre site and strengthening the structure of the shophouses.

However, barely six months later, the Penang government appeared to have scrapped the “Sia Boey Reborn” project, moving it to a vacant lot at Macallum Street Ghaut.

The state government then announced it would build a rail terminal at the Sia Boey site, where a LRT line and two monorail lines would converge as part of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

Then, last August, archaeologists discovered an old canal and the remains of an old police station dating back to the mid-19th century at Sia Boey.

A secure wall, a canal lock and building built with red brick and mortar showed it was most likely built by the British East India Company in 1804.

Further digging also revealed Chinese and European ceramic shards, other ceramics, a wooden bollard (block) and old coins minted by the British North Borneo Company.

The revelation came following five months’ of excavation work by Universiti Sains Malaysia, contracted by the PDC.

In March this year, it was reported that Sia Boey and the famous canal would be spared from the rail terminal project that has now be repositioned not far off from the shophouses facing Magazine Road in the south.