Smack in the bustling part of Jalan Medan Tuanku, stands one of the grandest residential buildings in its heyday, the Loke Yew Mansion. In fact, the late nineteenth century mansion is the oldest standing residential brick and plaster building in Kuala Lumpur.
It was a quiet Sunday when we visited and the guard let us into the grounds. Many years ago, it was in a sorry dilapidated state but not anymore as the mansion has been partially restored in late 2007 by the law firm Cheang & Ariff who leased the property from its owners.
Loke Mansion belonged to Towkay Loke Yew, a multi millionaire who was one of the pioneers of Kuala Lumpur. It was originally set in 11 acres of landscaped gardens which included ornamental lake and rubber and coconut palm groves.
Loke Yew's descendants lived in the mansion until the 1930s. Today, the mansion and the grounds are all that is left of the sprawling Loke Yew estate.
The architecture represents a blend of Oriental and European styles ranging from the Renaissance arcades and other classical details to a Chinese style entry gate and round moon gate.
Original entrance of the mansion - the Painted Gate
The Malay Mail in 1904 gave news of great expectancy of the Loke mansion:
'One of the most palatial residences in the town. Nothing but Cengal timber has been used for the floors, doors, posts etc whilst both the upper and lower verandahs are paved with specially imported Chinese tiles.'
During World War 2 the mansion served as the head quarters of the Japanese Occupation forces. During the Emergency of 1948, it was the training school for the Police, CID and Special Branch. Later it housed an art gallery and music conservatory and fell vacant again in 2000.
Towkay Loke Yew:
Loke Yew was born In Guangdong Province in 1845. Though wealthy, he was not ostentatious in his habits. He was a thrifty man who found his fortunes in tin -mining when he came to Malaya.
Loke Yew bought the house from a tin miner, Cheow Ah Yook and he took 12 years to renovate the mansion.
Loke Yew was also a philantropist, industrialist, planter and leader of the Chinese community. As a philantropist, he was remembered for giving rice to the poor during World War 1. He co-founded Victoria Institution, one of Malaysia's premier educational institutions. In tribute to his vast contributions to society, a street name, Jalan LokeYew in Kuala Lumpur is named after him.
Loke Yew died on 24 February,1917 in Kuala Lumpur from malaria.
Loke Yew Mansion stands testimony to the industriousness of the early pioneers of KL. As such, it is a tangible landmark in the history and development of the city.
What remains is a fine example of attempts to preserve and restore grand old buildings to be a part of the local heritage around KL. This is important as it is a visible link to our past. The fact that it is being used, it preserves evidence of the cultural and social history of its past glory.
Didn't our hearts cry when the walls of the Bok House tumbled down due to demolition? When a grand old dame of a nation passes away, we mourn. We accorded the same to the Bok House.
Thus I say we can take charge and give our gift to posterity if we can save our heritage. Take a few moments and stand back to view the mansion. There once lived a great pioner, a true son of KL whose legacy needs to live.
Loke Yew Mansion
273A, Jalan Medan Tuanku
50300 Kuala Lumpur