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Whiteaways Arcade, George Town, Penang

The Whiteaways Arcade at Beach Street, George Town, built in the 1900s, now serves as an arcade housing various retail outlets, eateries, art galleries and a tourist information centre

The Whiteaways Arcade at Beach Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a double-storey colonial complex containing shops and offices. Like the nearby Logan Heritage Building, it housed upmarket shops and firms in the past, and has recently been restored to its former glory. Today, it continues to house various retail outlets, cafes, restaurants, art galleries and a tourist information centre.

Located along a stretch of Beach Street between Bishop Street and Church Street, the Whiteaways Building, as it was then known, was built in the early 1900s. Named after the Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co., the building housed the firm's Penang branch, which was also Penang's first departmental store. However, it was destroyed in a fire in 1904, leading to the demolition of the upper portions of the building and the reconstruction of the edifice.

Throughout the 20th. century, the building continued to house upmarket shops and firms. By the start of the 21st. century, the building was in a dilapidated state. After George Town's listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, the building was renovated, and the splendid white building now functions as a retail and food centre along Beach Street.

Whiteaways Arcade, Beach Street, George Town, Penang

Another view of the Whiteaways Arcade

History

The Whiteaways Building was built in 1903 to house Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co.'s Penang departmental store, which was the first of its kind on Penang Island. The firm had been established in Calcutta, India in 1832 and operated several branches throughout British India, Burma and Singapore.

As with the nearby Logan Heritage Building, the Whiteaways Building was initially owned by Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, the richest man on Penang Island at the time.

The Whiteaways Building was built at a time when commercial and financial activities at Beach Street were booming. Upon its completion, the building was described as 'the finest and newest block of offices in Penang'. The $200,000 (Straits dollar) building came with impressive architecture and design, such as Scottish cast iron columns, granite staircases and eclectic-style windows. The exterior was decorated with plasterwork of flowers and garlands.

Bishop Street, George Town, Penang (2)

The Bishop Street end of the Whiteaways Arcade was where the Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co. opened its departmental store, the first on Penang Island.

The Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co. opened its departmental store at the Bishop Street end of the building, selling mostly imported European goods, while the Netherlands-Indian Discount Bank was based at the Church Street end of the building. Other businesses inside the building included the Pinang Gazette, the first English daily on Penang Island, Eastern Extension Telegraph Co., import-export house Alfred Stuhlman & Co., and various upmarket stores.

Church Street, George Town, Penang

The Church Street end of the Whiteaways Arcade was formerly occupied by the Netherlands-Indian Discount Bank. Today, an Old Town White Coffee outlet occupies this portion.

Disaster soon struck, when in 1904, a fire destroyed the uninsured building. All the businesses based in the building lost their stock and trade. In the aftermath of the fire, the top portions of the building were removed and the edifice had to be reconstructed.

Some businesses chose to move out, such as the Pinang Gazette which relocated its offices to the Logan Building. Other firms like the Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co. chose to remain in the building. The former offices of the Pinang Gazette were later taken over by Dennys & Co., an auctioneers and forwarders firm that catered to Penang's expatriate population.

The Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co., which became a publicly-listed company in 1908, eventually moved its Penang branch to bigger premises at Bishop Street in 1914. The Whiteaways departmental store would remain in business at Bishop Street until its final closure in 1966, the last to be closed in all of Malaysia and Singapore.

Meanwhile, the former Whiteaways premises within the Whiteaways Building was subsequently taken over by Bombay traders Tollaram Dholiamall and Co., and later Sindhi textile mrechants, B.H.T. Doulatram & Co.

After the Second World War, a second wave of tenants occupied the building. The ground floor was filled with eateries, convenient stores, newspaper vendors and money changers, while accountants and lawyers occupied the top floor. These tenants individually renovated each of their lots, obscuring most of the building's original design in the process.

The building continued to house businesses until the 2000s, when the repeal of the Rent Control Act forced tenants to vacate the building. It was then left abandoned and run-down.

Whiteaways Arcade courtyard, Beach Street, George Town, Penang

The refurbished courtyard within the Whiteaways Arcade

With the inclusion of George Town into UNESCO's World Heritage Site list in 2008, the Whiteaways Building was given a new lease of life. Similar to the nearby Logan Heritage Building, it was restored by the private sector. In addition to the renovation of the interior, one of the ground floor lots was turned into a pathway to a triangle-shaped backyard, which was also transformed into a courtyard equipped with benches and a granite stage.

The renovation works were completed by 2011 and the building was renamed the Whiteaways Arcade. Today, it houses various retail outlets, restaurants, cafes and a tourist information centre, while the new courtyard has also been used for artistic events. Famous restaurant chains like Subway and Old Town White Coffee have opened their branches within the building, allowing their customers to enjoy their meals within an elegant colonial ambience.

Political Representation

Penang State Government

N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
  2. Langdon, M. A Guide to George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precints. George Town World Heritage Incorporated, Penang.
  3. http://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2012/08/22/restored-splendour-in-the-city/
  4. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/whiteways-building.htm
  5. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1122_2006-06-15.html

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