Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Saving Soonstead

Tomorrow night, I shall be making my way down to Soonstead - that heritage building in Northam Road, now renamed as Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah - to attend a theatrical performance called "2 Houses" as part of this year's George Town Festival 2014.

By the way, my old school chum, Kee Thuan Chye, is one of the cast members but it is not only because of him that I want to watch this drama.

According to the GTF2014 website, "2 Houses is an epic tale of make believe, spun from the imagination of an avid listener of old Penang family fables, myths, stories and research. Truth or lie? Conjecture or fact? The audience disregards these questions as they move, room to room, through the twists and turns of this sparkling drama about two of Penang’s elite families. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War and Emergency years, the drama follows the loves, lives and losses of those that witnessed the birth of Penang’s identity." The audience moving from room to room with the actors as the story unfolds...now, that is something I want to experience.

But coming back to this blog post of mine, Thuan Chye isn't the only reason why I want to attend this drama performance which uses Soonstead as its ... what do you call it ... its background prop? Rather, I am intrigued by news that the fate of Soonstead the building is under the threat of redevelopment.

Apparently, the proposed redevelopment would see the demolition of a part of this heritage building - the dining room wing and annexe buildings - and the construction of a 13-storey commercial block at its back, which is nearest to the sea front.

Now, seeing what had happened in the past to the old grand Homestead which is further up the road from Soonstead, I am appalled by the suggestion that a hotel may now appear on the grounds of Soonstead.

The redevelopment of Homestead - for a very long time, the home of Yeap Chor Ee and his descendants, Yeap Hock Hoe and then Yeap Leong Huat - into the main premises of the Wawasan Open University had seen a blue high-rise building erected behind that majestic mansion.

In my opinion, that unsightly building with its blue-glass facade is totally incongruous with the rest of its surroundings. Building it meant the destruction of several of the Homestead's most appealing features.

There used to be a dining-cum-kitchen wing at Homestead and it was demolished. Once, there was also a stable at Homestead and its gone too. Private yachts used to berth at the back of the property but no more. The open courtyard which once was filled with private functions, well, that unsightly building stands there now.

So you see what I mean when I say that I am feeling appalled? Coming from someone who used to work at the now defunct Ban Hin Lee Bank - and Yeap Chor Ee himself established the bank in 1935 - it is not too difficult to see why I feel this way when I look into the Homestead grounds today.

Because of what has happened to Homestead which other people have seen for themselves too, there is now an on-going campaign by the Penang Heritage Trust to save Soonstead from a similar fate. It will do you good, dear reader, to read the background information from the PHT. Since a few days ago, the campaign has been gaining traction from like-minded people who doesn't want to see more desecration of the so-called Millionaire's Row in George Town. As such, I have already placed my name in an online petition to object against the redevelopment and I would urge everyone to do so too.

So please help out to save one of Penang's heritage buildings by signing the Save Soonstead Petition here. It may not be too late yet!

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