Public want houses saved, govt shrugs

December 10th, 2008

By: Multa Fidrus and Mariani Dewi

Calls from the public for a halt to the demolition of an historical building in Karawaci, Tangerang, have fallen on deaf ears, with the local administration claiming it is none of their concern.

A heritage preservation group, working with historians and architects, is attempting to garner public support to save the two-house complex, said to date back to the 19th century or earlier.

The group Citizens Care for Heritage Buildings (Walibatu), said they learned of the proposed demolition during a visit to the site last week. They posted the news on their website and alerted experts and the media to the issue.

In their next move, they plan to petition Tangerang Mayor Wahidin Halim on Thursday to call for a halt to demolition plans and raise funds to buy the building.

“Most importantly, we want the government to stop the demolition and work with us to find new uses for the houses,” Walibatu spokesman Mahandis Yoanata told The Jakarta Post.

The local administration, however, has so far shown little enthusiasm for the group’s plans.

On Tuesday, Wahidin claimed ignorance about the houses, saying he only knew about the case from newspapers.

He said the municipality’s many old buildings, dating back more than 100 years, were privately owned, thus freeing the administration from any responsibility for their maintenance.

“We have no business there and we never interfere in the ownership of private property, no matter how old,” he told the Post.

The two houses – one in the Chinese style and one in the colonial Dutch Indische style — were once owned by Chinese lieutenant Oey Djie San.

Part of the Chinese house has already been taken down and sold, with the rest scheduled for dismantling. The teakwood used in its construction is highly sought after and will be sold for Rp 10 million (US$800) per cubic meter. Bricks and roofing tiles are already being sold off for as little as Rp 500 each.

The mayor insisted Tangerang municipality did not have any regulations in place to protect historical sites and heritage buildings, but noted such regulations could likely lead to more visitors to the area.

Local and foreign experts have slammed the demolition plans.

Robert G. Knapp, a professor from the State University of New York in New Paltz, visited the houses a few months ago for research for an upcoming book, and said the complex was a rare find.

“I’ve never seen a house like this anywhere in Southeast Asia, in terms of having three distinct multi-ethnic parts,” he told the Post in an email.

He said the Oey Djie San complex contained three associated structures — Chinese, Indische and Javanese.

“In the front was what could be a Javanese pavilion (pendopo), in terms of its placement and use,” he said.

“Behind this traditional structure was an elegant inverted U-shaped Chinese country residence with its courtyards and large halls, as well as rooms for many uses. In the rear, attached to all this, was an Indische-style residence, an imposing building with a high roof, white columns and a broad veranda. All in all, the home met the many needs of the families residing in it for many, many generations.”

His team drew a floor plan and took pictures, but did not take measured drawings. Knapp pledged to draw attention to the demolition plans in his book.

Walibatu is running out of time in its bid to save the structures. The buildings have already been sold to a contractor, Syafei.

The latter said he would gladly hold off the demolition if anyone wished to buy the buildings from him, promising to bring back the already disposed-of materials.

“But it has to be fast. I have promised to pay the owner Rp 150 million by Wednesday. Anyone who is serious about taking it over should tell the owner. Otherwise I have to sell the dismantled materials to cover my costs,” he said.

Yoanata said Walibatu would try to buy more time to raise the needed funds.

However, because the land has been sold separately, it is unclear how the deal will be arranged.

“It already belongs to the new owner,” the lawyer of the land’s owner said in a text message when asked if the land was still up for sale. He did not answer subsequent text messages or phone calls.

The preservation of heritage buildings around the city has always been a challenge. A successful bid to save another old building, Candra Naya in Central Jakarta, was followed by the building deteriorating through lack of maintenance and use.

Owners of heritage buildings in the Old Town heritage complex in Jakarta have long complained about the lack of a clear and integrated development strategy for the area.

“We must find new uses for these buildings if we want to save them. It won’t work if we just look at it from a heritage point of view,” Budi Lim, an architect, told the Post over the weekend.

Source: The Jakarta Post, 10 Desember 2008

Comments are closed.