Jalan Raja Chulan offers glimpses into KL’s history

Crossing in time: A busy intersection of Jalan Raja Chulan, the Weld shopping centre reminds one of its old name, Weld Street.

KUALA Lumpur folk must be so used to Jalan Raja Chulan that thousands of them drive past without a second thought to its past or present.

It is a road that has brought much convenience to the people of Kuala Lumpur as it links two busy areas, namely Masjid Jamek and the Golden Triangle.

In recent years, the presence of huge murals at several spots here has drawn interested glances from passers-by.

One such mural is on the side wall of a row of abandoned buildings, bringing life to the crumbling facade that used to be the glamorous residences of the Eurasian community.

Built in 1930, it was called the Serani Row. The KL Tower and other skyscrapers cast their shadows over these structures, which are probably the best window into the past of Jalan Raja Chulan that was known as Weld Street.

KL in Postcards 1900-1930, published in 1987, noted that the Police Courts was perched atop Weld Hill (Bukit Mahkamah), which was once a coffee plantation. Imagine that, somewhere in Jalan Raja Chulan there is a place where coffee was once grown.

If you want to see more of the street’s past glory, Muzium Telekom and St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church are among the rare buildings which have been standing since the early 1900s.

Muzium Telekom, built in 1928, was formerly the Central Battery Manual Telephone Exchange. The colonial building was slated to make way for a 26-storey telecommunications complex in the early 1980s but it was “saved” by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

St Andrew’s had existed as a congregation since 1902 and the church was built in 1918. It is also known as the International Church of Kuala Lumpur because of the large number of expatriates who worship there.

The Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve was gazetted in 1906, but its size has shrunk from 17.5ha to 9.3ha and is a reminder of the rainforest that once covered Kuala Lumpur.

Here’s a little story about how the area came to be called Bukit Nanas. There was once a fort on the hill in the 19th century, and pineapples were planted around it to deter attacks from rival clans.

Many still remember that St Mary’s School, a mission school established in 1912, was located at the back of Jalan Raja Chulan.

It was relocated to Selayang in 1998 but the swanky apartments that have taken over are still named St Mary. Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and the late Datin Seri Endon Mahmood were alumni of the school.

Of course, The Weld shopping centre is the most obvious reminder of the street’s previous name.

Jalan Raja Chulan certainly has many iconic landmarks which offer a glimpse into Kuala Lumpur’s rich history. Little wonder that the street is in Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) Heritage Trail.

Raja Chulan

Raja Chulan ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II Habibullah KBE (July 1, 1869 - April 10, 1933) was said to be the person who contributed to the creation of the Perak state anthem.

Hailing from Tanjung Brambong, Raja Chulan was the Raja Di-Hilir of Perak and the first Malay unofficial member of the Federal Council (1924-1933). He was also the first non-ruling Malay royal member to have been knighted (1930).

Raja Chulan was educated at Malacca High School, Malay College Kuala Kangsar and Raffles Institution in Singapore. He started life as a civil servant and was attached to the Perak Secretariat in 1886.

His father, Sultan Abdullah, was sent into exile to the Seychelles following the assassination of British Resident of Perak James W.W. Birch.

When Raja Chulan returned from Seychelles after visiting his father, he brought back his father’s favourite French tune, which was said to have evolved into the Perak state anthem.

He was an outspoken government officer who had the welfare of the Malay community at heart, often making suggestions to the British administration of the Malay States to improve the economic standing of the Malays.

Among them was to employ more Malays in the civil service, train them and offer scholarships.

The Straits Settlement’s Governor Sir Cecil Clementi said :“No Malay of modern times has done more for his country and his countrymen than Raja Sir Chulan”.

Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld

Before Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld (1823–1891) became the 14th governor of the Straits Settlement, he was the sixth premier of New Zealand, then the governor of Western Australia and later Tasmania.

Weld arrived in the Straits Settlement in 1880, and was enthusiastic about the development of the Malay States.

Realising the lack of infrastructure to promote other economic developments besides tin-mining in Taiping, he pushed for the construction of the Taiping-Port Weld railway.

The railway significantly changed the landscape of the Malay Peninsula and led to the influx of Indians (mainly Tamils) and Ceylonese to Perak.

Weld retired from political life in 1887. In 1891, he revisited the Straits Settlement but contracted a serious illness. He died in Chideock, England, on July 20, 1891.

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