DUBBED the “Taj Mahal of Ipoh” by many, the Ipoh Railway Station turns 100 this year.
Shahrin Salleh, 30, an engineer who took the Electric Train Service (ETS) from Kuala Lumpur earlier this week said he was not aware about the station’s anniversary when interviewed by MetroPerak at the station.
“Only after you told me did I realise it was such a historic station. I thought of it as just another train station, albeit a beautiful one,” Shahrin said.
Another passenger, who only identified himself as Vishnu said he too was unaware of the station’s age and history.
“There was the Station Hotel and my father used to tell me that the pub there was nice.
“There was a balcony and it overlooked the lush green square in front of the station. Things have changed now.
“The square looks beautiful, but it has lost some of its charm. The station is intact but many people ask what happened to the hotel.
“This station is an institution for many in Ipoh and I hope it will hit the double-century mark,” he said.
Given the station’s age and significance, members of the public say they are surprised there are no celebrations or events to mark the station’s centennial anniversary.
As things stand now, the station’s hotel has been abandoned and cordoned off to the public for years.
According to local historian Ian Anderson, the station was once the talk of the town as it featured a restaurant, bar, and lounge overlooking beautiful gardens.
The present-day gardens remain an attraction to many people as the Ipoh City Council’s efforts to beautify the square have been lauded by many people as it features a splendid fountain and seven differently-themed mini gardens.
Based on his research, Anderson said the hotel was a source of pride for many locals in the past.
“There used to be a fully stocked lounge bar and a superb dining room. If you talk to some of the Europeans who stayed there in the past, they would tell you how wonderful it was.
“But in the later years, it got worse and now it is just empty.
“Now it is derelict and everyone seems to be standing by watching instead of doing something about it,” said Anderson.
The first railway station in Ipoh was built of wood and attap in 1894.
The construction of the second station and hotel started in 1914, but was only finished in 1917 due to the high cost of labour and a lack of materials during World War I.
The station was designed by architect A.B. Hubback, who also designed Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur, Galeri Diraja Sultan Abdul Aziz in Klang, Kuala Kangsar’s Ubudiah Mosque, the Ipoh Town Hall building and the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station.
According to Anderson, the hotel in the train station was so popular that a neighbouring hotel along Jalan Lahat is believed to have temporarily shut down, after losing customers to the Station Hotel.
“It had the largest rooms in town – 100 of the most comfortable and well fitted rooms. The view from the balcony allowed you to look over the beautiful flower beds of the station gardens. All that is gone now.
“It only needs to be fixed up into a proper hotel or restaurant, while maintaining the original characteristics of the old building.
“Modern technology could allow the owners to prepare a much more comfortable room.
“They can bring back the restaurant and open up the balcony for afternoon tea – it would be a beautiful place for conferences,” he said.
“The structure is still intact. Even the original floor tiles are still there. If someone were to do up the restaurant, they could serve dishes that represents Ipoh’s heritage and bring the place back to life.
“Parts of the station were modernised many years ago, which is unfortunate. They said it was done for a good reason, but from a heritage point of view, they wrecked the station by making changes.
“Now , they can make things better by constructing a proper information board containing pictures of the old station and details of its rich history,” he said.
On conservation landscape in Perak, Anderson said more can be done to protect the heritage of the state as he feels that it is slowly being taken away.
“We are ignoring our heritage. I don’t know why. The station has lots of potential.
“If it is properly restored, it can attract many tourists to Perak. The authorities need to determine what they want to do with the Station Hotel. Are they going to sell it, lease it, or do it up themselves? But something needs to be done,” he said.
Attempts to reach State Tourism, Arts and Culture Committee Chairman Datuk Nolee Ashilin Mohd Radzi for comments on the station’s centennial anniversary were unsuccessful at press time.