SINCE its establishment in the 1920s, Wisma Yeap Chor Ee has witnessed Penang's port and jetties welcome traders of all creed and colour.
As time passed, the building belonging to Ban Hin Lee Bank founder, the late Yeap Chor Ee, became muted with the changing times.
The majestic landmark that was also once home to Rainbow Art Gallery (one of the state’s more active galleries then) was left to stand in dignified silence before finally getting its “15minutes of fame” in September last year.
Together with a 300-strong production crew, Chinese-Ame-rican actress-director Joan Chen, pop star Wang Lee-Hom, China and mainland newcomer Tang Wei, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee turned up to shoot his latest movie Lust, Caution at the China Street Ghaut building.
The movie, which also stars Cannes Best Actor winner Tony Leung Chiu Wai, saw Wisma Yeap Chor Ee being transformed into a shopping boutique in Shanghai for a day.
The heritage building was renamed ‘Macy Company Limited, 1926,’ given a fresh coat of white paint, and had a revolving door with curtains, display windows with mannequins, a wooden flower stall and a roofed traffic post outside.
Tan Yeow Wooi Culture & Heritage Research Studio director Tan Yeow Wooi said restoration of old colonial houses like Wisma Yeap Chor Ee could be lucrative for homeowners and the state in the long run.
“Every pre-war heritage building should be conserved - even the seemingly insignificant shop houses in the inner city of George Town.
“Ang Lee could have made his movie anywhere in the world but he chose George Town because of its unique buildings that reflect an important era in history,” he said, adding that if the state could restore all inner city buildings back to their former glory, it could attract more tourists and international film makers.
“Perhaps the state can help subsidise restoration works and come up with guidelines for filmmakers who want to utilise these heritage buildings. This will ensure that even though the facade is altered to suit the movie’s settings, the original structure and fittings are not destroyed in the process,” he said.
In 2002, the trustees of the Yeap Chor Ee Endowment Trust vested trust properties, including Wisma Yeap Chor Ee to the Wawasan Education Foundation (WEF).
WEF later leased the heritage building to Wawasan Open Uni-versity, which in turn, sub-leased it to Tourism Malaysia’s investment arm – Pempena Sdn Bhd.
According to Pempena chief operating officer Mohd Rosly Selamat, the 21-year sub-lease signed in November last year, will see the building being turned into a luxury boutique hotel.
“We are in the midst of appointing a company to operate the hotel. So far, several foreign and local parties have expressed interest in the project. By March, an artist impression of the building will be ready and we will submit the building plans to the Municipal Council (MPPP) for approval,” he said, adding that the company was optimistic that the boutique hotel would be up and running before the end of the year.
The hotel will house a restaurant and spa and is set to cater to a very niche market.
“We are looking at attracting yachtsmen and Malaysia My Se-cond Home (MM2H) visitors to stay as long-term guests.
“There are also plans to provide butler service because the boutique hotel will be based on a luxury concept,” he said, adding that the boutique hotel would only have 20 rooms measuring between 111sq m and 130 sq m.
“Rest assured, the facade and heritage value of the building will be maintained with the development. This building is truly a unique treasure and our boutique hotel will definitely complement the state government’s efforts to promote George Town as a living heritage enclave,” he said.