The peeling paint and the mouldy walls of some of the buildings in Petaling Street give away their age, offering a glimpse of an bygone era.
However, little clues that actually tell the history of the place tend to go unnoticed by tourists and locals alike.
Leong Hao Yen has fond memories of shopping for Chinese New Year goodies in Petaling Street with his family but he did not know there were so many stories behind the buildings until he went on a heritage walk recently.
The 25-year-old teacher said he learned a lot from the heritage walk.
“I did not know the significance of the buildings despite being a local,” he said.
Leong was one of the 40 participants who were taken on a tour of the area.
The heritage walk was organised by the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (Klscah) and the Lost Generation Space under the Petaling Street Community Art Project
Klscah chief executive officer Tang Ah Chai pointed out the details and stories behind the buildings during the walk.
“The crest on Plaza Warisan is made up of the initials of Chua Cheng Bok, who used to own the building,” he said, adding that Chua was the founder of Cycle & Carriage.
He said 1918, the year the building was constructed, was etched on the wall and remains even though it was rebuilt later.
More than 40 signed up for the walk within half-a-day of the announcement and the organiser had to turn away people wanting to attend the event.
Tang gave a brief introduction of the history of Kuala Lumpur and showed old photographs of the city before the walk.
“In 1857, Raja Abdullah sent a team of 87 Chinese prospectors to Kuala Lumpur to look for tin and the town became a tin-mining area and trading hub in 1860, attracting more Chinese.
“Yap Ah Loy was appointed the third Kapitan in 1868 to administer Kuala Lumpur. There were about 1,000 Chinese in the city in 1870,” he said.
Yap rebuilt the city after the Selangor Civil War that ended in 1874.
In 1880, Kuala Lumpur replaced Klang as the capital of Selangor. It later became the capital of the Federated Malay States in 1896.
During the two-hour walk, Tang drew the participants’ attention to the architecture style, year of construction, building names and even the people who calligraphed the name of buildings.
“The Chinese characters, za huo hang (grocery store), written on the building which houses Grocer’s Inn Hotel today was written by Lin Sen, one of the top leaders of the Kuomintang of China.
“It is proof of the close relationship between the Chinese in Kuala Lumpur and their counterparts in China in those days,” Tang said.
Tang singled out a few buildings along the way, telling stories of their past glory.
“Yan Kee Records and Recording located next to a carpark, was where artistes performed and met their fans in the olden days,” he said.
He said Petaling Street was commonly referred to the whole area that includes Jalan Sultan, Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, Jalan Tan Cheng Lock and Lebuh Pasar.
Tang explained that heritage preservation could be done on a building, a street or an area.
“In the issue of Jalan Sultan, we should be looking at preserving the whole community.
“When the old buildings are torn down and replaced with modern structures, the property value of the place will go up and so will the rental.
“This augurs well for the owners, but traders who cannot afford the rental will be forced to move or change their businesses. Gradually, the whole area will lose its original character,” he added.
Angeline Tung, a tour guide, signed up for the walk as a refresher course in history.
“When tourists visit Kuala Lumpur, they want to see how the locals live and want to hear stories about the history of the place.
“I always start by telling them about Raja Abdullah and Yap,” she said.
The organiser was looking at having similar events in the future while Chong Keat Aun from the Lost Generation Space encouraged the participants to walk their friends through the heritage trail.
“Let’s do this together to let more people know about the historical values of Petaling Street,” he said.
For details on Petaling Street Community Art Project, visit http://www.facebook.com/PetalingCAP.