BUKIT MERTAJAM: Heritage activists have brought attention to an old house in Jalan Datuk Ooh Chooi Cheng, saying that it should be restored to its former glory as its former occupant was none other than Penang’s first Chief Minister Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee.
Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) president Lim Gaik Siang said the group was sad to learn of the dilapidated condition of the home.
Built in 1907, the house, situated along the road once known as Straight Street, has overgrown plants on its roof and vines covering the walls.
Both the door knockers on the main door and tiles on the front wall have gone missing, believed to be stolen by scavengers.
What is left there is a square plaque erected at its five-foot walkway with brief information about the house.
Lim said Wong had risen from humble beginnings as a school teacher to become one of Penang’s most illustrious sons.
“He was also part of the Cobbold Commission that was instrumental in forming the federation of Malaysia,” she said.
The Cobbold Commission was set up to determine whether the people of North Borneo and Sarawak supported the proposal to create the federation of Malaysia consisting of Malaya, Brunei, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak.
“Despite his contributions to his state and country, his former home in Bukit Mertajam is slowly crumbling away.
“The PHT hopes that efforts can be taken to restore and preserve his home as it is quite significant to both the town of Bukit Mertajam and Penang,” she added.
Rakan BM researcher Khor Sim Ee, 61, who is a volunteer helping to safeguard the history and culture of Bukit Mertajam, said the home should be preserved before it falls apart.
“Wong was born in 1911, and lived here during the first 15 years of his life.
“He then moved out after his parents died. His relatives stayed in the house until 1968.
“If there are no efforts to preserve the building, it will soon fall apart,” said Khor during a recent visit to the house.
She said the house was significant to the folk in Bukit Mertajam
as the Wongs had contributed much to the development of the town.
“Not many people realised that Penang’s first Chief Minister was actually from this town,” she added.
She said Wong’s father (John Wong Ee Chin) was also well known here.
“He was a timber merchant, supplying wooden sleepers for Bukit Mertajam and also to the Kedah railway,” she said.
Khor said Wong attended Jit Sin Primary School and after graduation, he worked as a clerk with the Sin Ban Guan Bus Company in town.
“He then taught English at the St Mary’s Mission School in Permatang Tinggi and later at the Kim Sen Primary School in Bukit Mertajam.
“In 1954, he stood for the first Bukit Mertajam town council election and won.
“Wong became the Chief Minister of Penang in 1957 and he was the one who read the Proclamation of Independence,” Khor said.
Wong died on Merdeka Day in 2002 at the age of 91.
Seberang Prai Municipal Council president Datuk Rozali Mohamud said through a study with Yokohama City, the house had been identified as among the assets with heritage values.
“There has been a proposal to turn the house into an urban community centre to encourage the involvement of locals in town planning and development.
“We have taken initial steps to place a plaque to recognise the house’s historical values for public knowledge.
“However, the restoration of the building is still in discussion and subjected to an agreement with the present owner,” he said.
Wong’s family members have, however, declined to comment on the matter.