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Wednesday September 6, 2006

The story of Bok House


I REFER to some articles published by The Star about my great-grandfather, the late Mr Chua Cheng Bok, and some of the buildings he built in Kuala Lumpur, the Bok House and the Coliseum Cinema. 

I, as a Trustee of the Estate of Chua Cheng Bok, am one of the owners of Bok House and the land on which it is situated.         

It has come to my attention that some of these articles (“Move to keep Bok House”, June 16; “Tomorrow’s money vs yesterday’s glory”, July 30; “Why acquire Coliseum Cinema Aug 3; “Please spare Bok House, Aug 6; “Building a cultured society”, Aug 13) contain factual inaccuracies. 

I am deeply disturbed by the published statements that my great-grandfather built his house because he wanted to marry the daughter of a rich man and therefore built Bok House to impress her father. 

This is simply not true. 

The truth is that when he commenced the construction of Bok House in 1926, my great-grandfather was 46 years old, he had been married to my great-grandmother for many years. Furthermore, in the following year, he became a grandfather. 

When Bok House was completed in 1929, my great-grandfather had become a grandfather to two grandchildren. This was 11 years before his death in 1940. 

Having co-founded in 1899, built up and managed a successful business which came to be known as Cycle & Carriage, the late Mr Chua Cheng Bok had, by 1926, become well established financially. 

Similar to a number of other businessmen of similar financial stature and position in the then Federated Malay States and the Straits Settlements, my great-grandfather built a large house – Bok House – for him and has family to live in Kuala Lumpur. 

The location of his house in Ampang Road was then considered to be in one of the prime precincts because of its proximity to the original Selangor Turf Club (which has now been demolished and its land site redeveloped into the Petronas Twin Tower s Complex and the Kuala Lumpur City Centre commercial precinct). 

It is said within our family that my great-grandfather commenced the building of Bok House in conjunction with or in celebration of the formation in 1926 of The Cycle & Carriage Company (1926) Limited as a public company in Singapore. 

Today in Malaysia, many businessmen and businesswomen have built and continue to build large houses and mansions in and around Kuala Lumpur, as well as in other parts of the country, for the purpose of providing themselves with a place to stay together with their family members. 

To put it simply, my great-grandfather built Bok House because he wanted to live in such a house and because he had the resources to do so. 

To say that my great-grandfather built Bok House because he wanted to marry the daughter of a rich man to impress the woman’s father dishonours my great-grandfather’s good name and memory. 

It is a tremendous loss of face. 

As I adhere to and practise the traditional Chinese religion of ancestral worship, I am personally offended by these imputations and innuendos raised about my well-known great-grandfather.        

Given the detail in which the articles have sought to deal with the late Mr Chua Cheng Bok, I am surprised that no mention or reference was made to the fact in the article that the late Mr Chua Cheng Bok was a philanthropist who made substantial charitable contributions to society, including donating the building and equipment for the ‘Chua Cheng Bok Ward’ in the Chinese Maternity Hospital in Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, in 1928.        

Lawyers acting for the Trustees of the Estate of Chua Cheng Bok have already notified The Star that, contrary to what had been published in the articles, no application has been made by them to Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) for a Development Order to develop a 60-storey building on the Bok House site. 

Based on the professional opinion of engineering consultants that Bok House is structurally unsafe and unfit for human occupation, the owners of Bok House applied in 2005 to the DBKL to have it demolished on the grounds of ensuring public safety. 

It would be noted under the National Heritage Act, the owner of a heritage site has a duty to ensure that the heritage site is always in a good state of repair. 

If this is not done to its satisfaction, the Government can carry out the necessary repair and maintenance works and then compel the owner to reimburse all the costs and expenses incurred. 

Since many old privately owned buildings are already in a poor state of repair, would their designation as heritage sites be in the best interests of the public? 

At least the owners of private properties, which are compulsorily acquired, are entitled to receive compensation based on their fair market values. 

Owners of private properties which are designated as heritage sites lose a considerable amount of control and freedom of choice over how to deal with and manage their properties. 

In the article “Please Spare Bok House”, (Aug 6), the writer states: “If this house is destroyed, it would be equivalent to putting a price on a historical piece.” 

Actually, to put a price on a historical piece is widely accepted as perfectly normal conduct all around the world. 

Many leading public museums all around the world have regularly purchased works of art to add to their collections. 

One notable example is the purchase in 2004 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA, of the painting Madonna and Child painted around 1300 by Duccio di Buoninsegna for more than S$45mil from a private collector. 

It is not only public museums which put prices on historical pieces, private individuals are happy to do so as well. 

 

CHUA WYE MAN,  

Kuala Lumpur. 

 

  • The Star expresses its regrets to the family and trustees of the late Mr Chua Cheng Bok over the inaccuracies in the various articles on the subject. – Editor 

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