RESTORATION OF
THE SYED ALATAS MANSION

128, Armenian Street, 10200 Penang, MALAYSIA

The Syed Alatas Mansion Building - After Restaration
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History of the Syed Alatas Mansion
Architecture
The Community Leader
Methods and Techniques of Restoration
Site Location & Floor Plans

History of the Syed Alatas Mansion

The Syed Alatas Mansion appeared to be just another old bungalow until its history was researched and put into the context of the larger historic area. Syed Alatas was the leader of Penang's Malay community at Acheen Street in the mid-19th century and his house is one of the finest examples of an upper-class Muslim residence to survive from that period.

The Syed Alatas Mansion Building - Before Restarationreturn

From the 1860's to the early 20th century, the Syed Alatas Mansion served as the residence of Syed Mohd Alatas and then his son. The Rumah Besar (literally "Grand House") Syed Alatas was the focus of many celebrations, including the annual Boria (a traditional form of choral entertainment) that used to take place during Awal Muharram (Muslim New Year).

From the 1930's until 1993, this site was the collection yard and lodging house for Indian Chettiars, part of Penang's active recycling industry, who dealt in second-hand material such as scran metal and used containers. Other sub-tenants like a coffee shop and second-hand timber dealers also moved into the premises. During this entire period, the Syed Alatas Mansion was largely maintained as it was, with minimal alteration to the main buildings

After the war, the building was acquired by the Municipal Council but the Chettiar tenants stayed on despite the change of ownership. In 1993 the Council took possession of the building for the "Syed Alatas Mansion Heritage Development Project" undertaken by the Penang State Government and the Council with the support of the Federal Goverment and with French technical assistance.

Architecture

The Syed Alatas Mansion Building - front elevation

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The Syed Alatas Mansion was built as an upper-class Muslim residence incorporating European, Indian and Malay cultural influences. In terms of size, degree of ornamentation and intactness of interior and exterior features, it is probably the best example of domestic building from Penang's, it not Malaysia's mid-Victorian period (1860-75) and bears witness to the rich social history of the Acheen Street community.

The Syed Alatas Mansion is a masonry building of brick and lime mortar construction. It is a symmetrically-disposed double-storey building set in a compound, fronted by a "porte cochere" with a room on top, and covered by a terra cotta pan-tile hipped roof with gable roof over the carriage porch. It is one of the few surviving Malaysian bungalows with a symmetrical layout in the main portion of the buildings, repeated on both floors, with internal rooms formed by full brick walls decorated with heavily moulded cornices. The highly intact interior configuration and details recapture the lifestyle of an upper-class Muslim family of the mid to late 19th century.


The well-ventilated historic interior
Material obtained from:
Acheen St. & Armenian St.- Penang's Historic Melting Pot Janus Print & Resources

The dentilated fascia, timber boared ceiling and eaves, panelled doors, full-length shutters with fanlight, ornate gilded ceiling roses and balustraded staircase exhibit a high quality of timber craftmanship.

The handsome facade displays excellent lime plaster work in the form of moulded architraves, cornices and pilasters, and a band of intricate stucco embellishment, one of the finest examples of rare, early decorative plasterwork found on a domestic building. The vertical-aligned star and crescent on the front pediment is a symbol of Syed Alatas and the Acheen Street community. Set in walled compound, this handsome bungalow, located at the interaction of Armenian Street and Acheen Street, is highly visible in a streetscape of 19th century heritage shophouses

Syed Mohd Alatas, Community Leader


Material obtained from:
Acheen St. & Armenian St.- Penang's Historic Melting Pot Janus Print & Resources

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Penang in the mid-19th century, was dominated by secret societies, political alliances within the local community formed to control trade and territory. Although led by respectable members of the community, they were regarded as "secret" by the colonial goverment, which saw them as a threat.

The Acheen Street-Armenian Street community fielded two powerful secret societies, the Straits Chinese-led Tua Pek Kong Society and the Muslim Red Flag Society. Together with Che Long, Syed Mohd Alatas led the Red Flag secret.

Syed Mohd Alatas was a leader of the Malay community of Acheen Street. He was also the son-in-law of Khoo Poh, a prominent pepper trader and leader of the Tua Pek Kong secret society. The marriage between Syed Alatas and Khoo Poh's daughter strengthened the Red Flag-Tua Pek Kong society alliance. Syed Mohd Alatas's first wife, who lived at 128 Armenian Street, is said to have been a Malay Princess.

At this point in time, not much more is known about Syed Mohd Alatas. Was he a gangster or a political leader? Was he an arms smuggler or an early anti-colonial hero? Such questions will be left for future debate.

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Copyright 1996 HBP of USM
Last Updated on 14 January 1996