History Translation

The story of how a RM1 billion mansion in KL was gifted to the Brits… by Tunku

[This article is based on one written by SOSCILI. To read the article in BM, click here!]

 

If you’ve watched the movie ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, you would probably remember this scene

Credit: Entertain Me on YouTube

…and this scene…

Credit: MovieClips

So just like Singaporean food, the Crazy Rich Asian mansion was actually Malaysian – it’s, in fact, the Carcosa Seri Negara. However, before Crazy Rich Asians decided to portray Henry Golding Carcosa as Singaporean, the building was actually already well known as a historic site at the century-old and govt-owned Perdana Botanical Gardens in Kuala Lumpur. The site – which actually features two buildings Carcosa and Seri Negara – have played many important roles throughout the years since Malaysia’s independence.

In fact….

 

It was Tunku Abdul Rahman’s gift to the British

Back in those days when Malaya was under the British rule, each state was under a British representative known as the Resident or Governor. And, in 1896, the Resident-General of the Federated Malay States (FMS), Sir Frank Swettenham, required a bigger official residence. A new house was then built on a hill in Kuala Lumpur and it became the new official residence of the Resident-General.

Image Credit – NST Malaysia

It was said that Swettenham himself decided to name that building on the hill Carcosa. He discovered the name in one of the verses of a book about an imaginary ‘King in Yellow’ whose castle was known as the ‘Lost Carcosa’. The name Carcosa was thought to be made up by the author even though it shows resemblance to the Italian words ‘cara’ and ‘casa’ which means ‘desirable dwellings‘.

There was another building built right next to Carcosa which was named King’s House (now Seri Negara) in 1913. It became the official guest house for VVIPs like the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth who stayed there in 1986. Even the Constitution of Malaya was drafted in Seri Negara prior to independence from 1955 to 1957 with the Merdeka Agreement signed by the nine Sultans on August 5th 1957.

As a token of appreciation to the British for the aid in countering the threat of the communist uprising, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister, presented the Carcosa to Britain as the home for its High Commissioner as independence approached in 1956.

However, Carcosa’s status as a British owned mansion changed when the fire nation Mahathir became Prime Minister.

 

Mahathir would pressure the Brits to return Carcosa to Malaysia

An article by Utusan Malaysia in September 1982 – Image from Perdana Library

In the 1980s, Britain received shocking news about having to return Carcosa to Malaysia. It was made known during UMNO’s 33rd general assembly on September 11, 1982, by Datuk Rahman Osman, the representative of the Pergerakan Wanita UMNO.

“There is no use for the government to give so much to people who no longer rule this country since the people and the country do not benefit whatsoever from them anymore.” Datuk Rahman Osman said during the General Assembly.

According to the book ‘Surat daripada Mahathir’ by Dato’ Zainuddin Maidin, it was also rumoured that then-PM Mahathir had long disliked the idea that the Carcosa belonged to the Brits.

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When it was proposed to get the Carcosa back from the British, the Brits would claim that it’s impossible to comply as long as Tunku himself, who gifted the estate, is still alive and well. Not long after that, a youngAnwar Ibrahim would also join the push for the Carcosa estate be returned back to Malaysia.

Because of the continuous pressure, the British finally agreed to return the Carcosa estate to Malaysia on 12 May 1984 and in return, the Malaysian government offered land in Jalan Ampang to be the residence of the British High Commissioner. A memorandum was signed on 13 of July 1984 officially stating that Carcosa rightfully belongs to Malaysia. So when it was returned to Malaysia, Carcosa together with Seri Negara was extensively refurbished and leased to a succession of hospitality companies until the end of 2015.

 

Carcosa Seri Negara today is worth an estimated RM1 billion… but is abandoned

Credit Image – Malay Mail

When Carcosa Seri Negara was eventually returned to Malaysia, it was used as a guest house and a hotel. After that, they were eventually abandonedCarcosa in 2009 and Seri Negara in 2015. When the Asian Heritage Museum (AHM) took over in March 2017 as a social tenant to refurbished the ground floor of both buildings for the Jalan Merdeka Exhibition on August 31st 2017.

AHM Sdn Bhd’s founder and CEO KK Tan described Carcosa Seri Negara which was neglected was covered in moss, mould, weeds and animal droppings. His plans to restore Carcosa entirely with the construction of a new hotel could easily amount more than RM1 billion.

Interior of Carcosa – Image credit The Edge Markets

Datuk Hajeedar Abdul Majid, an architect who was in charge of reconstructing these two buildings in 1989 said that the buildings will continue to deteriorate further if they were to be left abandoned.

“The stagnant water on the floors will cause erosions and the wooden structures of the buildings are prone to termites. So, I hope this historical building can be properly restored.” -Datuk Hajeedar to Astro Awani

Datuk Hajeedar said he is prepared to reconstruct the building again. For Prof Datuk Dr Ramlah Adam, a Malaysian historian also said that such historical monuments are meant to be preserved because it will forever remain intact in Malaysian history. He also suggested that it could be used as a memorial or even a museum.

In a report by NST, Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry Secretary-General, Datuk Isham Ishak said that the building along with the land would undergo a facelift as part of the government’s plan to transform it.

Despite these plans, Carcosa Seri Negara has actually undergone a massive facelift when it was used as a location in the Crazy Rich Asians movie. It was said that the production company spent more than 5 weeks filming in Malaysia and Tan mentioned that the Hollywood team played a part in repairing and cleaning up locations at the site. However, that was just that. After all the hype that Carcosa was featured in the Hollywood movie, it was left there as it is.

Hopefully, with efforts to restore the building to its original condition, the Carcosa Seri Negara could perhaps one day return to its former glory.

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