The Majestic Theatre, designed by the Danish architect B M Iversen, is the oldest cinema in Ipoh that was also an opera stage in its early days.
In a city with an impressive group of period cinemas, the Majestic is the grand old dame of the genre. The advent of home videos made old cinemas uneconomical, and while the buildings survived, their decline continued. By the mid-1990s, these big cinema halls, some with a seating capacity of a thousand, had all but closed. With their voluminous spaces, they were easily transformed into discotheques and snooker centers, but all of them are now retail showrooms.
It is hard to believe that such a sturdy building has to be demolished, as if our architects have no imagination to adapt it for other uses.
Demolition work commenced ‘quietly’. Last Saturday afternoon, the steel trusses were torn down, cut up with oxy-acetylene torches and carted away unceremoniously.
It was a shock to the system.
I was with Nick, who was due to fly to Singapore by Firefly. We were on our way to a very late lunch when we passed the Majestic and noticed the destructive activity. We turned back and hastily snapped away, recording as much as we could. After dropping Nick off at the airport, I returned to the site to keep watch over the process until light failed and work stopped. Three trucks carried away the metal sheets from the air-conditioning ducts, the steel trusses, and all the timber the contractor could harvest.
In the three-hour vigil, SMSes were sent to various members of PHS and friends in town, and some out-of-town Ipoh lovers. William responded, drove to the site and kept me company for a little while. He also provided information about the original owner of the building, Lim Ying Kim, the name found on the external wall of the stairwell.
Among the tens of SMSes sent out, our PHS President, Mohd Taib replied, saying that he would check on the legality of the demolition. Others, screaming murder, lamented the loss of yet another Ipoh landmark.
The fact that this oldest of Ipoh’s existing cinemas had not been tagged a heritage building will be a stumbling block. Why should it be demolished? Or why not, as others might ask? What is the price of our heritage buildings, and what is it worth to the owners, the city and the collective memory of the people?
The Art Deco façade of the Majestic has been completely undervalued: it was one of the first cinemas in town to cease operation and rented out as a furniture showroom. But look at it from across the road and you will notice its fine proportions, the strong vertical and horizontal lines, the spray plaster finish on the tower; and especially the typical decorations of the period of the 1930s, when it was built.
(Iversent also designed the other Art Deco cinema in Ipoh, the Ruby Theatre.)
Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong
(Pix to come later)