Majestic No More

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)

6 Responses to “Majestic No More”

  1. 1 Ruth Iversen Rollitt June 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Two more Iversen buildings demolished in one week! I could weep and wonder what Ipoh is up to? Do the authorities not have any sense? Are there no rules? I feel like weeping.

  2. 2 C Tan June 29, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I’m sorry to hear of this loss, especially since visiting Ipoh recently. Just this afternoon I was reading about the importance of preserving the narrative of our built environment. I wonder why Malaysians generally do not seem to appreciate their ties with the past, especially given that this is one of the most industrialised of the ASEAN countries and accordingly should be one of the more enlightened. Perhaps somebody should explore the roots of this apathy as an anthropological study. Without this narrative (i.e. this story about where you’ve been) what is left of your identity?

  3. 3 perakheritage March 7, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    To Michael:
    The PHS has done all it could. The Majestic Theatre was already being demolished when we found out.

    Gazetting buildings listed in the Ipoh Structural Plan 2020 is for the MBI but sad to hear, already, several buildings listed have already been taken off the list by request of the owners, and approved by the Datuk Bandar.

    It takes more than just the PHS to stop this destruction. If you join up as PHS member, we will have one more voice to make ourselves heard.


    • 4 Ruth Iversen Rollitt March 7, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      You know what I think – as the proud daughter of B M Iversen and an Ipoh Girl I weep when seeing what is happening to what was known as the most beautiful town in Malaysia. The lack of compassion for Heritage will turn it into a boring (but sadly mainly ugly) city that tries to resemble all the other boring cities on earth. No tourists will come to visit – what should they see and do? and tourism is the gretest industry in our time. Perak Heritage Society works hard to keep our city beautiful – but I think they are fighting a losing battle. But please persevere!!

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