HISTORY OF KUALA LUMPUR HOTELSDespite our natural hospitality, the Malaysian hotel industry is relatively youngand only started emerging as a force to reckon with in the first half of 1970swith the opening of Kuala Lumpur Hilton, Holiday Inn, Equatorial and Regent inquick succession.Kuala Lumpur’s hotels had its genesis in 1915 which is almost a century ago butit was not a purpose built hotel. At that time, visitors simply stayed at inns orwith friends. Government officers could always count upon accommodation ingovernment quarters, guest houses, barracks or fellow Englishman’s house.A sprawling house near the bank of Klang river used as a secondary home wasrefurbished to create Kuala Lumpur’s first professional hotel. As it was locatedin the exotic East, the English owner named it Eastern Hotel and it was locatedat 26 JalanAmpang.During the colonial era, the hotel industry was almost non-existent andconstruction of small boarding houses catered entirely to British officers onofficial visits from Penang, Singapore or Perak where tin mining was in fullprogress.Just as airlines opened up new destinations, trains did the same a century ago.By 1890 the population of Kuala Lumpur had grown to around 20,000. Thisswelling of population was mainly due to the opening of the new railwaylinking Port Swettenham(now Port Klang) to Kuala Lumpur.Kuala Lumpur Railway Station was completed in 1910 and replaced a woodenbuilding while the administrative building across the road, built in similar style,was finished in 1917.The Railway Station and Malayan Railway Administrative Building with theirstunning architecture of dreamy domes, graceful arches and soaring minaretsbecame an instant landmark and remain so to this day as both are remarkablywell preserved, having escaped the bombing of World War 2! These visuallypleasing buildings were designed by A.B Hubback, a prolific British architectacclaimed for his Mughal inspired masterpieces like Ipoh Railway Station, RoyalGallery in Klang, MasjidJamekin Kuala Lumpur and Ubudiah Mosque in KualaKangsar, Perak.
Until the 451.9 metrePetronas Twin Towers were completed in 1998, this oldKL Railway Station, KTM Building and nearby Sultan Abdul Samad Building werethe most photographed icons of Kuala Lumpur.As common with railway stations everywhere, a hotel was part of thestructure. Simply called Station Hotel, it was hugely popular and was almostfully booked as nothing was more welcoming than a comfortable room stepsfrom disembarking from a train after a long ride. It later became HeritageStation hotel and the building was gazetted as heritage site in 1983. HeritageStation hotel closed in 2010. The station served as the city’s main railway hubuntil 2001 when the modern KL Sentral station took over.Back then, planters, miners, towkehs and those who could afford a little luxurychecked into Station Hotel. Those who could afford a bigger luxury walkedacross the road to Majestic hotel which opened in 1932.Those on a budget made do with downtown motels across the river or small,smart hotels like Coliseum and Rex. By 1935 the Station hotel and Majestichotel were the leading hotels of the day.Majestic was the first modern hotel which met all notions and standards of aluxury hotel. Even so it was not purpose built but converted from the GermanConsulate into a magnificent hotel in 1932. The original intention was to turnthe building into apartments but the slump found fewbuyers so it became ahotel boasting 51 spacious rooms. It was considered so grand and stately in thestyle of an European mansion it truly lived up to its name Majestic.Overnight it became the hub of social life and epicentre of posh dining, winingand entertaining. Its excellent and convenient location practically opposite themain Railway Station added to its allure as the most luxurious hotel in theMalay peninsula. Majestic Hotel was the mainstay of Kuala Lumpur andenjoyed an unrivalled reign among the colonial elite and local notables.Artists, actors, writers, politicians and wealthy planters graced the public areas.The elegant and exotic garden setting amid crimson dusks and swallow-filledsky was the perfect movie setting for a pre-James Bond movie. Indeed therewere spies galore during World War 2 as they met informants at the bar!
During the Japanese Occupation from 1939 to 1945, Majestic Hotel was usedas transit camp by the Japanese. When news reached the Majestic in 1945 thatthe Japanese had lost the war and had surrendered, a distraught Japanesesoldier committed suicide (hara-kiri) inside his room. It was said his ghosthaunted room number 48 until the hotel closed in 1984!The founders and members of UMNO,DatoOnnJaafar and Tunku AbdulRahman who went on to become Malaysia’s first Prime Minister used to meetat Majestic’s rooftop club to discuss independence from Great Britain.After the British returned to Malaya in 1945, the Majestic resumed its statusas the pre-eminent hotel. Afternoon tea was the highlight of the day andguests were pampered with delightful cakes and biscuits and Earl Grey tea wasimmaculately served on beautiful porcelain and silverware with carefullystarched linen.Many guests refused to leave!Mrs Buxton, the secretary to High Commissioner Sir Gerald Templer, andDonald Davis made Majestic hotel their home and continued to stay foranother 20 years till they passed away here. They and many thousands likethem could be considered the forerunners of Make Malaysia My Second Homeprogramme!By the time the nation gained its independence in 1957, the glory days hadpassed and Majestic began a slow decline. David Niven stayed here when hestarred in Paper Tiger in 1975, a movie set in Malaysia.New and multi-storey hotels became the rage and by 1984 when the last tiffinwas served, Majestic was a shadow of its former self. It was turned into theNational Art Gallery till the new National Art Gallery on JalanTunRazak wascompleted. There are plans to resurrect Majestic back to its halcyon days witha modern hotel block as annexe, similar to Shanghai’s Waldorf-Astoria andHong Kong’s Peninsula.An important stalwart is Federal hotel which was built in 1957 by Tan Sri DatukLow Yat expressly for dignitaries attending the Merdeka (Independence)celebrations. Its revolving Bintang restaurant was the talk of town as it was thefirst of its kind and caused a sensation. Today, the Federal Hotels International
group continues to operate Federal Hotel, Capitol Hotel and The Grace inSydney, Australia.Another historic hotel that is still operational is Merlin now Concorde. Itopened in 1959 and for decades was among the most prestigious andhappening hotel. Its old Chinese restaurant with ornate dragon pillars andextravagant Chinese embellishments has never been equalled.In 1972, Kuala Lumpur Hilton opened and Malaysians had the first taste of arenowned, 5-star international hotel. At 36 storeys, KL Hilton was not only thetallest hotel in Malaysia but also the tallest building. Its Paddock Supper Cluband Lounge overlooking the then race course of Kuala Lumpur was the heightof class and prestige. Events and performances held there were considered themost exclusive and suitably expensive. Today it is Crowne Plaza Mutiara as thenew Hilton Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya Hilton are located elsewhere.The very next year in 1973 saw the opening of two major hotels, the Equatorialand Holiday Inn. The former is a homegrown brand while Holiday Inn chain isinternationally known. The Equatorial is presently closed for an entiremakeover and rebuilding.Holiday Inn became known as Holiday Inn on the Park as it faced the extensiveparkland of KLCC but it is now the Impiana KLCC Hotel & Spa. The currentHoliday Inn Kuala Lumpur is actually located in Glenmarie, Shah Alam. The newHoliday Inn Express Bukit Bintang is expected to open in 2015.Hot on the heels of Hilton, Equatorial and Holiday Inn was The Regent, a 5-starhotel that once boasted of the most expensive Malay-styled restaurant inMalaysia. Called Suasana, it was nicknamed Susah-nya (So Tough) due to itsexorbitant prices! Today it is Parkroyal hotel as the Regent was relocated to anew nearby building. It is now called Grand Millennium and there is no Regentanymore in Kuala Lumpur. However plans are afoot to reopen The RegentKuala Lumpur in 2015 in a gleaming tower facing Petronas Twin Towers.Another historic hotel that commands the highest respect and prestige isCarcosa Seri Negara, an ultra luxurious boutique hotel comprising 2 pre-Independence mansions set on hills overlooking 16 hectares of verdant lawns,flowering gardens and parkland.
The premier building,was called Carcosa by its first tenant the Resident-General Sir Frank Swettenham who named it after the poetic dramatic novel‘The King in Yellow’ from the paragraph “and beyond the towers of Carcosarose the moon”. This magnificent manor of 7 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms wascompleted in 1896 for $ 25,000. It was given in perpetuity to the BritishGovernment after Independence as home of the British High Commissioner. Itwas returned to the Malaysian Government in 1987 and converted into a hotelin 1989.Seri Negara (Beautiful Country’) is a nearby stately mansion built in 1913 tohouse the Governor of Singapore and important government guests. Formerlycalled King’s House, Seri Negara also has 7 suites.Carcosa Seri Negara’s first guest was none other than the former Queen ofMalaya, Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit for the 1989 CommonwealthGames. The Grand Makmur Suite occupied by Queen Elizabeth II and PrincePhillip continues to be available for booking.The latest is Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur conveniently locatedinbetweenPetronas Twin Towers, Suria KLCC Mall and KL Convention Centre.Other superlative hotels offering blissful slumber are Shangri-La, MandarinOriental, Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Sheraton Imperial, Sunway Resort & Spa,Corus, Westin, Golden Palm Tree Sea Villas, Royale Chulan, The Club SaujanaResort, Le Meridien, G Towers, Traders, Istana, Berjaya Times Square,Renaissance, New World, Maya, Cititel, Boulevard, Melia, Swiss Garden, OneWorld, Palace of Golden Horses, Sunway Pyramid and Sunway Putra.THE END
In the 1970s, David Niven stayed there while making the film Paper Tiger.