Bangkok Heritage: Back to the Future for the Old Customs House?

It is one of the most beautiful and important buildings in the history of Siam and Bangkok. The Old Customs House was built by Austrian-Italian architect Joachim Grassi back to 1888 in a grand neo-classical style. It has been considered for a long time as an emblematic structure for the Kingdom. When King Rama V came back from his trip to Europe in 1897, his boat accosted in  front of the Customs House. Time passed, the customs moved to a new area in the fifties and a firemen brigade moved in while the building slowly felt into a state of dilapidation with its decrepit walls and collapsing roof.

They have been plans for at least 20 years to restore the property- which stands under the Treasury Department and is rented to the Marine Police Department and Bang Rak District Fire Brigade. In 1996, the Tourism Authority of Thailand presented a plan to turn the facility into a Thai Cultural Centre. Then in 2005, the Treasure Department signed a leasing agreement providing a 30-year concession to real estate consortium Natural Park (now renamed U City) for the development of a 5-star boutique hotel. At that time Aman Resort Hotel Group was picked up as Natural Park’s hotel partner.

Inside the Customs House
Inside the Customs House

On U City website, Amanresort Hotel Bangkok is described as a “luxurious 5 star hotel project which consists of 35 luxurious rooms occupying a total area of 12,300 square meters. The design has been made under the Heritage Development concept focusing on the harmony between the ancient custom house (Rong Pasee Roi Chak Sam) with its history dated back to more than 100 years and the new building which have carefully been designed to enhance the magnificence of the ancient site”. However, in its 2014 annual report, Natural Park mentioned that the project is “on hold awaiting site handover”. Time passed, nothing happened except the further deterioration of the building while families from the Fire Brigade continued to live in the premises. The Customs House, sitting next to the French Embassy became a favourite motive for fashion shooting and students on their graduation day. But it seems that something is now happening. in October, the Treasury Department gave a deadline to U City to start the project or the company would be kicked out from the concession.
Since the beginning of the year, they are no firemen families anymore located within the Custom’s House premises while all signs of a private property have been removed. Students and visitors can walk around the crumbling structures, which gives an eerie feeling of a structure vacated in a state of emergency. Broken bottles, clothes, newspapers, old mattresses are probably the last testimony of the firemen brigade and the possible start of a new chapter for one of Bangkok most beautiful historical structures…