If Sabah is well known for its wealth of natural attractions, the Malaysian State in Borneo is however lacking historical buildings and heritage area. The fault to World War II when Japanese bombed most cities in the State, including British North Borneo capital Jesselton, today Kota Kinabalu.
Last March, celebration was big at the current Sabah Tourism Board headquarters, as the building was turning 100-year old. A true event for the city of Kota Kinabalu which has only a few structures which escaped the inferno of Japanese bombs in World War II.
According to Sabah Tourism, the two-storey building, which used to be Jesselton Central Post Office, is one of three structures — the Atkinson clock tower and the Land and Survey building are the other two — that did not get bombed during World War II. The old Post Office with its neo-classical façade crowned by a large pediment has become one of the city’s landmarks.
Sabah Tourism Board chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said it is very rare to witness a centenary anniversary of a structure such as this one as Jesselton (the old name for Kota Kinabalu) was almost in ruins during the war.
“Today it is one of the 24 heritage sites gazetted in Sabah. We hope our next generation will conserve and learn to love our history,” he said.
The building used to sit on the waterfront of Jesselton, but now sits on the edge of the central business district of the city, along Gaya street.
It was originally designed and its construction supervised by a Public Works Department executive engineer JW Norman with Ong Seng Teck as the main contractor.
Construction started in 1916 and it was officially completed and officiated by British North Borneo Charter Company Governor AC Pearson on March 16, 1918 and declared “the best in Borneo.”
It was occupied by the government’s printing department until 1935 when they moved back to Sandakan. In 1936, the building was then converted to accommodate the Audit, Treasury, Bank and Post Department.
According to records, during the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945, it was occupied by the Yokohama Specie Bank, Treasury and Posts. After the war, it was used for temporary shelter by the Attorney General, Resident’s Office, District Office and Town Board in addition to those already there until they moved out in the 1950s with the exception of the Posts and Telegraphs.
In 1957, extensive renovation was carried out on the building. It was used as the Post Office until September 15, 1986 when they moved to their new premises. In 1991, Sabah Tourism moved into the venerable structure.
A new attraction has been created for visitors with the North Borneo History Society creating a virtual reality booth for public to ‘experience’ Jesselton as a city in the past while the Sabah Animation Creative Content Centre put up the first ever 3D projection mapping showcasing the history of the building.
Sabah looks to put more emphasis on heritage. On April 10, the permanent secretary of Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry declared to gazette the old Queen Elizabeth Hospital building as a state heritage treasure.
The ministry’s permanent secretary, Datu Rosmadi Datu Sulai, said: “We intend to gazette the structure this year. “It was built a long time ago.
“Once gazetted, we can provide special care for the building and ensure that it will be around for future generations to see its British colonial architecture for themselves,” he said during the launch of the North Borneo Classic Medical Assets exhibition at the state museum on Tuesday. The structure was opened in 1957 but renovated in the 1980s and 2000s. Queen Elizabeth II visited the hospital in 1971.