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Colonial Giants...

Wisma Yeap Chor Ee and Wisma Kastam


China Street Ghaut, George Town.

Standing directly opposite each other, two of George Town’s most prominent heritage landmarks seem to be facing off in a bid for prominence. Indeed, both are equally grand and imposing especially if viewed from the ferry coming into the island.

It is no wonder that traders used them as landmarks back in the days when Penang was South-East Asia’s most important trading post.

Located at the corner of China Street Ghaut (facing Weld Quay), the Malayan Railway Building (or Wisma Kastam as it is known today) and Wisma Yeap Chor Ee are “colonial giants” in every sense of the word.

Both buildings boast of uniquely distinct arcades (a structure composed of a series of arches supported by columns). Before Komtar (the state’s administrative and shopping tower) Wisma Kastam’s clock tower (which by the way is still ticking with precision) was the tallest building on the island.

Wisma Kastam which currently houses the state Customs Department was formerly the Malayan Railway Building that sat alongside trading offices and warehouses built in the 20th century.

Back when it was called the Malayan Railway Building, the station is believed to be the only one in the world without a rail. Instead of platforms or trains, it had administrative offices, a ticketing booth and a first-class Railways Restaurant with Bar and Grill.

Passengers bought their tickets at the Penang Railway Station, walked to the Railway Jetty at the end of the China Street Ghaut and boarded the Railway Ferry Streamers to Butterworth to catch the train. Fares to and from Penang were inclusive of the ferry ride.

Built a century ago, the Malayan Railway Building marked the completion of the Federated Malay States (FMS) Railway which was mainly used to transport tin and crops.

It was the railway’s northern region headquarters. In the late 60s, the state Customs Office occupied the building.

Both Wisma Yeap Chor Ee and Wisma Kastam are expected to be turned into hotels but the iconic facade will always be a familiar sight in George Town.