Renowned architect J.F.L. Blankenberg (1888-1958) was responsible for many modern two-storey houses in Menteng, most notably the ones on Taman Suropati numbers 3 and 7, which are now the official residences of the American ambassador respectively the Governor of Jakarta. Blankenberg however, who had his office on Jalan Menteng Raya, also designed many offices and shopfronts in Batavia.
A stunning example is this modern facade of Au Bon Marché, a luxury fashion store at Rijswijkstraat 20 (now Jalan Majapahit). Au Bon Marché obtained its clothing collection from renowned department stores in France. In Batavia it was initially based on Noordwijk (now Jalan Juanda) and moved in 1921 to Rijswijkstraat (Jalan Majapahit) where it replaced the jewellery shop that was established in April 1850 by Victor Olieslaeger. Olieslaeger’s ancestors moved to Parapattan in the early 1920s, later to Noordwijk (Jalan Juanda) where the jewellery shop under that name survived until the 1970s.
Blankenberg’s renovation was conducted in 1934. The shop window space was kept as large and transparent as possible; for this purpose the entrance had been moved to the right side, and the entire central facade and awning construction was carried by supporting points from the ceiling.
Interesting is also that during the 1930s there was an increased emphasis on so-called “light architecture”, the effect of evening lighting on design and appearance. As the magazine Lokale Techniek (Local Technique) mentioned in one of their 1936 articles: “Shopping in Batavia is mainly conducted in the early evening, as the morning hours are less suitable and the afternoon odours not bearable. Shopping is also mostly done by car, so that the shoppers generally get to view the storefronts from a greater distance and more clearly than it would be in shopping streets where pedestrians walk closer to the shopfronts”.
Loss of character
Jalan Majapahit has lost nearly all of its character when former society De Harmonie was demolished in 1985 and most shops on the opposite side (including the one that housed Au Bon Marché on number 20) obtained the typical modern Jakarta ‘ruko’ appearance. See the ‘now’ photo in the comment section.
The section between Kali Besar and Pancoran these days is called Jalan Pintu Kecil. However in colonial Jakarta this stretch existed of two parts: “Pintoe Ketjil” between Kali Besar and the intersection Asemka-Petak Baru-Petongkangan, and “Kali Besar Zuid” between this intersection and Toko Tiga where the road continued as Pantjoran (now Jalan Pancoran).
Original course of the Ciliwung River
Kali Besar Zuid followed the original curved course of the Ciliwung River that was just outside the walls of 17th century Batavia and wasn’t straightened when the city was constructed in 1629.
Today the aforementioned intersection is dominated by the Pasar Pagi flyover and modern ruko (rumah toko) have all replaced the lovely characteristic Chinese style shophouses along the west bank of the river. However 83 years ago Kali Besar Zuid was a lively and photogenic part of Batavia, and also known by the locals as “Kali Besar Tjina” (Chinese Kali Besar).
Old and modern buildings
On this photo from 1940 we can clearly see the street sign “Kali Besar Zuid” just before the bridge on the left over the river that led to Asemka and Stationsplein (Lapangan Stasiun). In between the original 19th century Chinese shophouses and eateries already a few modern early 20th century buildings. All of these have since been demolished (see the modern photo in the comments section).
An original colour photograph of the Molenvliet canal in Batavia/Jakarta in 1938. This photo is from a rare collection of so-called stereolight views which could be viewed with a stereoscope to create the illusion of a 3D image.
Colour or coloured?
These days we often see ‘coloured’ historic images of Jakarta on social media, however those that post these have been using free or paid apps from the internet, which ‘guess’ the colours based on shades of black, white and grey, and more than often these result in improper and unrealistic colours, for example roof tiles that look brownish instead of red/orange, strange coloured faces, and trees that all seem to have similar shades of green. These coloured photos do certainly not represent the true colours of the time.
It therefore is unique to see this original colour photo from 85 years ago. We are looking in a northwesterly direction just north of the crossing with Ketapang Noord/Utara. The road on the opposite side of the canal is what is now Jalan Gajah Mada (formerly Molenvliet West) which we recognise thanks to the poles of the electric tram. The larger intersection with Ketapang and Sawah Besar is 100 metres further south (i.e. seen from the back of the photographer).
Left and right of the bridge we see Chinese style shophouses, some with clear signs. The left, most likely ‘Toko Hariz Maarie & Co” sells and buys second hand bicycles. To the right “Roemah Obat Seng Hoo Tong”, a Chinese medicine shop. In the 1930s the Molenvliet Canal was still a busy thoroughfare to transport goods and building materials as we can see, and the scene of washing ladies on the side of Molenvliet Oost (Jalan Hayum Wuruk) was inseparably linked to this north south running canal, that is until the early 1970s.
The number combination on the footbridge (16-6-36) possibly indicates that this metal bridge was only constructed two years before this photo was taken.
An atmospheric picture of a cosy and bustling shopping street at night in a Jakarta that soon would be invaded by the Japanese. The photographer stands halfway Pasar Baru, looking in a southerly direction. On the right at number 69 the famous restaurant, patisserie and ice-cream palace “Luilekkerland” (The Land of Cockaigne). Next door at numbers 65-67 the well-known department store “De Bijenkorf”. The Anker Beer sign is in front of restaurant “De Snoeper” at number 63.
On the left we see the photography store “Tan’s Studio” with behind it Toko Bombay. It could well be that the photographer worked at Tan’s Studio. It must have been an attractive scene, or object where the photographer stood on, as most people on the photo are looking into the camera lens.
Water spraying at the northern end of what was called Boulevard Gondangdia 100 years ago. We recognise the majestic premises of the building company N.V. De Bouwploeg (now the Cut Meutia mosque) which was in transition at the time. In 1920 the Batavia City Council took over all possessions of De Bouwploeg and the company went into liquidation. Although we see the name of N.V. De Bouwploeg still present on all sides of the dome, the other sign halfway the side building says “Traktie en Materieel Staatsspoorwegen” (Traction and Materials State Railways) which occupied part of the building.
The roads in Batavia/Jakarta would only be asphalted as from 1922 hence the unsealed road had to be sprayed regularly during the dry season to avoid it becoming dusty and loose. This was in the 19th and early 20th centuries still a manual job conducted by men with two watering cans but by 1920 specific motorised vehicles were used to carry out this job.
Road name changes
The road name would change into Van Heutszboulevard in 1924, the year that the former Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies (1904-1909) passed away. In July 1950 it was changed into its current name Jalan Teuku Umar. In front of the Bouwploeg building we see the boom gates of the train line between the stations Gondangdia and Tjikini/Cikini. If standing on the same spot today one would not see that many changes, apart from the fact that the train line was elevated in 1992 to avoid traffic congestion and now runs 10 metres above ground level and partly blocks the view of the former Bouwploeg office. If the photographer would turn around he would see the Kunstkring building which was opened in 1914 and still exists today too.
A peaceful view of the eastern entrance to Koningsplein Zuid (now Jalan Medan Merdeka Selatan). The photo, by an unknown photographer, was taken from the intersection with Koningsplein Oost (Jalan Medan Merdeka Timur) and Prapatan Gambir (Jalan Ridwan Rais). We are looking west, with the large one square kilometre Koningsplein on the right side. During the 1880s this was very much an empty space. Koningsplein Zuid was surrounded by large trees on both sides, which provided some welcome shade in the tropics.
At the front we see the railway crossing with a sign “Halt” (Stop). In our times we would see train station Gambir on the right, and the massive new complex of the American Embassy on the left. Since 1992 the train line is elevated and crosses the road at a height of around 10 metres. Jalan Medan Merdeka Selatan is now one-way traffic going west, however a number of 19th century former colonial homes are still present and in excellent condition. See the comment box for a picture of the exact same location in 2019.