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.
Most meetings of the Batavia/Jakarta City Council between 1908 and 1911 were dominated by debates and decisions to tackle the city’s severe housing shortage. A newspaper in January 1909 elaborated on the “housing misery” and explained that residential houses in Batavia for middle-income households were too expensive or of poor quality: “Often residents with a small or medium income have to search for houses beyond their buying power or are forced to live in the kampungs”. In 1908 the ‘Bataviaasche Bouwmaatschappij’ (Batavia Building Company) was established with the goal to build good quality and affordable houses.
Nearly two years before this company merged into ‘N.V. De Bouwploeg’ and focused on the masterplan for New Gondangdia and Menteng, it started to experiment in Kramat. The company bought a sizeable piece of land that stretched out from Kramatlaan (now Jalan Kramat V) to Salembaplein (now Jalan Kramat VI) and Laan Wiechert (Jalan Kramat VII), all side streets of the main north south Kramat road. On this piece of land were the ruins of the former Kramat Hotel. Architect P.A.J. Moojen (1879-1955), who arrived in Indonesia in 1903 and was partner of the firm Biezeveld and Moojen in Bandung until 1910, had already designed the new dining rooms of Hotel des Indes and Hotel de Nederlanden (1906), the book store of Visser & Co (1907) and the new NILLMIJ head office (1909), all in Batavia/Jakarta. He was commissioned to design 120 new houses along the forementioned 3 streets in Kramat. Moojen used solid materials and most houses featured innovative designs and fittings (more in the next post).
Despite the luxury appearance, especially those with two-storeys, they were still marketed as affordable. The monthly rental price varied between 75 and 125 guilders for a two-storey house. The Bataviaasche Bouwmaatschappij remained the owner of all houses. Only 22 houses had two-storeys. These were built at the end of Kramatlaan (which was called ‘Kramatpark’ in popular speech but never obtained that name officially) and the end of Laan Wiechert (Jalan Kramat VII), close to the Ciliwung River. A number of these two-storey houses do still exist today, of which four adjacent houses on Jalan Kramat VII (numbers 23, 25, 27 and 29) are the most eye-catching. These four houses are all visible on the historic picture from 1912, and in the same sequence on the four coloured photos of 2014 and 2015. We were kindly alerted by Scott Merrillees that a number of these houses do still exist today. All photos are individually posted in the comments below this post too.
A unique view of a unique building that stood on this place until at least 1995. During a visit to Jakarta in 1995 I suffered from a tummy bug while staying in a guesthouse along Jalan Gondangdia Kecil. I went to this pharmacy to purchase some Norit and I remember it was still the old colonial era building. This photo from nearly 80 years ago was taken at the so-called ‘Vijfsprong’ where 5 roads came together: Oud Menteng (Jalan Menteng Raya), Tjikini (Jalan Cikini Raya), Oud Gondangdia (Jalan RP Soeroso), Van Heutszplein (Jalan Taman Cut Meutia) and Gang Pengarengan (this road no longer exists).
We are looking south. Left of the Nederlandsche Apotheek (Netherlands Pharmacy) is Tjikini, to the right Oud Gondangdia. The sign near the drugstore says “Parata, against pain, flu and hangover”. At the front, partly visible, an advertisement for Dunlop tyres. Despite a usual busy intersection, we only see cyclists and pedestrians on this photo. On the site of the former apotik/drugstore is now the “Menteng Huis” with the Kimia Farma Pharmacy and a number of other stores. If any Jakarta residents can tell us more about when the old pharmacy building was demolished, that would be very helpful.