This is part of a flashback editorial series on all things Malaysian. You can check out other flashback articles in the series for a journey through Malaysia’s past.
A sleepy backwater town born of the tin mining industry has, in just a century’s time, become one of Asia’s most vibrant and dynamic capital cities. Welcome to Kuala Lumpur. The Senses team uncovered a handful of vintage photos chronicling what the city once was and what is has become today.
In this archival photo from 1884, virtually nothing is recognisable as the KL of today. Rickety wooden shanties adjoin to form a makeshift township, its inhabitants doubtlessly able to imagine the modern metropolis this scene would transform into over the next dozen decades.
A century ago, all the government’s printing was carried out in this building sited at what is today Jalan Raja and the current location of the KL City Gallery. The Straits Settlements postmark can be seen clearly on this postcard image, along with the date, 25 January 1909.
A true glimpse into a bygone era, this snapshot from the end of the 19th century shows a very different Kuala Lumpur. What was surely one of the city’s very few automobiles can be seen at far left; formost, the horse and carriage (and riding the rails) were the only forms of locomotion in this fledgling city.
This image shows the area around what is today Dataran Merdeka – or Independence Square – in greater detail. Note the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers at the photo’s right; the very thing that lent Kuala Lumpur (“muddy confluence”) its name.
Less than 25 years later, and KL had exploded in size and scale. There are a few recognisable landmarks in this photo from circa 1930, none more obvious than the large open field of the Royal Selangor Club at lower left, which would, 27 years later, become the site of Malaysia’s (then known as Malaya) proclamation of independence. Today, the field is part of the area known as Dataran Merdeka.
You could take a similar photo today, as the iconic KL Railway Station still graces the city’s landscape (though in a different capacity), but chances are, there would be lot more cars in the picture! This image from 1960 shows the beautiful edifice in a serene, almost park-like setting.
In this circa 1990 image, you can see the horse-racing track and field that was re-imagined as what is today perhaps the most valuable real estate in Malaysia: KLCC and the PETRONAS Twin Towers.
After a massive excavation effort and the largest and longest continuous concrete pour in Malaysia’s history, the twin towers began to rise. This photo, from May 1994, shows the constructing at a point when the towers’ signature shape is already easily spotted.
The towers’ signature element, the double-decker skybridge, has just been lifted into place in this photo from circa August 1995.
Today, the city centre area bears no resemblance to the KL of a century ago. Skyscrapers continue to be built wherever a patch of land can support one, and the city’s skyline is a testament to its success.
An icon of modern Malaysia, the soaring PETRONAS Towers are today still the centrepiece of a stunning transformation in Kuala Lumpur.
This article was originally published in Senses of Malaysia (Jan/Feb 2016) which is available in print here.
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