Historic Building Gets 11th Hour Reprieve

By Lawi Weng 14 December 2012

A historic building in downtown Rangoon had a last-minute reprieve when conservation activists managed to stop its demolition with a media campaign that received central government backing.

Despite activists urging for the iconic colonial architecture that characterizes the former capital to be maintained and preserved, the much-loved building at 233-235 Pansodan Street was declared dangerous by Rangoon City Development Committee which sent workers to tear it down.

However, the structure, which served as a hostel for famous Burmese politicians, writers and artists during the colonial era, was subject to an 11th-hour campaign by the Rangoon Heritage Trust carried by the local media which prompted Naypyidaw officials to order a postponement.

“We heard that they halted the demolition after news spread through the media to higher authorities who ordered it to stop,” said Moe Moe Lwin, the deputy chairman of the Rangoon Heritage Trust.

Only around 40 historic colonial building in downtown Rangoon remain, some are over 100 years old, and many have been declared restricted zones by the Rangoon City Development Committee after falling into serious disrepair.

“We are considering how to talk with the government regarding this issue because we want them to maintain these building and not demolished them,” said Moe Moe Lwin. “As we know, they have been performing ongoing demolitions of old building and constructing new ones in their place.”

The Rangoon Heritage Trust highlights the case of the Athor Ka Theater, nearby the Pansodan Street building, which has already been destroyed with a modern replacement thrown up instead.

Activists also worry that colonial buildings in the city center will be torn down to make space for hotels catering for Burma’s blossoming tourism industry.

“Our nation has extraordinary buildings based on the architecture of other countries,” said Moe Moe Lwin. “These buildings are interesting and attractive. It is not possible to measure their value.”

Local authorities have already painted century-old Rangoon City Hall, which now looks rejuvenated, with other nearby examples, such as the Immigration Office, covered with plastic and bamboo poles in preparation for renovation.

“Painting is fine as long as they do not destroy original designs and add new ones,” said Ko Ni from the Burma Lawyers Network.

The group has asked the government not to auction the 101-year-old Rangoon High Court and Police Commissioner Office to a consortium of local and Chinese businessmen who plan to turn the buildings into a restaurant and museum.

However, Ko Ni said that they still have not received a reply from the government despite waiting for a long time. “The sentimental and historical value cannot be found anywhere else,” he said. “But our government does not appreciate the value of this old building.”

The Lawyer Networks said that they will have a meeting on Dec. 29 to discuss their next move in the absence of a response from the government. It is the duty of the Burmese authorities to safeguard national heritage buildings which will serve to benefit the people in the long-term, claims the group.