Dato AR. Ooi Sian Hian
Owner – 123 Macalister
Executive Chairman – Ghee Hiang
When George Town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, it was a time that all Penangites, regardless of race and religion rejoiced. The Penang State Government even announced 7th July as an annual holiday and in 2010, mooted George Town Festival, an annual cultural festival held within the city to commemorate this momentous achievement. Not to mention the renewed interest in heritage preservation and investment suddenly spiked and property prices for pre-war houses sky rocketed. It was a crazy period where everyone wanted to own a piece of history.
Almost fifteen years later, Dato Ar Ooi Sian Hian finally unveiled 123 Macalister – the century-old ancestral house where his siblings and cousins spent countless weekends visiting their relatives and grandmother. “We played baseball, softball and even cycled around the huge compound. After that we would shower, have dinner then continue on with board games or card games,” Dato Ooi recalled fondly. “It was a childhood that today’s generation cannot understand but the wonderful memories of growing up in this house will always be in my heart,” he continues.
123 Macalister was abandoned and in a dilapidated state by 2012. The house was stripped off its furniture, windows, doors and finally all the timber floor boards due to the fact that it was left empty since the demise of the last occupant. Subsequently, Dato Ooi and his siblings bought over the house in 2017 when it was totally desecrated and sunlight had pierced through the damaged roof tiles. Being an architect himself, he decided to take up the challenge to restore this heritage building with the help of an architect friend Ar Au Tai Yeow. “Although I have restored a few Ghee Hiang buildings including 216 Macalister and 97 Beach Street, 123 Macalister was by far in the worst condition where one can say that the building was luckily left with only 4 solid walls and strong basic structures. Rest were all gone!” exclaimed Dato Ooi when thinking back. With strict regulations and much difficulties, all materials used for this restoration work have to come from the same era making sure that this late 19th century building reclaims its glory while keeping restoration cost in tight reins and making sure proper approvals were obtained from the local building authorities.
“The Penang State Government would like to commend Dato Ooi for his effort and fervour to preserve this historical building. Such conservation works and projects are an integral aspect that tells the vibrant story of George Town, ultimately reinstating this historical city to its former glory for our future generations,” said Penang State Executive Councillor for Tourism and Creative Economy, YB Yeoh Soon Hin. Yeoh also reiterated that the Penang State Government not only adopted a proactive approach in heritage preservation and conservation, it has also established George Town World Heritage Incorporated to manage, safeguard and promote the inscribed properties and to pioneer heritage awareness and outreach among the youth and the general public.
Today, Dato Ooi is not only proud to showcase this beautiful piece of Penang heritage but strongly believes that this is what all Penangites should have in their heart – that is to try their very best to preserve Penang’s rich history, heritage and culture. “A generation that ignores history has no past and no future,” added Dato Ooi before ending the interview.