Eastern & Oriental Eastern & Oriental

PASSAGES FROM THE PAST | E&O Berhad



Penang’s built heritage may not be completely intact but thanks to careful preservation and reconstruction, these architectural gems are reveling in renewed leases of life.

WHEN THE EASTERN MET THE ORIENTAL

The Eastern & Oriental Hotel’s story is well told. Fondly revered as the Grand Dame of Penang, it was established by the Sarkies brothers of Armenian lineage, who initially built a hotel they named The Eastern, in 1884. It was so well received that one year later, Martin and Tigran built a second hotel, The Oriental. The two were then combined to become the household name that is E&O.

The E&O then and now; after years of decline and a major refurbishment, the Grand Dame of Penang was restored to its original glory

The luxurious property provided numerous talking points: Its Moorish minarets, visually striking domed lobby, more than 100 rooms, baths with hot and cold running water, individual telephones in the rooms, and the world’s longest hotel seafront that measured 824 feet. The E&O was indeed, impressive on all levels and unsurprisingly, drew the who’s who of its time. Wealthy planters, society elites, and colonial administrators counted among its guests, who rubbed shoulders with celebrated literati the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, and Herman Hesse.

It was, as advertised in 1927, the ‘Premier Hotel East of the Suez’ and it lived up to that sobriquet for years. Until World War II struck, that is. Post-war, stiff competition drove the hotel to a gradual decline and the downward spiral continued for decades. In 1996, the E&O was closed for major refurbishment that took five years. The easternmost section, which was added in 1929 as a new wing, was reimagined in the hotel’s older design while the shopping annexe, housed in the building that was originally The Eastern, was repurposed to become the new central wing.

On 3 April 2001, the E&O Hotel opened its doors once again, under the E&O Group who later added a 122-room Victory Annex tower to complement the heritage Wing. Since then, the E&O Hotel has returned to favour among discerning travellers and diners. There are guests who return year after year, not just to relieve the memories of the past but to make new ones, with extended generations in tow. Families recall milestone celebrations that took place in the 400-seat Grand Ballroom, couples relieve the romance of their garden weddings by the Andaman Sea while the island’s oldest Java tree stands by as witness.

The E&O has always stood as a paean to timeless elegance and opulence

Rooms and suites in the Heritage Wing maintain that old-world charm that first drew discerning travellers to the E&O

In restoring the E&O, great care was taken to preserve its stately features and many intricate details

The E&O is today, as it was during its heyday, evocative of timeless charm and opulence. From expansive suites furnished with the finest to impeccable and personable silver service, the hotel is, as regulars are fond of saying: “A place where there is always enough time for the things that really matter.”

RESETTING THE STAGE FOR THE FUTURE

It was where cabaret doyenne Rose Chan once held audiences spellbound with her risque acts. Locals later flocked there to experience the first northern Malaysian ‘talkies’, or cinemas that featured sound. Indeed, The Majestic was the heart of Penang’s entertainment and nightlife back in the day.

At night, its atmospheric aura is an instant throwback to The Majestic's heydays

Founded by local businessman and philanthropist Khoo Sian Ewe, the theatre was built in 1926, and was then a popular hangout for dating couples and families. Hawker stalls flanked the small lanes off the main road, tempting cinema-goers with a variety of hot food. For special occasions, the place to be was Loke Thye Kee Restaurant, a purpose-built Hainanese diner sitting diagonally across The Majestic. Located by the Prangin Canal, boats would conveniently offload fresh produce for the restaurant’s use. Opened in 1919, the building was also built by Khoo Sian Ewe and in the shape of a boat, which later lent to its beloved nickname of Love Boat as it hosted many matchmaking meals.

The Loke Thye Kee building was purpose-built as a restaurant and shaped like a ship, befitting its location by the Prangin Canal

Iconic as both were, the theatre couldn’t sustain its business past the late 1980s while the restaurant languished until 1996. Both buildings were then left abandoned, until Singapore-based 1919 Global bought them over in 2007. After years of careful refurbishment, the Love Boat building reopened as a casual cafe on the ground floor while its upper level can be rented for private functions.

The Majestic, meanwhile, wants to reclaim its title as the ‘Grand Old Lady’ of entertainment and events. Restored to its original British colonial design based on photographs dating back to the 1930s, the building is now a multi-purpose space that can host anything from movie screenings to weddings, brand launches and even sports competitions.

The Main Hall, which can accommodate 800 people or 60 banquet tables, is decked out in striking black and white floor tiles and a large stage modelled after cinema screens. The level above the hall is a balcony area that used to house the cinema’s First Class sears has been adapted into The Circle, ideal for cocktails and small events. The feature wall, adorned with a mural that’s really a collage of classic movie stars’ portraits, makes a great photo backdrop for any occasion while the former projector room is now a private VIP box that includes a holding room.

The main hall, The Majestic

This mural pays homage to the big names in the Chinese entertainment industry of yesteryears

Not content with bringing these two classic beauties back into the limelight, 1919 Global also bought over five pre-war shophouses adjacent to the restaurant and converted them into the suites-only Loke Thye Kee Residences. Befitting its locale, the design and decor lovingly marries its past with the present, offering modern luxuries with a respect for traditions.

Loke Thye Kee Residences converted five shophouses into five luxurious suites that promise an immersive stay steeped in heritage

Altogether, the trio- The Majestic, Loke Thye Kee Restaurant building, and Loke Thye Kee Residences- harks back to an old-world romance that far from being outdated, feels fresh and relevant all over again.

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