Indonesia in Focus
History Changing Pasar Baru: Jakarta, Indonesia
In Pasar Baru, the remixed dangdut and house music played by traders blends to create a fitting background to the area’s heritage shophouses with modern facelifts.
The commercial area founded by the Dutch in the early 1820s has seen four generations of traders place their own stamp on it, in form of building facades representing the much of the city’s cultural history. There are Chinese buildings from the 17th century and Dutch buildings from the 18th century, some of which have remained untouched for hundreds of years.
Many of the buildings have been covered in aluminum cladding, their heritage frontages preserved beneath.
Built as Old Batavia’s third commercial center, Passer Baroe initially served as an upper-class shopping arcade for the residents of what was then Rijswijk, now Jl. Veteran. Chinese traders moved from the older Glodok area to the new prestigious block next to the Ciliwung river and opened shops selling everything from spectacles to shoes.
Justinus van Maurik wrote in his book Indrukken van een Totok, Indische type en schetsen about his experience ordering a pair of shoes from a well-known craftsman in the area, Sapie Ie.
The street where the craftsman used to live still bears his name, Sapie Ie Alley.
Little-known old Buddhist temple Sin Tek Bio, now trapped behind a traditional market and crowded settlement area, is another hidden example of early Chinese civilization in Batavia. A brass incense pot near the entrance has “Anno 1698″ written on it, a remnant of the temple’s original location, before it made way for a noodle stall.
“The temple was moved here around 100 years ago as the owner of its initial spot wanted to rent out the place,” said temple caretaker Santoso.
The interior of a building bearing the sign Toko Kompak looks like it came straight out of a kung-fu movie. It is elegant, yet run down.
“This initially belonged to my great-grandfather. It was and still is a furniture shop,” said the building’s owner.
While Jl. Pasar Baru Raya was popular with Chinese traders, similar settlements were built in the surrounding area, reaching out east and west. As the number of residents in Risjwijk and neighboring Weltevereden grew, more facilities were built in Pasar Baru, including the Capitol and Astoria cinemas.
“I used to work in the Astoria, which later on, in the 1960s, became the Bioskop Satria,” said Hanagi, a 72-year-old parking attendant at Pintu Air.
“Now, the cinema has been turned into office blocks, while the Capitol was torn down when the government built the Istiqlal mosque,” he said. “They probably thought it wasn’t good to have a cinema near a mosque.”
Several older office blocks along Jl. Antara and Jl. Pintu Air represent the art deco style popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Two nearby buildings have become national news agency Antara’s journalism school and the Antara Photojournalism Gallery.
At the other end of the Pasar Baru shopping arcade stand modern market blocks Metro Pasar Baru, Kings Plaza and Istana Pasar Baru. The three buildings are typical of the architectural style popular in Jakarta in the 1980s.
Recently the city administration announced it planned to revamp the area in the mold of South Jakarta’s Cilandak Town Square.
Pasar Baru’s history and variety could soon be replaced with air-conditioning and department stores.
– Anissa S. Febrina
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