The Old Supreme Court Building - The Palace of Justice of yesteryear

Old Supreme Court Building
The Old Supreme Court Building completed in 1915.
The first High Court building in Kuala Lumpur was built on Weld Hill or sometimes referred to as Court Hill (Bukit Mahkamah in Malay) near Central Police Station on Pudu Road in the 1880's (It is where Menara Maybank now stands). The complex was designed by Arthur Charles Alfred Norman (AC Norman) in Neo-Classical architectural style.

In 1905 The Supreme Court was established due to the remarkable increase in the number of civil trials.  The Supreme Court was also housed in the same building. However over the years the old court complex was found unsuited and inadequate due to an ever increasing number of cases as the population of Kuala Lumpur dramatically grew.

oldhighcourt
The first High Court and Supreme Court building on Weld Hill
In order to cater for the growing number of trials the new court complex was proposed and it was to be located among other government buildings around the perimeter of the Padang (now Merdeka Square), the area which Chen Voon Fee referred to as the Civic Heart of Kuala Lumpur.  The proposed location was on the river bank of the Gombak River fronting Jalan Raja occupying a site between The Town Hall & Municipal Council Building (now The City Theatre) and The Government Offices (now the Sultan Abdul Samad Building).

Old Supreme Court Building
The Old Supreme Court perched on the embankment of the Gombak River
Arthur Benison Hubback (AB Hubback) was once again instrumental in designing this new law court complex. It was designed in Indo-Saracenic architectural style, being similar in appearance to the existing Government buildings in Kuala Lumpur.

About the design and layout of this handsome building, The Straits Times dated 7 May 1915 described:
At the four corners are towers finished with domes, joined by a double arcade of columns and arches, the spandrels of which are filled in with red tiles. The public entrance is from the river side to the handsome inner courtyard, from which a double staircase built in concrete leads to the upper floor. On the ground floor are a suite of four offices, 92ft by 32ft, with two strong rooms, a similar suite for the Registrar and his office, 30ft by 25, with counter, and with two small rooms attached is provided.  The centre of the building is occupied by a colonnade giving access, by the double staircase mentioned above, to the Courts, and it has been very effectively designed with rows of large columns and an inner tiled courtyard open to the sky. At the back of the ground floor are the cells for the prisoners.
The two Courts, 70 by 32ft each, are on the first floor, and are of very imposing appearance, in striking contrast to the old barnlike Courts on the Court Hill (also referred to as Weld Hill).  Both have public spaces measuring 32ft by 25ft, with prisoners docks and generous accommodation for Bar, press and public. Access from the cells to the dock in each case is by a private staircase, prisoners being brought into the dock without being seen at all by the public. Leading from each Court are Judges' chambers, robing rooms and witnesses' waiting rooms.  The Judges have private entrances, while in the towers are private tiffin rooms. The library is a large room on the riverside of the building, with a large bay overlooking the courtyard. The barristers' room, with robing room and verandahs is at the head of the main staircase.

Old Supreme Court Building
The main entrance to the Court.

The construction work was started in June 1912 and it took 2 years and 9 months to complete.  The cost including furniture, roadwork and water was said to have amounted to $208,500.00 Straits Dollars.  The contractor was Towkay Ang Seng Mooi, of Kuala Lumpur who was the contractor for the Government Offices (now Sultan Abdul Samad Building) 20 years earlier. He was said to have done his work in a very satisfactory manner.

AB Hubback, besides designing the court complex as the Government architect, was also responsible for supervising the erection of the building. The elegant building was completed in 1915. The High Commissioner of Federated Malay States, Sir Arthur Young, K.C.M.G. declared the building open on 1 May 1915.

Although this building was designed in a similar architectural style to other government buildings in Kuala Lumpur that is in Indo-Saracenic style, it has some special and interesting features not found on its counterparts.  Among others, the tower at the four corners of the building is each topped with cupola decorated with buttresses. Besides it has a central courtyard and double arcade. The arcade is shaded by a row of ogee arches on the ground floor and keyhole arches on the first floor.

Old Supreme Court Building
Rows of ogee arches and keyhole arches

The building is now occupied by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture office. However there was a plan publicised by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) that this building would be turned into a gallery especially for tourism activities.  Judging by the active renovation going on now, it is hoped that this chunk of history is put to good use so that it continues to live on despite being threatened by development and modernisation. This year this historic edifice turns 101 years old.

Old Supreme Court Building
Two of the four cupolas
Old Supreme Court Building
The main entrance framed by the arch of the neighbouring City Theatre.
Old Supreme Court Building
Ogee arch and semi-circular door at the main entrance to the old Supreme Court building


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