The Kuala Lumpur Children Library - Housed in a little Art Deco building

The KL Children Library
The Kuala Lumpur Children Library

Art Deco architecture never fails to amaze me. Buildings with Art Deco style can be easily spotted, at least for people who are familiar with Art Deco style. Its features like ziggurats, prominent vertical and horizontal bands, some geometric patterns, slim windows and concrete flag pole are among the tell-tale signs of Art Deco architecture.

I found this little Art Deco building seated next to the Kuala Lumpur Library and behind the historic Royal Selangor Club along the perimeter of the Padang (now Merdeka Square) on Jalan Raja. It now houses the Kuala Lumpur Children Library (Perpustakaan Kanak-Kanak Kuala Lumpur in Malay) which is part of the Kuala Lumpur Library.

The location of the Kuala Lumpur Children Library which is next to the Kuala Lumpur Library
Image was reproduced from Google Earth

Wondering what was the original purpose of constructing this Art Deco building, I did my own research on the Internet.  I discovered that this building was originally built to accommodate the Kuala Lumpur Book Club. Kuala Lumpur Book Club was established "at the turn of the 20th century" to meet the need of the European expatriates working and residing in Kuala Lumpur.  Kuala Lumpur Book Club served just like a library but it was open to members only (only Europeans could be its members until Independent) as it was subscription-based.

Below is an account written by Dorothy Nixon and Gerald Hawkins OBE on the history of The Kuala Lumpur Book Club in brief. Dorothy Nixon started working for the Book Club since 1937 until she retired as Secretary/Librarian in 1966.

At the turn of the century there was a small Government library in a room behind the Town Hall. It contained a few old reference books and was available only to Government personnel. A permit to use the room and take over the reference books was sought and granted. A group of European residents started to buy books and exchange them and, tired, perhaps, of lending books to friends who never returned them, cleared their bookshelves and dumped them in a common pool in the room and thus the Club was formed. The Selangor Government gave a grant of $1,8000 a year on condition that existing members of the Government library and all subordinate Government officers should be allowed to join the new Club on payment of 50 cents a month and without entrance fee. The Club grew slowly; the ordinary membership being, at the time, almost entirely European. After World War l it became more popular and in 1922 a part-time secretary was engaged. 

In 1925 the Club moved to a room in the Mercantile Bank Building and nine years later to the *Hardial Singh Building and it soon out grew these premises and in 1939 resolved to have a home of its own. The Selangor Government, well-disposed as ever to any sound educational project, granted a loan of $20,000 and the club moved to its present abode. The first installment of the loan was repaid in June 1940, and, in spite of the war years which intervened, the payment of the 4% interest on the loan, and the heavy cost of rehabilitation, the final installment was paid back in October, 1945. Among the Presidents of the Club have been Mr. C Boden-Kloss, Dato F. W.Douglas, Mr. G. P Bradney, Rev. M. Harcus. Mr. C.W. Harrison, Mr. T. D. Ensor, Mr. C. G. Sollis. MR W. G. W. Hastings (clarum et vererablie nomen); Mrs. F.G. Flowerdew; Miss A. M. Doughty; Dr. R.S. Hardie; Mrs. C. Mills; Mr. Gerald Hawkins and Mr. C.H. Lee. Mr. S.W. Jones too a great interest in the Club, especially in the erection of the building. The present Secretary/Librarian (Dorothy Nixon) has held office since 1937.

*actually it is Gian Singh Building located on Jalan Tun Perak.  Hardial Singh and Balwant Singh belonging to the same family started Gian Singh Company in Singapore in 1935/36.

(The full article was published in Malayan Library Journal July 1961 and reproduced in Dorothy Nixon's granddaughter's (who is also named Dorothy Nixon) blog here.)

The Straits Times dated 3 August 1939 reported that The Kuala Lumpur Book Club would occupy its own premises next year which was located on the site where the former quarters of the Selangor Club servants was once seated. Its construction had started and it was scheduled to be completed in 6 months.

Whereas the now-defunct newspaper Malaya Tribune reported that the new building of The Kuala Lumpur Book Club would cost around $20,000.00 Straits Dollars and the architects for the building were Booty and Edwards. Booty and Edwards was an architectural firm instrumental in designing a couple of prominent Art Deco buildings in Kuala Lumpur through its leading architect Arthur Oakley Coltman.  Among Art Deco works by Coltman are The Oriental Building, the former Anglo and Oriental Building, The Old Market Square Clock Tower and the former OCBC Building.

The Malaya Tribune report added that this building was single-storey but when necessary a further storey can be added.  Please note the picture below that the building was originally single-storey but an upper floor was added in 1956 as the book rapidly increased in numbers, and more space was needed for research students.  The addition of the upper floor provided a roomy reading room, only a small portion of which was air-conditioned. Please refer to the top picture of the building in its current appearance.

The Straits Times dated 15 May, 1940

The Malaya Tribune further reported on the features of the then new building:
The new Book Club building will have a stacking room of 85 feet by 52 feet. On the side will be the secretary's office and on the side of the stack room will be a room for packing, binding books and a despatch department. A reading room will also be provided.
The building will be of reinforced concrete and brick panelling.  The new building will be a fitting home for one of the oldest clubs in Malaya - the Kuala Lumpur Book Club dating from the eighties.
This building was officially opened on 20 May 1940 by the British Resident of Selangor.  Before moving to this new premises of its own the Kuala Lumpur Book Club rented a space at the Gian Singh Building located at the corner of Java Street (now Jalan Tun Perak) and Ampang Street (now Lebuh Ampang).

In 1971, the Library Board of Selangor Public Library Corporation (PPAS) was formed to initiate public library services in Selangor. The first step in achieving this plan was by taking over the Kuala Lumpur Book Club on 20 October 1971.  As a result this building served both as the main Selangor Library and the headquarters of Selangor Public Library Corporation (PPAS).

The Selangor Library in 1971

PPAS was later relocated to Shah Alam on 16 November 1986 and on 15 March 1988, this library was renamed Perpustakaan Raja Tun Uda or Raja Tun Uda Library (RATU) where library services became open to the public. As a state public library, PPAS executes its functions in areas of administration, maintenance and coordination of libraries in Selangor.

This little Art Deco building now houses the Kuala Lumpur Children Library which is part of the Kuala Lumpur Library catering to kids and both are under the administration of Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).


MZA_7594
The main entrance with obvious Art Deco's ziggurats (terraced pyramid), grooves and geometric pattern.


REFERENCES:

K.L. Book Club's Building. (1940, May 20). The Straits Times. p10.

K.L. Book Club's New Premises. (1939, August 3). The Straits Times. P12.

New KL Book Club Premises. (1939, August 3). The Malaya Tribune. P13.

Writing Montreal by Dorothy Nixon. (2012, July 9). Selangor Cricket, Clydesdales and Family Ties. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://flointhecity-aworkinprogress.blogspot.my/2012/07/selangor-cricket-clydesdales-and-family.html

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