Goh Chan Lau (GPS: 5.42314, 100.33185) is a fabulous five-storey mansion along Northam Road which, sadly, is today in a severe state of disrepair. The mansion is also known by various names, including the Chinese Residency, the Cheah Tek Soon Mansion and the Raffles-by-the-Sea. It is perhaps best known as the former Shih Chung Branch School Building, although the Shih Chung Branch School has since relocated to Sungai Nibong. Goh Chan Lau is situated within the buffer zone of the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site, Goh Chan Lau is at the moment left in a forlorn state, waiting for someone bold enough to restore it.
Goh Chan Lau, which means "Five-Storey Bungalow" was built by late 19th century tycoon Cheah Tek Soon, after whom Tek Soon Street was named, somewhere in the 1880's. It had an eclectic mix of styles which could be described as Chinese meets Malay meets Colonial.
Goh Chan Lau, also known as Cheah Tek Soon Mansion (23 February 2009)
The mansion of Cheah Tek Soon was the grandest private residence at the time of its completion, and located on prime real estate - Northam Road was known back in the late 19th century as Ang Mor Loh, or White Men's Road. Transfer Road, located to its side, became known as Tek Soon Chu Phi Kay, literally "side road to Tek Soon's house". At the turn of the 20th century, the property was taken over by his brother Cheah Tek Thye, during whose time the building became known as The Chinese Residency. Dr Koh Leap Teng, a nephew of Koh Seang Tat moved in to stay there when he married Tek Thye's eldest daughter.
Goh Chan Lau was willed to Cheah Tek Soon's only child, daughter Cheah Liew Bee, who was married to Goh Say Eng (1875-1941?), heir to his own family fortune from the Chop Swee Hock flour and match business, and founder of the Penang Philomatic Society . A fervent supporter of revolutionist, Dr Sun Yat Sen, Goh Say Eng kept the movement alive by selling off his properties one by one to fuel it financially. (In recognition to his contribution, Goh Say Eng was later elected as the representative of the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia to the National Convention of the Tung Meng Hui in January, 1912 in China.) Goh Chan Lau was one of the items he had to let go, and it went into the hands of Tye Kee Yoon.
Tye Kee Yoon, for whom Tye Kee Yoon Road was named, was another imminent personality in 19th century Penang. Initially, Goh Chan Lau housed a hotel, the Raffles-by-the-Sea, direct competition with other hotels within the vicinity at that time, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel and the Runnymede.
Front facade of Goh Chan Lau, also known as The Chinese Residency (23 February 2009)
Later on, Tye Kee Yoon joined fellow tycoon Leong Fee (the father of Leong Yin Kean) to set up the Shih Chung School within Goh Chan Lau. Leong Fee, whose full name is Liang P'i Joo, also set up a girl's school called P'i Joo Girls' School which occupied the upper floor of Goh Chan Lau.
In the 1920s, Goh Chan Lau was leased to house the Government Branch School. After the Seconed World War, it was occupied by the Shih Chung Branch School until the early 1990's, when trustees of the Tye family sold it. The new owners had plans to turn it into a Buddhist-centre-cum-columbarium. Needless to say, the very idea of having a columbarium coming to town was met with harsh protests from Goh Chan Lau's immediate neighbors (save the silent ones resting in peace at the Protestant Cemetery), that the plans never left the drawing board.
Right now, Goh Chan Lau is like forlorn bride in wedding dress awaiting her indefinitely postponed matrimony. Every day brings an added wrinkle to her pitiful façade.
Side view of Goh Chan Lau, also known as the former Shih Chung Branch School (23 February 2009)
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