24 May BEACH STREET : A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE
The iconic Beach Street is one of the more significant roots of George Town, and Penang, as a whole. One of the oldest streets in all of Penang, it was constructed shortly after Captain Francis Light founded Penang. Strewn along the northern portion of the street are colonial-era buildings that houses numerous local and international banks – some of which still stand to this day, such as Standard Chartered – establishing Beach Street as the de-facto financial hub of Northern Malaysia.
Originally a coastal road built along the adjacent beach branching off Light Street, the Esplanade and Fort Cornwallis from the northwest, numerous coastline-extension work (resulting in Victoria Street and Weld Quay) have since laid more buildings strewn throughout the street. A quick walk down the northern road and one will glimpse a fully urbanized grid of one of the last remaining colonial-era buildings on Asian soil, as buildings such as the 1886 buildings, the ABN AMRO building, the Art Deco-influenced India House building, and the Logan Building stand as testaments of George Town’s British history. There were numerous other colonial structures here as well, but most of them were destroyed during World War II.
Progressing down the road, visitors will discover the area slowly transforming into one akin to Little India, as the road narrows down into a normal Straits-era street. Crossing both Little India and part of Chinatown itself, Beach Street truly defines George Town’s heritage era as a mix of various cultures, both past, present, and future.
After George Town’s classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Beach Street was revitalized as a tourist hotspot, with some of the ruined buildings even getting new life as refurbished nightclubs and boutique restaurants. The Whiteways Arcade, formerly a commercial block, has now been restored to house numerous eateries, an art gallery, and space for creative and artistic individuals – both local and abroad – to hone their skills. Since the restoration, and due to the efforts of the Penang government and other bodies, on every Sunday the Occupy Beach Street project temporarily closes the northern portion of the street to automobile traffic in order to hold recreational events such as jogging and biking, as well as hosting a street market that specializes in George Town-centric handicrafts and snacks.
For one to fully experience George Town at its most vibrant, one has to venture on Beach Street, one of the few places where Penang began to start. Today, thanks to the efforts of both locals and tourists alike, the island is still happening.