Pre-war Heritage Properties: Experience a bygone era in the heart of Penang's George Town

The saying ‘Old is Gold’ certainly holds true for many things.

For Sale: Prewar Shophouse @ Armenian Street Adjacent to the most famous mural by Zacharevic, "Little Children on a Bicycle".
click here for more pictures

Among the things that appreciate over time are family relationships, friendships and the value of some tangible things like real estate.

For Sale: Prewar Shophouse @ Light Street opposite the High Court
click here for more pictures

With passing time and wisdom, we learn to appreciate our loved ones better. Likewise in the built environment, we can find many undiscovered gems around, which, in spite of their old physical exterior, are actually hidden treasures with strong history and many untold stories within their walls.

For Sale: 5 adjoined prewar shophouses on Leith Street (opposite the Blue Mansion / Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion)Land area: 12740 sf
click here for more pictures

The first thing that comes to mind is the many pre-war houses and buildings that can be found in large numbers in the inner cities of Penang island.

There is a general consensus that pre-war heritage properties are unique. There are about 10,000 of such properties and less than half of them are located in the inner city of George Town.

Sold: Corner Prewar shophouse on Church Street / Lebuh Gereja (left)
click here for more pictures

Property prices have also risen on the back of the WHS listing, but also from positive growth in other sectors, including hi-tech industries and the medical sector.

Intermediate Shophouse on Muntri Street.
For Sale: Prewar Shophouse @ Muntri St next to INCH Food Bar
click here to view pictures

Sold: Beautifully restored pre-war heritage shophouse -
15 Muntri Street (more pics)

With the recognition of George Town as a world heritage city and the ensuing market awareness of its commercial potential, the market for heritage real estate in the city has become relatively more vibrant with a 12.5% increase in transactions in 2008 compared to the year before.  
Sold: 2 adjoined prewar shophouses @ Tye Sin Street
more pics

Sold: Restored double storey prewar shophouse
@ Lebuh Macallum (more pics)
For Sale: End lot prewar heritage shophouse @ Lebuh Presgrave 
more pics

No. 3 Corner Shophouse on Love Lane.
For Sale: Corner Shophouse - 3 Love Lane / Argus Lane, Heritage Outlook, Modern Interior Design
Click here to read more
The interior of 3 Love Lane corner pre-war heritage shophouse
Click here to read more
Down the road from No. 3 Love Lane, there's another refurbished prewar heritage property going on sale.

For Sale: Prewar Heritage Shophouse (renovated) on Love Lane
click here for more pictures

Despite being old and dilapidated, many have the potential to be restored and 
given a new lease of life.

For Rent Newly restored and renovated prewar shophouses @ Jalan Prangin, adjacent to the upcoming Penang Heritage Square and Jelutong Expressway (more pics)

The Straits Collection on Armenian Street
The Straits Collection, as the name implies, is a group of old Chinese shophouses on Armenian Street, painstakingly chosen for their architectural appeal and position within the UNESCO Heritage area of George Town. 

The Straits Collection @ Armenian Street
Short-term rental available
click here for more pictures

Built in 1927 in the straits eclectic style (characterized by arched windows with louvered wooden shutters and butterfly-shaped ventilation windows), the whole building is redolent of Raffles, who introduced the rule of covered walkways - 5-8-ft wide from front door to curb - to protect pedestrians from monsoonal rains and tropical sunshine.

Two of the four joined pre-war houses Straits Collection are full houses with living areas and courtyard downstairs and bedrooms upstairs. These houses are older (circa 1850) and of a simpler style. The other two houses have been transformed into gorgeous boutiques: Bon Ton The Shop and China Joes.

Adjacent to Straits Collection, there are two interesting prewar properties on sale at the moment.

For Sale: DS Prewar Heritage Building on Armenian Street
Land area: 2076sf
click here to view pictures
For Sale: Corner Postwar Shophouse @ Lebuh Acheh / Acheen Street
click here to view pictures

Sold: 2 adjoined 3 storey prewar heritage shophouse @ Armenian Street
For Sale: Postwar Shophouse @ Victoria Street
Located opposite China House - The longest cafe shophouse in Penang
click here for more pictures

Campbell House Lavishly Restored Corner Prewar Heritage Property on Campbell Street
11 individually decorated bedrooms to enjoy Penang at its finest.

Strategically located at the junction of Campbell Street and Lebuh Cintra, hotel residents can enjoy the tastes and flavors of Penang heritage enclave and street food within walking distance (more pictures here)

Adjacent to Campbell House, there are some properties available for sale.
For Sale: 3 storey prewar heritage shophouse @ Campbell Street (more pics here)

Sold: 4.5 storey postwar building @ Campbell Street (more pics here)
For Sale: Corner Prewar Shophouse @ Campbell Street
click here for more pictures

Two Unique Pre-war Heritage Properties on China Street.
Side by Side, in the Heart of UNESCO World Heritage Enclave.

NO. 25, China Street
In 1793, Sir Francis Light founded George Town, Penang. The town quickly expanded. The Popham Map, dated 1798, shows the layout of the first streets. China Street was one of these. It led from Beach Street, which was then on the waterfront, up to Pitt Street.

Before the 'Mansions' of Gurney Drive & Kelawai Road there were the 'Elite Residences' on China Street. China Street was so named because it was here that Chinese merchants & traders chose to reside. These elite Chinese residences, the 'mansions' of their time, were situated along the end of China Street, near Beach Street. At China Street's junction with Pitt Street, the Hakka & Cantonese communities built the first, & now the oldest, temple in Penang to the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin.

Facade of No. 25, China Street (more pics)

25 China Street, was the largest & finest residence of it's time. Built around 1846, it was owned by Chung Keng Kwee, the Kapitan Cina of Perak. Also the leader of the powerful Hai San Society, he controlled 15,000 coolies and most of the tin mines in Larut, Perak.

In a deed dated 1872, it is stated that Ong Boon Keng acquired the rights to this property from Chung Keng Kwee. A successful merchant, Ong Boon Keng was well connected to the dominating merchant traders known as the 'Big 5'. He was responsible for collecting import & export duties, as well as the gambling & opium monopolies in Asahan, Sumatra. No. 25 remained the Ong's family ancestral home for 40 years before being sold by tender to the Hong Seng Estate's leader, Ha Quing Xiang.

In the 1930's, having made his fortune by building roads in Medan, Sumatra, No. 25 was purchased by a wealthy Indian Muslim businessman & philanthropist. Grand family furniture was moved in. However, the house was used mainly as a free hostel for migrant workers from India on their arrival and departure.

No. 25 eventually passed into the hands of the Great Eastern Life Insurance Company. In 2000 they planned to demolish the house to build modern new offices, but the Penang Heritage Trust stopped the bulldozers in their tracks by getting an immediate stop work order. The order was granted because of the house's historical importance & unique architecture. The house was then left unoccupied for a long time until it was bought by the present owners in 2005. It was saved from destruction & the house, with help from heritage experts & skilled craftsmen, was then carefully and comprehensively restored to its past glory.

No. 25 is located right in the core zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of George Town. It is sited on the largest plot of land in China Street; plot size nearly 600 square meters. It is described as a three bay house, because the facade was designed to look like 3 house frontages, and it is made up of 3 houses or 'settlements' along it's length.

The facade, with its main entrance door set off the 5 foot way, is ornately decorated by traditional broken chinaware mosaic friezes ('chien nein'). Skillfully created by master craftsmen, traditional scenes are depicted. There are bats, pomegranates, fish, birds, flowers, bamboo & vases, depicting the four seasons. The two most striking panels are one using the original two long tailed Phoenix's, & a central scene showing the 8 immortals.

The interior layout of the house is based on the original Fujian, deep courtyard arrangement. The original granite entrance door lintel leads into a large high ceilinged hall, which is the start of the central axis & the first of the 3 'settlements'. Each of the 3 'settlements' are separated by a central open sunken granite courtyard. To the side of the courtyards, balconies provide covered access along the length of the property. The walls are thick load bearing walls constructed with brick & lime plaster with a lime wash finish. Timber supports and beams are equally solid and generous in size. The high ceilings & open courtyards provide plenty of natural light & the wood fired terracotta tile floors, natural ventilation & rising levels of the house provide good Feng Shui.

The sense of space in No. 25 is very special. The three 'settlements' & large courtyards, allow for a lot of natural light. The grass lawn & garden in the second courtyard is unique. All other traditional houses in the core zone are long & thin & therefore, tend to be darker because narrower air-wells allow only limited light which is insufficient for a tradition garden.

No. 25 would have been considered a very large mansion for a Chinese merchant in the 1800's, with a built-up area of about 1000 square meters. The house has 6 halls & 12 rooms spread over 2 floors.In total there are 64 pairs of door & window shutters. The many decorative architectural details within the house, the painted murals, and green ceramic tiles tell us the merchant was wealthy. No. 25 had 2 entrances, the second to the rear of the property, leading in from Lorong Chee Em.

The recent restoration took a period of 2 years, restoring the building to its original glory, but subtly adding everything needed for modern living: new plumbing & new electrical wiring. The restoration has been cited as 'a model of restoration' by the George Town World Heritage Incorporated, the State body appointed to safeguard George Town's UNESCO Heritage status.

The "chien nien" mosaic fully restored by craftsmen from China

No. 25 China Street, as one of the largest residence restored to it's original form as an elite residence, & the only one of its kind, is in a position to attract paying visitors. Currently a private residence, any open days that are offered, or chances to look around the house the house are eagerly taken up by locals & visitors alike. The Peranakan Mansion in the next street, Church Street, has quickly built up visitor numbers (5-10,000 per month) to the area, and is a well run and financially very successful attraction in George Town. The Peranakan Mansion is due to open it's new museum opposite No. 25 China Street.

NO. 29, China Street
The history of No. 29 is currently unclear. The building is set back off the street & it was probably redesigned and reconstructed in the late 1940's or early 1950's. There are other dated examples of buildings nearby with very similar architecture, wall finish & with the same detail of the 'flagstaff' at the top centre of the building. This site originally, probably consisted of 3 small buildings as the property has 3 titles. The 3 storey building fronting onto China Street is made up of 2 titles, and is the width of 2 normal shophouses. This width & ceiling height creates well proportioned & large rooms within. The third title with a 2 storey older building, runs from the back left hand side, out onto Lorong Chee Em. The total land area is 270 square meters, but with the 3 floors, the built-up area is over 550 square meters.

For Sale: of No. 29, China Street (more pics)
Originally these buildings would have been simple houses. It is possible that they were basic Anglo-indian or Chinese style houses built during the time of Francis Light. The back section certainly shows evidence of a Chinese style building as the roof ridge is still in place. The building has a shanghai plaster finish, a fine pebbly mixture plastered & smoothed to create a textured surface that is easy to maintain. There is a masculine look to its kind of building finish & it was used on a lot of Deco style, geometric, clean lined buildings in the 1940-50's. The details of the simple 'panels' around the windows complete the handsome look of the building.

No. 29 shares a party wall with No. 25 & there is a small air well between the front & the back sections of the property. When the current owners purchased the property, the 2 upper floors were used as an illegal swiftlet breeding house & the ground floor had a long term sitting tenant. The owners took 2 years to go through the court system to remove the swiftlet house. The ground floor has been turned into the owners' own art studio & gallery offices, while the 2 upper floors have each been refurbished & transformed into fully furnished open plan apartments, 140 square meters & 150 square meters, offered for short term lets.

The windows on the upper floors open onto the canopy of the large Madras Thorn tree growing in front of the property & views of the elegant roof lines of the houses opposite - the Chettiar Hostel, & other originally, Chinese merchant residences now used as offices for various small businesses.

Both 25 & 29 China Street are situated in the heart of Historic George Town

There is a 'buzz in George Town & new boutique hotels, restaurants, galleries & shops will rapidly continue to open, but often without thought to the long term preservation or authenticity of these heritage properties. The number of historically important & authentically preserved properties is limited. 

No. 25 is a very unique & special property of historical significance. In addition, No. 25 & No. 29 China Street, in combination, provide a wide scope of commercial opportunities.

There are an increasing number of boutique hotels & other developments opening in and around the WHS core & buffer zones. In the vicinity No. 25 which is right in George Town's central banking district, the Rice Miller project on Beach Street & China Street Ghaut, has begun. There are a further 2 hotel projects on China Street Ghaut, has begun. There are a further 2 hotel projects on China Street Ghaut & other Victoria Street by PPH & Gan Chai Leng Sdn. Bhd. Other residential developments by developers such as YTL & E&O have already taken off in the buffer zones. Other existing boutique hotel developments include the Blue Mansion, The Penaga Hotel, Muntri Mews & it's sister properties, Yen Keng Hotel and many more. The guests to these properties are mainly in Penang to see its cultural and architectural heritage.

Off China Street, on Beach Street, Penang's banking district, there are a few prewar shophouses for sale.

For Sale: 2 adjoined postwar shophouses (green) on Beach Street / Lebuh PantaiLand area (building): 4800 sf + Land area (land): 8800 sf = total land area 13600 sf
click here to view pictures
For Sale: 3S Prewar shophouse @ Beach St (pics here)
For Sale: 2S Postwar shophouse @ Beach St few doors away from China House (pics here)

The Penaga - Beautiful Boutique Hotel on Hutton Lane.
The Penaga Hotel (view from garden courtyard)

There is a noticeable increase in 'heritage' vibrancy, with unique & individual ventures, that reflect the tastes & preferences of the individuals involved. Many creative young people & professionals looking to relocate are moving into town. The emergence of many new galleries & shops, hostels, cafes add to the mix of local culture, restaurants & stalls. The numerous religious & cultural festivals continue to add further color & have grown in popularity & the annual George Town Festival has become an event that attracts visitors from all over the world. The recent issue of Monocle, an international lifestyle magazine, states that Penang is full of "opportunities, with its uncommonly well preserved architecture, charm and cultural diversity."

Adjacent to Penaga Hotel, there's a unique piece of land with 4 units of prewar shophouses on sale.

For Sale: 19500sf land with 4 units of prewar shophouses @ Transfer Road (more pics and details)
For Sale: Prewar Shophouse on Transfer Road
click here for more pitures

Some of the ways to reuse these buildings and “monetize” them include turning them into museums, heritage hotels, alfresco dining and restaurants specializing in local fares.

SOLD: Pre-war heritage bungalow @ Hutton Lane

A few doors away from the above property, there are a few prewar shophouses for sale.

For Sale: 2 adjoined prewar shophouse + 1 heritage bungalow on Hutton Lane
Land area: 3128 sf (2 adjoined shophouse) + 4351 sf (bungalow) [can be sold separately]
click here to view pictures

For Sale: 2 adjoined prewar shophouses (with 2 entrances fronting Beach and Victoria street)
+ a piece of double frontage land (fronting Victoria Street and Weld Quay)
(click here for more pics and details)

Penang has been declared as one of the Unesco World Heritage Sites and has many interesting buildings and structures that are reminiscent of its rich history and heritage. It is very renowned for its Baba Nyonya culture and heritage.

4 adjoined prewar shophouses with ample parking spaces @ Macalister Lane
There are always prewar heritage shophouses located off the main streets, in more quaint and serene neighborhoods. These houses are usually occupied by residents that are into heritage-living.

For Sale: Pink house (right) on Toh Aka Lane, off Carnarvon Lane / Beach Street
click here to view pictures

For Sale: 5 adjoined units @ Lorong Seratus Tahun, off Macalister Road (click for more pics)

Sold: 4 Storey Building @ Lebuh Katz, adjacent to Hin Bus Depot and Komtar (more pics)

It is a former Straits Settlement state with a long history of early settlers from various parts of the world converging there for trade.

Weld Quay

Being a port state, Penang has strong foreign connection and influence. Penang was a bastion of trade for the English and the East India Company after it was founded by Captain Francis Light in 1786.

The confluence of cultures and peoples to this island began when Captain Francis Light - who was searching for a suitable port in the Straits of Malacca within easy reach of India - took over the island in 1786. He paid the Sultan of Kedah 600 Spanish dollars for it and, more importantly, pledged British protection against any of the Sultan’s enemies. 

The British had a long history in the area, playing sultan against sultan to gain land concessions for their rubber tree plantations and the mining of tin, essential commodities to the European Industrial Revolution.

Traders from all over the world came to settle and Penang became a thriving free port, placed ideally between the changing of the monsoon winds, a place where crews plying the India-to-China sea routes could stop and get a few weeks’ calm while waiting for the winds to change. Malays from the mainland moved in, traders from Aceh and other parts of Sumatra came to establish businesses, as did Arab merchants and men from India and China.

European adventurers joined in: Sufis from the mainland, Catholics from Siam and Portuguese-Eurasians from Dutch-administered Malacca also flowered into Penang. George Town reflects these immigration patterns in its street names. 

By the early 19th century, the Kuan Yin Temple, Kapitan Keling Mosque, Acheen Street Mosque, Nagore Shrine, Mahamariamman Hindu Temple and St George’s Church were already built in their present locations.

Those influences can still be clearly seen in the architecture of the buildings today.

SOLD: Three storey pre-war heritage shophouse in Malay Street

SOLD: Immaculately Maintained Colonial Mansion on Jalan Residensi

For Sale: Prewar Heritage Building @ Edgecumbe Road (off Kelawai and Burmah Road) + an apartment block with land at the back of the house (pics here)
For Sale: 3 adjoined prewar heritage shophouse @ Kimberly Street (pics here)
Interjunction view of Kimberly Street with a mixture of prewar heritage shophouses and modern buildings.

For Sale: 4 adjoined prewar heritage shophouses @ Lorong Chulia (off Chulia Street) (more pics)

It is evident that Penang has its own distinctive assets and attractions that have endeared itself to many loyal visitors who throng the cities in droves whenever there is a long stretch of holidays.

Restored Pre-war Heritage Shophouse on Stewart Lane

For Rent: Double storey prewar heritage shophouse @ Stewart Lane (more pics)

More should also be done to further boost the alluring old world charms of Penang island while at the same time, revitalize the inner city of Georgetown and keep the pre-war properties alive as living heritage.

For Sale: Fully retained and renovated prewar heritage shophouse @ Lebuh Noordin (more pics)

With more & more heritage houses being renovated & their authenticity compromised by unsympathetic renovations; with many being changed & turned into boutique hotels, authentic heritage buildings that have been restored to their original design & detail, are few & far between. Authentic heritage buildings will become much sought after as places visitors will seek out in order to view & experience the real heritage architecture of George Town.

Sold: Corner stand-alone 2 adjoined prewar heritage shophouses @ Penang Road and Agryll Road (more pics)
For Rent: Corner 3S prewar shophouse on Penang Road and Hutton LaneClick here to view pictures

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the old and new charms of our George Town city will be the pride of our present and future generations.

For further assistance regarding any of the pre-war properties mentioned above or request for more options,
please call Serena @ +6 016 496 7718 /


  1. Dear Serena,

    Please let me know the prices for the prewar shophouses at Muntri Street, Armenian Street(the one with 2 airwells), and also the 2 bungalows at Hutton lane.
    I can be contacted at Thanks

    Mung Sar

  2. The price pre-war property property is getting crazy after Penang crowned the status. From the pictures, good to see some of them are given a new life though.

  3. I do enjoy your post and I love it. You did a good shot. Big thanks for sharing.

    condominium Philippines

  4. Hi serena, pls tell me prices for the two bungalows and to gauge the market, what did the shop lot on Irawaddy Lane go for? How many bedrooms? would like to visit you in Penang next month to look at property if you will be there. would like to come during the week probably- what week is best before 27 th ? will probably stay 3 to 4 days. coming from KL. I am American married to Chinese and have been here for 11 hrs- need to learn more abt Penang in general as a place to live, but many people have recommended it over KL.

    Many thanks, Liz

    1. Dear Lizzy,

      The 2 bungalows were sold at RM 14.3 mil. Irrawaddy Lane shoplot was sold at RM 780k.

      Please contact me at +6 016 496 7718 / email: for further communication.
      Will do the needful to assist you on your property-hunting journey in Penang.

      Many thanks.

  5. hi,
    thanks for sharing all information about property, it's good for investment. Emaar MGF Gurgaon

  6. Beautifully restored pre-war heritage shophouse - 15 Muntri Street

    How much was it sold for? Thanks~

    1. it was sold around RM 2.5m approx. 2 years ago.
      Thank you.

  7. Very nice, indeed. Reminds me of Kuching when I was growing up (years & years & years ago....:)
    Thank you for sharing.

  8. How much is the double storey heritage building on Armenian Street (Green house)
    Land area: 2076sf going for?

  9. Anything between 700k to 1 million?

    1. Hi Johnny,

      Yes. But few.

      DS prewar shophouse on Malay St
      760k (land size 431 sf)

      DS prewar shophouse on Gat Malay St
      888k (land size 585 sf)