The Red House

Facade of the Red House at Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street
Red House hub of culture

If you are at Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street, you cannot miss that corner shophouse which was recently repainted in bright red with contrasting white highlights. 

Even while renovations were on, No. 56 attracted curious enquires from many who wondered what it housed and who it belonged to because it certainly looked posh enough to be a private property.  When works were completed in June 2011, the façade of this building served as an impressive backdrop for several successful cultural events on this street.

This 19th Century building was originally owned by an Indian family and changed hands several times before its present owner decided to restore it to its former glory.  While Jalan Tan Hiok Nee was declared a heritage street in October 2009, the owner had the passion and foresight to preserve this pre-war shop-house as a heritage building.  The historical value of this building is priceless as it is a portal into the rich and unique history of Johor Baru.

Beautiful kerawang designs on ventilation panels above
doors and windows
During the 8th Johor Baru Arts Festival in July 2011 some events were jointly organized with the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk Committee and held at various venues on this street.  Throughout the Fest, arts enthusiasts thronged the area and had a glimpse of this remarkable building which inevitably earned its moniker – The Red House.  Finally on 23 July, a selected few had the privilege to attend a by-invitation movie event held here.

It was an enchanted evening because the nostalgic ambience of this beautiful building was the perfect place for the screening of the award-winning movie, “Love is a Many Splendoured Thing.”  This movie classic, based on a novel written by Han Suyin, is believed to be her autobiography.  Han Suyin was the pen-name of Dr Elizabeth Comber, a Eurasian doctor who spent about 10 years in Johor Baru, working in a dispensary located above the former Universal Pharmacy at No. 24 Jalan Ibrahim.  This row of shops on a parallel road just a stone’s throw away from the Red House was however, destroyed by fire in 1982.

Spacious ground floor at No.56
Jalan Tan Hiok Nee
In August 2011, the Red House was leased to the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk Committee who has plans to host various cultural events here and bring more excitement into the heart of old Johor Baru. 

An event on 21 August, dubbed Red Wine @ Red House was a wine appreciation evening where some wine connoisseurs learnt the finer points of appreciating red and white wines and the art of reading labels on wine bottles from Sylviane Siah of S & L Vintners.  From 10 September a Photography Exhibition by Dato Dr Siow Kuang Ling will be presented at the Red House for two weeks.

The Red House is an ideal venue for cultural events.  Enquiries for the use of these premises may be directed to the office of the Johor Chinese Heritage Museum, at No. 42 Jalan Ibrahim, Tel: 607 – 2249 633, Fax: 607 – 2249 635 or email:


Very similar floor tile design, I saw in the Assembly Hall of Cantonese people at Hoi An heritage town in Vietnam!
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets 16 on September 2011

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