Remember Orchid Hotel?

Logo of the former Orchid Hotel, Johor Baru
A few years ago, when I returned to Johor Baru from an extended stay abroad, I discovered the drastic change to the landscape along Jalan Sungai Chat, the road also known as Jalan Waterworks.  I was then surprised to see that the row of Government quarters where my grandfather and family used to live in the 1940s was demolished. 

This week on my return after a few weeks of travel, I notice tall hoardings put up around the site between Jalan Wong Ah Fook and Jalan Ngee Heng, where the Pan Global Plaza was situated.

View from Jalan Trus - The building is gone!
I drive pass slowly to take a peek into an opening in the hoarding and saw a huge pile of rubble in what used to be the car-park area.  I’m aware of the plans to upgrade the city centre but I cannot help but feel a pang of pain to see one of the first high-rise buildings in Johor Baru being demolished to make way for the new. 

I realise that the city skyline will soon change when MidWest Avenue SoHo Suites, 33-levels of premier commercial suites, will occupy this site.

Before that old building was known as Pan Global Plaza, it was Bangunan Aziza, a prestigious address in the 1970s that used to house the Orchid Hotel.  This was a popular destination for meetings and entertainment, offering some of the best clubbing choices in Johor Baru at that time.  Recently a friend told me that there was even a club in Bangunan Aziza for Malay live music and dancing with entertainment in popular dangdut and pop-yeah-yeah genres!

Matchbook souvenir from The Scene
My best memories of that building must be The Scene, a disco that launched the career of The Heavy Machine, Johor Baru’s foremost rock band.  While many pop groups emerged in Johor between the 1960s and the 1980s, The Heavy Machine established a strong reputation for themselves and became synonymous with The Scene.  As my classmates started to talk about the band and its cool members, it was not long before I got acquainted with their music and showmanship.

I was then beginning to appreciate the cool sounds of American rock band, Chicago, and their music taught me to enjoy The Heavy Machine better because whilst I could only listen to Chicago, I could see The Heavy Machine perform “live” at The Scene.  Looking back on those carefree days of weekend Tea Dances and disco nights, I can fondly recall the band’s glittering costumes teamed with platform shoes, synchronized movements, highly polished brass section and how they worked their magic to get the crowd on their feet!

With raw talent and huge popularity, it was a matter of time before The Heavy Machine was spotted and awarded contracts to perform in the capital city.  This 7-piece band left their humble beginnings in Johor Baru for the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur where they soon became renowned in the clubbing scene as Johor Baru’s most successful band and even dubbed the “Chicago of Malaysia.”  Incidentally while I was interviewing a local band in 2009, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a band member who turned out to be the son of the former keyboardist of The Heavy Machine!

Matchbook souvenir from Bilek Anggerek
Besides The Scene and adjoining coffee house on the ground floor, the Bilek Anggerek or Orchid Room upstairs was a preferred destination for fine dining.  In those days, there were few restaurants in Johor Baru that served good Western fare and this was one place where we could savour elegant meals accompanied by live music. 

As more hotels and entertainment options opened in the city, Orchid Hotel ceased operations and the building was refurbished for commercial use.  Its tenants comprised business and management companies and a bank and when it was rebranded as Pan Global Plaza, it remained a commercial building.  In fact, my last visit to this building was in 2007 when I went to apply for my visa at the India Visa Application Centre in Johor Baru located there. 

Even though that building had changed its identity several times, each time I passed it I still considered it as the building where The Scene used to be.  Now the entire building is reduced to rubble and all I have left are some fond memories from an era when disco dancing to live bands was at its peak.  I accept the fact that a chapter is closed and a new one is opening in Johor Baru’s progress as a modern metropolis but it’s interesting how the demolition of an old building in the city brought back such distant memories.

Note:  Photos of old matchbooks from Orchid Hotel, Bilek Anggerik and The Scene are from my sister’s souvenir collection.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 4 October 2013

1 comment:

  1. murugan nair10/11/2013

    A big change to the JB skyline. Do hope JB and the Iskandar region does not turn out to be like Dubai!