Another heritage building bites the dust: 17th century VOC structure at Anchor Wharf collapses

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The Anchor Wharf in a sketch from 1738 by J.W. Heydt as seen from the Pearl Bastion of Batavia Castle. Anchors and small boats are visible. There used to be a small pond with Turkish geese and ducks between the Castle wall and Anchor Wharf. (photo: IO/Prive. Doc)

IO – On Friday the 1st of June 2018 another Jakarta heritage building suffered heavy damage when part of the building collapsed. Unfortunately, the VOC shipyard known as the Anchor Wharf is part of the oldest existing VOC structures and sites in Jakarta dating back to the 17th century.

Pak Kris and Pak Nata who do occasional work as coolies and on construction sites were sitting on a bench at the side of the building when it collapsed. “First there was a creaking sound, then an awful lot of dust fell around us and the west wall began listing… At first we were too stunned to move..” explained Pak Kris.

“But when large teak beams began to fall we jumped up and ran for our lives and then parts of the west wall, the roof and the second floor collapsed. It took about five minutes for it all to collapse,” finished Pak Nata.

It was at the southern wharf of the 17th century VOC shipyard at Jalan Kakap number 1 which is known as the Anchor Wharf that the building collapsed. The old VOC shipyard always consisted of two wharfs. The northern part of the VOC shipyards which now houses the VOC Galangan Restaurant used to be called the “Timmerwerf” or “Shipbuilders Wharf”. It is not known when exactly this was built. According to the Dutch Archivist F. de Han a wharf for ship repairs was already in existence there from the time of the very first fort that the VOC built (Fort Jacatra built in 1618) when Jacatra was not yet in Dutch hands. At that time there were already ship repair artisans and craftsmen in place as a trading company such as the VOC could not have survived without a shipyard for ship repairs.

The southern part of the shipyard was known as the “Anker Timmer Werf” or “Anchor Shipbuilders Wharf”. Here again it is not known when exactly this was built but it was towards the end of the 17th century. There are pictures of it from the early 18th century. At this wharf ships’ anchors were made and stored and there was also a large sugar warehouse or go-down. Some of the VOC carpenters also lived here. Across the Kalibesar river which lay in front of both the VOC shipyards was the fort or Castle of Batavia. In front of the Diamond Bastion of the Castle, right next to the Kalibesar a pond had been damned off where there were Turkish geese and both wild and domesticated ducks. It was a very pleasant place with a summerhouse to relax and enjoy oneself at the southern end of the pond.

In the beginning large VOC ships were brought the shipyard for repairs but after the silting of the Kali Besar (especially after the eruption of the Salak volcano in 1699), the canal in front of the wharfs became too shallow for the large ships which were sent for repair work to the dry docks of Onrust island in the Bay of Jakarta instead. The Timmerwerf was used only to repair small ships and boats while the Ankerwerf was later used as a place to repair Chinese junks and as a smithy. The wharfs completely ceased to function as a place for ship repairs in 1920 when the Ciliwung River was closed off from the Kalibesar in Glodok. In fact the Anchor Wharf had by 1834 already became a go-down and still later it became part of the buildings of the Grote Boom or Harbor Customs and Excises. Adolf Heuken who wrote Historical Sites of Jakarta commented, “During the period when it was used by the Harbour Customs and Excises it was used for goods and not people. So, it functioned more as a warehouse. In the 20th century it was used as a warehouse to store chemicals.”

The city of Jakarta Management Unit of the Old Town were at the site of the collapsed building on the following Monday. They have a supervisory duty to monitor the state of heritage buildings in the area and to warn the owners if they are not in good condition. They were at the Anchor Wharf in February and again in April of this year to monitor the buildings but were unable to do a proper inspection because they were unable to enter the building as they could not ascertain the address of the owner or the person responsible to send a letter to arrange access into the building to inspect it. Apparently the “kelurahan” or neighbourhood head who should have been able to provide the information claimed not to have it. This underlines one of the problems faced by the Jakarta Management Unit of the Old Town area: namely their lack of information and inventories without which it is impossible to manage and supervise the Old Town heritage buildings.

There are many other difficulties faced by the Jakarta Management Unit of the Old Town. Jakarta Conservation Project Review Board head, Bambang Eryudhawan explained that at present the system of incentives for owners of heritage buildings to restore and preserve their buildings is not yet fully in place. Such incentives are usually in the form of tax incentives and there is a decree of the Governor of Jakarta that provides for a deduction of land tax for the owners of heritage buildings however, this has never been put into practice probably because the central government has still not yet issued the government regulation that is needed as the main implanting regulation of the Heritage Law. Once that is issued the regional governments will start issuing their implementing regulations but they need the central government regulation as their guideline.” Needless to say, the sanctions provided by the Heritage Law for owners of heritage buildings that neglect them has also not been implemented yet as here too there is a lack of implementing regulations.

In the 1990s the Anchor Wharf was restored by its current owner PT Karya Tehnik Utama. At that time the Jakarta administration did not yet have a Conservation Project Review Board or “Tim Sidang Pemugaran” also known as the TSP and the restorer despite being clearer unaware of conservation principles still managed to obtain a permit for the restoration. Many of the restoration mistakes made during this first restoration centered around a lack of understanding of one of the main principles of heritage conservation namely the principle of minimal intervention. In a good restoration the restorer will not add on features that were originally not there. For example during the first restoration the restorer added decorative pillars as well as decorative features to the windows. Such features destroy the integrity of the building. The Anchor Wharf was a warehouse and place for ship repair. It was not the ornate house of a high official and in the 17th century even the homes of high VOC officials were not ornate. Also the ornamentation was not in the style of 17th century Batavia but more similar to the 18th or 19th century.

Today such a restoration would not obtain a recommendation from the Jakarta Conservation Project Review Board. Bambang Eryudhawan, Head of the City of Jakarta Conservation Project Review Board said, “When the owners restore the damaged building our board will ask them to also correct the mistakes made during the first restoration of the building.”

Another mistake connected to minimal intervention is replacing original materials that do not need to be replaced. So, as far as possible the original materials such as wood or bricks should be preserved. This means that the owners of the collapsed building should collect as much as possible of the original bricks and teak of the collapsed building and store this in a safe place to be reused in the restoration.

When asked how it came about that the building could have been so neglected that it collapsed Ibu Voni as the spokesperson for PT Karya Tehnik Utama, the owner of Anchor Wharf explained, “We just felt at the time that it was not yet the right time to have another business there and then there were beams that rotted and became brittle and caused the collapse. But this won’t happen again because once the restoration is completed Raja Kuring which now runs half the building as a restaurant will take over the whole building.”

Ibu Voni, also confirmed, “We intend to restore the building as soon as possible. In the past the company has not been aware of the Heritage Law and its requirements especially with regard to owners of heritage buildings having to obtain the prior approval or recommendation from the Jakarta Conservation Project Review Board before restoration work can commence. We also did not understand the principles of heritage conservation but this time we will get a heritage architect to help us and obtain the recommendation of the Conservation Project Review Board first.”

Some have however expressed their skepticism about this. Although half the building was leased to Raja Kuring as a restaurant, for years the other half of the building was used as a house for swifts to obtain birds’ nests which are used by Chinese restaurants for their famous and quite costly birds nest soup and desserts. Later when it was no longer used for this, the owners allowed the roof to disintegrate which caused rain and damp to reach the teak beams including load bearing wood that ultimately led to the collapse of part of the walls and second floor. In Jakarta it is not unheard of that businessmen deliberately allow heritage buildings that they own to disintegrate and collapse through neglect. Some question whether a business focused on profit with such a disappointing history of caring for an 17th century heritage building would care enough to truly care out a good restoration and then care for the building as it should be cared for. Adolf Heuken commented, “The Anchor Wharf is an old building that should be taken over by the City of Jakarta. There are so few 17th century structures left in Jakarta – and this is one of the few remaining ones.”

When asked Tinia Budiarti who heads the city of Jakarta Tourism and Cultural Services confirmed that under the Heritage Law as well as regulations issued by the Governor of Jakarta it is possible for the city to take over neglected heritage buildings. However, the owners have promised to restore the building appropriately. How the Jakarta municipality handles this case could have repercussions for other heritage buildings in the Old Town currently also being neglected by their owners which could also at a certain point collapse.

As a result of its 17th century buildings the Anchor Wharf is amongst the oldest and rarest of the heritage buildings and structures in Jakarta. Ownership of such buildings carries with it a responsibility to restore and preserve such buildings for the people of Jakarta in accordance with good standards of restoration and preservation. Such buildings are a part of Jakarta’s history and the story of the people of Jakarta. They make the city unique and are a part of Jakarta’s identity.  Only time will tell whether PT Karya Tehnik Utama will keep its promises to carry out its ownership duties as the owner of a heritage building responsibly and in accordance with the requirements of the law. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)