Jalan Bendahara was formerly Wolferstan Road, which was opened around 1919. Littleton Edward Pipe Wolferstan (1866-1940) served as Malacca’s Resident from 1910 to 1920, and was then Resident Councillor until his retirement in 1922. Wolferstan’s time coincided with an economic boom in Malacca, with the introduction of electricity, commercial success stories in rubber and other plantations, and technological advances. Malaccans from old and wealthy families invested in lands in the area, and shophouses and hotels were built. In contrast to Malacca’s old and narrow roads, Wolferstan Road was a wide thoroughfare, which even now feels modern. However the atmosphere is much different: on a road which saw the introduction of Art Deco innovations, motorcar showrooms and state of the art cinemas, what stands out today are remnants of glories past, such as the dignified mansion at 110 Jalan Bendahara.
Two cinemas, built in the first half of last century on Wolferstan Road, show the fortunes and ambitiousness of the time. In 1931 Capitol Theatre opened at the top of the road, boasting “the best sound production in Malaya”, with seating for 1,000. It was built by a great-grandson of esteemed Malaccan Tan Kim Seng, costing 100,000 Straits Dollars. Before that, the sons of another eminent Malaccan built Chan Koon Cheng Hall at 50 Wolferstan Road, in honour of their father, Chan Koon Cheng. As with Tan Kim Seng, Chan could trace his lineage in Malacca back many generations; his ancestor had arrived from China in 1671, and Chan himself made a huge fortune as a rubber and tapioca planter. At its opening in 1919 the Hall (“Aglows Theatre Hall”) screened Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie “Shoulder Arms” to a rapt audience. It seated 800, had a most sophisticated lighting system, and in 1930, renamed the “Rialto”, was the first in Malacca to screen a “talkie”. In 1938 it became the Savoy.
Other sorts of entertainment included amusement parks which featured Chinese opera, vaudeville, bangsawan and dance halls. The cinemas such as Capitol, the Savoy and Lido hosted bangsawan shows too.(Marah? Tidaaaakkk!) As a boy, Baba bin Ahmad from Kampung Tiga watched bangsawan shows in Kampung Jawa. He grew up to be a star, travelling throughout the Nusantara (and performing in Bunga Raya).
Both Capitol and the Savoy continued to entertain crowds until cinema’s popularity waned. Meantime the hawkers and food stalls which had sprung up around them, providing suppers or pre-show dinners, became identified with those cinemas, even after they moved elsewhere, for instance Capitol Satay Chelop (now at Lorong Bukit Cina) and Capitol Nasi Lemak @ Ah Ho Nasi Lemak (now operating in Bachang). As an undercurrent tol the commercial and trading activities in Bunga Raya, Jalan Bendahara and other busy areas were Melaka’s triad activities, as described by Taiko (Gangs of Melaka).
At the end of the road, continuing to Jalan Temenggung, is a community of Indian businesses, sometimes known as “Little India”, selling clothing, foods, household goods, prayer equipment and flowers(The Florist, Bendahara Bread and Buns).
“Ibis Hotel here was formerly the Savoy Theatre. They used to show 100% Chinese films, Cantonese and Mandarin films, unlike at Capitol Theatre where they played English films and more international stuff. It was a vibrant place. Every night after the shows there was a big crowd, During the 50s and 60s right through to the 70s, cinema was the main form of entertainment for Malaysians. When coloured TV came in, the impact really affected them”
Chong Chan Heng, 78
13 November 2018