BRINGING BACK THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF MAJESTIC THEATRE
The tired, vacant Khoo Sian Ewe Hall most Penangites remember as the former Majestic Cinema will once again be a lively entertainment spot. The large double-storey building, spread over 15,319 sq ft, is slotted to be turned into a public space for theatre performances, events and even sports tournaments by the third quarter of this year. The building’s owner, 1919 Global’s Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Foo, said restoration works on the building is now completed. “We have restored it to look like its original structure based on old photographs of it taken in the 1960s,” he told reporters when visiting the building. Currently, the spacious building is used as a studio for the filming of the first Penang Hokkien film based in Penang, You Mean The World To Me, by local director Saw Teong Hin. “It is a large space that can be used for various grand events, even as a movie premiere site for You Mean The World To Me,” Foo said.
The Majestic Theatre used to be a popular movie spot where crowds would turn up for the specials on weekends and during the holidays. In those days, hawker stalls would line the narrow lane offering snacks of all sorts from fresh cut fruit to grilled chicken on sticks. As new cinema chains and shopping malls opened, old cinemas like Majestic soon became obsolete and it closed in the 1990s. The building was built in 1926 by local philanthropist Khoo Sian Ewe and used to be the place for performances and shows before it became a cinema. Foo said they also have various programmes lined up to help bring life back to the area.
His company also bought up the Loke Thye Kee Restaurant building at the junction of the lane near the Majestic and five shophouses facing Penang Road. Loke Thye Kee Restaurant used to be a popular Hainanese restaurant when it was first built in 1919. It was the place where families held gatherings and celebrations and it also used to be the teahouse for matchmaking. Over the years, the restaurant lost its appeal and it closed; the building was left vacant until 1919 Global bought and restored it. Foo re-opened the Loke Thye Kee Restaurant but recently the restaurant on the second storey was closed while the cafe on the ground floor remains open. “The upstairs space can be used for private events bookings for now and we are also looking at different concepts for the whole building,” he said.
As for other projects in the pipeline, Foo said they are still looking at other possible investments in the state. “Penang is a fantastic place with plenty of opportunities and we are just beginning,” he said, adding that he and his whole family had moved to Penang. Foo, who is Singaporean, has roots in Penang as his mother is from here and he grew up eating Penang food and hearing stories of Penang from his mother. “We are here to stay because we have made a full emotional investment here,” he said. The restaurant was also used as a film set for You Mean The World To Me and Foo said any locations used in the film will be a tourist site in the future. The cinematographer for the Hokkien film is the famed Christopher Doyle so Foo believes that once the movie is released, people will identify with the places where it was shot in Penang.