Toko Merah or the Red Shop is one of the oldest buildings and best preserved in present day Old Batavia. Recently restored by its present owners the PT Perusahaan Perdagangan Indonesia (PT.PPI) – a conglomeration of state-owned enterprises for Trade, – the Red House has been reopened for meetings, conventions and art exhibitions.
Located at Jalan Kali Besar Barat 107, along the once busy Ciliwung river, in the subdistrict of Roa Malaka, West Jakarta, Toko Merah was originally the home of Willem Baron van Imhoff, who later became Governor General of the East India Company from 1743-1750.
In its long history, the building was converted into a maritime academy from 1743-1755, the first and most prestigious maritime academy in the Far East at the time, then it became a Guest House for high ranking officials (Heerenlogement) from 1787 – 1808.
One famous guest here was William Bligh, commander of the Bounty, whose deputy staged a mutiny on board ship on 28 April 1789.
This event was made renowned through the film Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Anthony Hopkins as William Bligh and Mel Gibson as deputy commander Christian Fletcher.
In 1851 the building was bought by a Chinese trader who painted the brick walls completely red. Hence the building was known as the Red Shop or Toko Merah. The red color dominating both its exterior as well as its interior.
During this period, the building became the center of slave trade in this Dutch colony. Traces from this period in history can be seen in the names of surrounding districts, such as Manggarai, for example, which was the village for slaves from Flores, Kampung Bali for those from Bali and Kampung Ambon from Ambon in the Moluccas, and others.
Later in the 1900s, the Borneo Compagnie established itself in Toko Merah, and later again it was taken over by Jacobson van den Berg, one of the 5 largest companies in the East Indies.
In the 18th century, ships could sail into the Ciliwung at Kali Besar (meaning the Large River), and dock right in front of the row of shops here, loading and unloading their precious ware. This area was then a “Central Business District” of the time, with busy traffic on land as well as on the river. Nowadays, though, with the silting of the river, no boats can enter the Kali Besar although on land traffic remains heavy.
At the time, it was said that Toko Merah had 6 boats of its own, and had available 8 carriages with 8 pairs of horses in stables at the back of the building.
Toko Merah, in fact, comprises two buildings joined together under one roof. The building has, therefore, two entrance doors. Its twin ground floor has a wide open area, ideal for conferences, art and jewelry exhibitions and weddings. Its upper floor with its large open rooms are ideal for official meetings.
Toko Merah is built in 18th century Baroque architecture as can be seen from its cornice elements and tall windows. Its ornamentation is a mix of classic European and Chinese décor, where its Baroque staircase is most impressive.
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