JOHOR BARU - Landowners of the area where the 150-year-old Wong Ah Fook mansion is located have demolished the building.
Odd-job worker Sheazad Ahmad, 26, who was hired by the owners to remove broken furniture from inside the mansion, said a group of men had come into the area at around 11pm on Wednesday to demolish the building.
He said he was sleeping in the workers' quarters when he was suddenly awakened by a loud noise.
"I went out and saw the men were using tractors to tear down the mansion," he added.
Nearby shop owners also woke up to the sight of a large pile of rubble of the historical mansion which once belonged to well-known philanthropist and contractor Wong Ah Fook.
Historical researcher Bak Jia How, 30, was seen rummaging through the pile of debris looking for anything that could be salvaged.
"The bricks were all handmade and there was no cement at the time. The bricks could have been held together using a mixture of crushed seashells and eggs," he said.
He added that the building's architecture, design, ornaments and other elements were exquisite and more should have been done to make it a heritage building.
Former DAP deputy state chairman Norman Fernandez said that a piece of history, particularly history related to Johor Baru was gone forever.
"All we can hope for is that the authorities bring into account all those responsible and mete out the strongest punishment against them," he added.
Youth, Sports, Culture and Heritage exco Datuk Zulkurnain Kamisan said that he was equally shocked to learn that the building had been demolished.
"We are in the midst of gazetting the building and suddenly the owners decided to do this," he said adding that the land was under the name of 12 individuals.
He said it would be difficult to take action against the owners as the building had yet to be gazetted under the Heritage Act.
Wong was an iconic character related to Johor Baru's history and the main road here is named after him.
He built some of the most recognisable heritage buildings in Johor, including the Istana Besar, Balai Zaharah, the residence of first mentri besar Datuk Jaafar Mohamed at Bukit Senyum and the Johor Baru prison in the Jalan Ayer Molek.