Memories all that remain of Dutch villa
By Ida Indawati Khouw
A number of mansions and villas with spacious gardens belonging to affluent Dutch nationals had been built in Batavia since the 17th century. One of these buildings was located in what is now the Kapuk area in West Jakarta. Sadly, the villa -- like so many others -- has been torn down. All it left behind were a few poignant memories for some locals. And some hair-raising stories. This is the ninth story in a series on Jakarta's historical buildings to run in Saturday editions of The Jakarta Post.
JAKARTA (JP): Dutch landlord Meneer Vogelaar would probably be distraught if he was to witness his once lavish villa in the midst of a vast plantation turned into a dirty home base for privately owned gasoline trucks.
The only remains of the Vogelaar estate is a damaged wall measuring less than one meter by one meter.
The site is now used as a pool and workshop for the trucks.
But Vogelaar is not around any more to see the poor treatment received by his estate, which was listed as a heritage site.
The Dutch owner passed away years ago and was spared the hurt of seeing the lack of concern for his property by local authorities and experts. The villa was demolished at least three years ago.
The neglected location is now surrounded by putrid swamps and a slum area.
Many local residents have forgotten their neighborhood was once home to a graceful villa belonging to a Dutchman.
Some do not even realize that the main street in the area -- Jl. Kapuk Poglar -- was named after the owner of the villa.
In the old days, the street was the main route to the villa.
Just like many other historic buildings and sites in Indonesia, this house, which was of typical Indische architecture -- a mixture between colonial and traditional style -- left no significant record of its past.
There is also no record of Vogelaar's status as a Dutchman and landowner. The whereabouts of his descents could not been traced.
According to a Jakarta gubernatorial decree signed by then governor Surjadi Soedirdja in 1993 on protected historic buildings, the Vogelaar villa was to be protected due to its age and Indische architecture.
Unfortunately, the decree turned out to be just another decree for the Jakarta administration and its related officials. None of them were aware that the Vogelaar building was in poor condition, or that it was demolished three years ago.
A photocopy of a picture made available to the Post by the city's Agency of Museum and Preservation shows that the roof of the villa resembled the Javanese Joglo style.
The vast roof was of clay tiles. It had several pillars typical of structures in the colonial days.
However, the quality of the picture, believed to be taken in the early 1990s, was too poor for publication.
According to archeologist Candrian Attahiyat, the Vogelaar building was the best permanent structure in the area at that time.
People back then called such a place a landhuis, which is derived from a Dutch word meaning a building surrounded by big gardens or a plantation, he said.
During that period, there were few human settlements in the area.
The only other buildings in the area would probably have been those owned by indigenous families working for the landowner, Candrian explained.
"It's widely believed that local people worked for Vogelaar on his plantation because in many cases landowners also provided shelter for their workers," Candrian said.
It is unclear whether Vogelaar stayed the whole week at the landhuis, or just spent weekends there.
Because the property was close to Jakarta Bay, it is probable that coconut trees were grown on the plantation.
In 1930s, ownership of the property was handed over to a Chinese-Indonesian, Tjioe Wen Njan.
It is not clear why Vogelaar sold the property but the former right-hand man of the late Wen Njan, Atet, insisted that since then the property has been belonged to his employer.
Candrian said that such transfer of ownership was common during that time because the Dutch did not easily adapt to the hot tropical climate near the sea.
Most of them usually looked for cooler areas in the southern part of Batavia.
"In many cases, the land was bought by wealthy Chinese- Indonesians," Candrian said.
According to Atet, after taking over the property, his employer Wen Njan rarely visited the villa, leaving it empty and neglecting it for years.
At the same time, he said, a number of houses and factories sprouted up in the area.
The Vogelaar home then fell victim to the trend.
Atet said the site developed into a fearful crime spot.
He quoted locals as saying that, for example, scores of women were raped and killed in the building before being thrown into one of the two wells there.
"The alleged terrifying incidents have left an eerie image of the property. Some people claim they had found human bones inside the well," Atet said.
Atet's two subordinates, who were once ordered to repair an electricity cable near the well, "suddenly collapsed without clear reason", he said.
In an effort to assuage people's fears or to dispel evil spirits, relatives of Wen Njan regularly prepare offerings in the form of a yellow rice cone with lamb on the top on every Islamic Sacrifice Day at the building site.
"I don't know why they should have to do that. But we hope that the spirit of the ones killed won't bother us here," Atet said.
After the destruction of the Vogelaar villa, Wen Njan's relatives started using the site to run the Kong Tjiang Long gas truck company, which is now named PT Mertju.
The owner, Atet said, decided to totally destroy the historic building so he would have more space for his growing number of trucks.
Atet said he had no idea the villa was a protected building.
"Years ago, a city administration staffer visited the site to tell the owner that the building was protected. He also told us not to renovate anything without the administration's acknowledgement, and that it would give financial help.
"But the person never come back," he said.
Vogelaar villa is not the only property to come to such a sad ending. A number of other old houses have gone the same way.
No one has even been questioned, or arrested, by the authorities for having destroyed a protected building, which is a precious asset for Jakarta and its people.
Sudarmadji Damais, a senior expert of protected buildings in the country once said: "The buildings are often demolished on weekends when the related offices are closed."
But is Sudarmadji's explanation a good reason for the administration not to act, or a clever excuse?