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Kota Kinabalu: A Walk Down Memory Lane
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Sabah News
08 Sep 16
clock 08-09-2016
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Photo Credit The Sabah State Museum

Just one look at present-day Kota Kinabalu or KK, with its mesmerizing sunsets reflected on the South China Sea, and lined with concrete buildings all vying for this spectacular scene, one would be excused for thinking that this is fairly a new city. The only remaining remnants of the old city – otherwise previously known as Jesselton – are the old post office building and the Atkinson Clock Tower, signifying the almost century-long British colonialization.


When the British North Borneo Company (BNBC) began to establish colonies throughout North Borneo in the 1880s, it founded a small settlement in the area known as Gaya Bay, which was home to the Bajau people.

When the first settlement on Gaya Island was destroyed in 1897 by the famous Bajau-Suluk fighter, Mat Salleh, BNBC relocated its settlement to Gantian Bay (now Sepanggar Bay) in 1898. Nonetheless, they later found the location to be unsuitable and made another move to a fishing village called Api-Api. The new settlement was founded by Mr. Henry Walker, a British Land Commissioner, who identified a piece of 30-acre land opposite Gaya Island. The site was chosen due to its proximity to the North Borneo Railway, as well as to its natural port that provided good anchorage -- up to 24 feet deep.

By the end of 1899, constructions had begun to fill Api-Api with shop lots, a pier and multiple government buildings. Api-Api was later renamed Jesselton, after Sir Charles Jesselton, who was the then-Vice Chairman of BNBC. Jesselton went on to become a major trading post of North Borneo. However, when the Japanese took over Borneo during World War II, Jesselton was once again renamed Api-Api.

Despite its initial prosperity, Jesselton (Api-Api) suffered a great destruction due to a bombing by the Allies in 1945. Of all the buildings in the area, only a handful survived -- one of them being the old Post Office, which is now the Sabah Tourism Board Building.

On 22nd December 1967, the State Legislative Assembly, under then-Chief Minister Tun Mustapha bin Datu Harun passed a bill renaming Jesselton as Kota Kinabalu. Kota Kinabalu was then upgraded to city status on 2nd February 2000.

Bond Street (Gaya Street)
Originally named Bond Street, Gaya Street, which is located in the Kota Kinabalu Central Business District has been the centre of business for over a hundred years.

The wooden shops with nipah roofs are long gone but here is where generations-old family businesses are still thriving, passed down from father to child.

Padang Merdeka
Located just a short walking distance from the Atkinson Clock Tower, the historic Padang Merdeka has lived to bear witness to numerous matches and parades during its century-old lifetime. It was here that the historic ceremony that marked the formation of Malaysia in 1963. In 2010, this iconic field became the venue of the first nationwide Malaysia Day celebration on 16th September.

Jesselton Point (Jesselton Pier)
During the British colonial time, Jesselton Point was known as the Jesselton Pier. It was the main harbour where goods came into the city. In 1967, it was renamed as the Kota Kinabalu Ferry Terminal. After its privatization in February 2006, the name was once again changed to the Jesselton Point
Waterfront. It has since become one of the main city attractions in Kota Kinabalu.

Situated north of downtown Kota Kinabalu, this quaintly scenic place has an unmistakable historical feel to it — complete with olden days’ snapshots of Kota Kinabalu city (Jesselton) and vintage red English phone booths. Jesselton Point Waterfront serves as the only ferry terminal for Labuan-bound passengers as well as the main (and cheapest) boat terminal for the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and Gayana Island.

Atkinson Clock Tower
One of Sabah’s oldest architectural heritage, the Atkinson Clock Tower was once known as the Atkinson Memorial Clock Tower – a commemoration of the first district officer of Jesselton, Francis George Atkinson who died of malaria at the age of 28 in December 1902. A twofaced clock was presented by his mother as a tribute to him and the erection of the clock tower was later commissioned on April 20th, 1905.

The century-old structure of the clock tower was originally built using Mirabau wood and was made by William Potts and Sons in Leeds, England. At 50-feet tall, the Atkinson Clock tower stands mightily atop a hill overlooking the city. In the olden days, ships calling port at the wharf used the tower as a navigational landmark due to its visibility from the sea. It was illuminated at night and was used as a shipping landmark until the 1950s.

Jesselton Airfield (Kota Kinabalu International Airport Terminal 2)
The history of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) dates way back in the 1940s when it was first used as a military airfield, which was built by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

Back then, the airport was known as the Jesselton Airfield. However, towards the end of the war, the airfield suffered severe bombings by the Allied Forces and subsequently led to the surrender of the Japanese army in 1945.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a new terminal building was built on the other side of the runway. Following this new addition, almost all commercial flights were shifted to this newer and larger terminal. In January 2007, the original terminal (Jesselton Airfield) was rebranded as Terminal 2, whilst the newer terminal became known as Terminal 1.

As of December 2015, the KKIA Terminal 2 was phased out, moving all flights to KKIA Terminal 1, which is the sole airport in Kota Kinabalu at the moment.

Old Post Office Building (Sabah Tourism Board Office)
An iconic landmark at KM0 Kota Kinabalu, the Sabah Tourism Board building is one of three pre-war structures that still remain in Sabah to this day.

The construction of this building started back in 1916 by a Sandakan-based printing company. Two decades later, in 1936, the building was renovated to accommodate the Treasury, Audit, Bank Agency and Post Office.

During World War II, the old Post Office building sustained some damages from the bombings by the Allied Forces. After the war in 1945, the building was repaired and went on to become the headquarters for the Posts and Telecommunications, the Treasury, the Audit, the Town Board, the Resident Office, the District Office and the Attorney General’s office.

The building was then restored as the Kota Kinabalu Post Office until September 1986. In June 1987, the
Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment took over the building to become the headquarters for the Sabah Tourism Board and Tourist Information Centre until this present day.

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