Northam Road, now called Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, in Georgetown is referred to as “Millionaires Row” as it was once the home of wealthy Europeans and then Chinese tycoons.
The road runs from Farquhar High Street along the coast to Gurney Drive through the area which was previously referred to simply as “North Beach” and included the Protestant Cemetery at the southern end where many British and Europeans were buried including Francis Light. The name “Northam Road” is derived from the town of Northam in Devon, England.
At first the road was the residence of British government officials who built bugalows there, but around the end of the 19th century they moved inland to areas such as McAllister Road to be closer to the recreational facilities such as the racecourse and club.
Replacing the British residents, the wealthy Chinese tycoons soon moved in and built elegant mansions, replacing the bungalows, hence the name of “Millionaires Row”.
Several of these mansions are still standing and are either in use for commercial purposes or are protected from demolition in order to preserve the heritage of the city of Georgetown.
First, perhaps the grandest mansion is referred to as the Homestead built by Yeap Chor Ee, who was once the richest man in Penang who died in 1952. He was born in Fujian, China in 1867 and arrived in Penang in 1890 aged 17 and penniless and his life is of the classic “rags to riches” story.
As well as a businessman he was also a philanthropist and donated the property to the Wawasan Educational Foundation in 2006 and is now part of the Wawasan University which built a new block next to the property.
Second, further along is the Woodville Mansion built in 1925 by Lim Lean Teng a wealthy Chinese planter.
A third mansion known as “Soonstead” is nearby and was built in 1910 by the rubber and sugar magnate Yeah Sweet Lee. The local press has reported that although a Hotel complex has been given planning permission to be built alongside the mansion will not be demolished.
Next to the Wawasan University is another grand mansion known as Kedah House being the residence of Sultan Kedah.
Today, Northam Road has become a major financial and commercial centre of Penang with many office blocks and apartments having been constructed in recent years along the road.