Sunday, 18 March 2012

Paramount Garden and SEA Park of Petaling Jaya

Almost every Friday in the Star newspaper’s property pullout, there is a feature on fengshui by a David Koh, a master sifu of some sort. Over the past few years he has been visiting Klang Valley neighbourhoods applying his fengshui theories and determining fengshui’s effects on the locality by merely observing how much renovation has been done to the premises or even how newly painted the building is. Apparently a can of Dulux is all it takes to fool a fengshui master.

However, his findings for my neighbourhood seemed skin deep and lacked any historical basis. Paramount and SEA Park was developed in the late 1960s as one of the newest sections of Petaling Jaya. The commercial areas of Paramount and SEA Park were built with intentions of both being a thriving town centre. It had amenities other town centres could only dream of.

You could find a standalone post office, and two iconic cinemas, Paramount Cinema and Ruby Cinema in SEA Park itself. There was even a bus depot where a Caltex Paramount is now (the one near the post office). Wondered why so many trunk bus routes ply Paramount Garden? History. And how many townships can boast of a largish park with a lake. There are only 3 lake parks in central PJ, and one of them is Taman Aman, which it shares with the residents of Section 22.

There was one notable landmark of a sordid nature, the Taiwan Pub which occupied a shoplot right at the Y junction between Jalan 20/7 and Jalan 21/12. It’s outer d├ęcor was flashy, it’s location prominent and we all know it’s a front for a brothel. It stood for almost 50 years, until it all but closed down a couple of years ago.

Paramount was designated as Section 20, while South East Asia Park (SEA Park) was given Section 21. Their commercial areas are adjoining at certain parts. In my map below I tried to outline the boundaries of the two sections, but because the borders between Paramount and SEA Park and between SEA Park and SS2 are so porous, my map is only my best guesstimate. Porous because some roads may seem straight, but half of the road maybe in Section 20 and the other in Section 21, and you may never pinpoint where the boundary is. It’s best to check with the land office on this one.

In its early days, like any newly developed commercial area, business was slow to come. In fact throughout the 20th century, neighbouring SS2 commercial districts and even the two-road Section 14 commercial district eclipsed Paramount-SEA Park in terms of prominence and business activity. Many shops seemed unoccupied and only a few eateries drew in a small crowd but fortunately, parking was plentiful.

Despite that, Paramount in particular captured a niche market of sorts. It is home to a variety of hardware shops specialising in piping, electrical products, lighting and other tradesman businesses. It is where plumbers, contractors and others come to get good cheap supplies. And to this day, many of these shops remain.

The two cinemas closed down in the mid-90s, and with that Paramount and SEA Park went through its gloomiest days. Paramount Cinema was converted into TOPS supermarket which is now Giant Supermarket. Although temporarily serving as a church for a couple of years, Ruby cinema remains abandoned. I am of the opinion that that land could be put to good use as a residential zone.

Petaling Jaya’s population is 70% Chinese. The Malays tend live in Kelana Jaya, and a small enclave in Section 14 while the rest of it is majority Chinese. While SS2 could be seen as a kind of modern Chinese town centre, other parts of PJ like Old Town, Paramount and SEA Park right in the geographic centre of PJ retain a more rustic charm. More authentic kopitiams than modern ones, if you get my drift.

In the late 1990s, the LRT line found its way through PJ and was built inexpensively on the electricity transmission line corridor. As luck has it, Paramount which borders this corridor, was given its own station, Taman Paramount although this was one of the stations where LRT ridership is at the lowest in PJ. It wasn't immediately apparent but, once the LRT services begun, commercial businesses in Paramount and SEA Park picked up.

Over the last decade, the once economic laggard of PJ, Paramount and SEA Park blossomed. David Koh was spot on about a gastronomic valley in the roads of Jalan 20/22, 20/16 and 20/13. It must have been Paramount’s reputation as being a Chinese food nexus, a centre for good cheap food, which spurred businessmen to open more restaurants. Now there are twice the number of restaurants in Paramount than there were in the mid-90s. Some are successful but others were not, and were forced to close shop. It seems the only criterion for continued success in the Paramount restaurant business is that the food must be tasty and delicious.

There were other changes too, the tenant mix in the commercial areas became more varied. A couple more banks opened up, and more modern amenities like hairstylists and bakeries were available, and even a couple of colleges. The Paramount LRT station sees more passengers through its turnstiles, and the Giant supermarket is thriving. New restaurants like dim sum shops and seafood restaurants all see customers waiting in line for a seat. But the downside of it is there is hardly any parking available anymore.

Finally I'm happy to report that Paramount and SEA Park have caught up with the hustle and bustle of the nearby SS2 and Section 14 commercial districts. For instance, Jalan 20/7 has a service lane that runs parallel to serve the shops. Originally, there was only one row of parallel parking lots but sometime in the late 2000s, the opposite road shoulder was converted to parking as well, so we now have 2 parallel rows. But it isn’t enough! People have started double parking on the main road, which only has one narrow lane in each direction. And we the actual residents of this area have to put up with constant jams when we visit our nearby shops.

How do you measure prosperity? Is it by the peeling paint or mouldy walls? Or is it by foot traffic or is it by the number of times you hear the 'ch’ng' sound of cash registers? David Koh was wrong to pass judgement by simply driving around and observing what he sees. I do not know what lies Paramount and SEA Park’s future, but I do know that things have never been brighter.

Pictures are available in the next post

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