Historic Rowe & Co building lives on with a new purpose

Yangon Heritage Trust is touting a building owned by AYA Bank as a fine example of historical repurposing, awarding it a blue plaque to mark its historical designation on September 25.

The building at the corner of Mahabandoola Road and Mahabandoola Garden Street next to Yangon City Hall was formerly the location of prominent department store Rowe & Company.

“We are extremely pleased with the renovation of the old Rowe & Company building and hope it might inspire the renovation of many other privately owned heritage buildings in Yangon,” founder and chair of the trust, U Thant Myint-U, said in a press release.

The building is the second to receive a blue plaque, with the first going up at Yangon City Hall.

Rowe & Company was once among the most opulent department stores in Asia, known for its top quality products until falling victim to a wave of nationalisation in 1964. The building then housed government offices such as the Department of Immigration and Manpower, and finally fell vacant until prominent businessperson U Zaw Zaw, chair of Ayeyarwady bank, purchased the property and transformed it for use by the bank in 2012.

Although the building is now well maintained – unusual compared with many of Yangon’s heritage buildings – some say it was even more impressive in its heyday.

Nearby resident U Tin Sein, 68, said the renovated building is not as opulent as it was as a department store.

“The renovation is a good thing, much better than abandoning it or using it with no maintenance. But in my view, the old building was once more grand and inspiring,” he said.

Although there were other department stores in downtown Yangon, Rowe & Co had stood out, he said.

It was originally painted brown and yellow, and was unique compared with nearby buildings.

“Rowe department store was next to City Hall. At the time, City Hall was painted beige, and Rowe was bigger and brighter even than City Hill,” he said.

“I still remember the signboard, with white lettering on a green background. In my eyes, even the signboard was simple and elegant,” U Tin Sein told The Myanmar Times.

According to Yangon Heritage Trust, the store contained some of Yangon’s earliest electrical elevators, ceiling fans and basements, attracting a mixed clientele of Europeans and wealthy Asians particularly for luxury and imported goods.

“I went to the Rowe & Co store with my parents when I was 14 or 15 years old. I was always proud to shop at Rowe,” said U Tin Sein.

“When our relatives living in rural areas came to Yangon, we always took them on a special visit to the store.”

“I still remember the delightful feeling of leaving the store with a paper shopping bag in my hand stamped with the ‘Rowe & Company’ logo,” he said with a laugh.

Yangon Heritage Trust and Royal Philips company plan to unveil more plaques denoting heritage places in the coming months.


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