Yangon Central Press building gets recognition, revamp

The Yangon Heritage Trust has added a symbolic blue plaque to its seventh city landmark: the century-old, still-working Central Press on Thein Phyu Road.

The building, which has been in continuous use since 1912, officially joined six other historically significant edifices in Yangon in sporting the heritage markers yesterday. Although the blue plaque does not afford buildings legal protection, it does signify their importance and tell their stories to the public in Myanmar and English languages.

Yangon Heritage Trust yesterday presented plans for upcoming renovations concentrated on the building’s ground floor, aiming to combine the building’s past and present.

The Ministry of Information-owned building, which houses antique but still-operational printing presses as well as ministerial offices, will soon accommodate much more – public green space, restaurants and cafes, and bookstores and other vendors whose purposes stick close to the building’s roots.

The Ministry of Information approached Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) to cooperate on the Central Press about two months ago, according to David Gole, senior heritage architect at YHT.

“They see the building could be a little underutilised now,” he said. “They’re just very keen and thought it could be something for people and the public.”

Mr Gole said the ground floor was opportune for development, with the upper levels of the building to stay as offices for the ministry.

Ground floor renovations will proceed in two stages. The first stage will introduce a new Central Press to the public with fresh frontage, access to the green courtyard, and places to buy books and grab refreshments, according to Mr Gole. The second stage brings more food and drink, parking, and keeps the Central Press’ famous machinery where it is in a “working and living museum”.

“One of the unique things about the building is that the ground floor currently houses the old printing presses which are still in use,” he said. “So YHT has suggested these be retained and their use continued and further expanded.”

U Thant Thaw Kaung, a YHT board member, said the project will fill a major gap for bookshop owners and readers, and that rents will be cheaper at the Central Press than elsewhere downtown. Funding for the project will come from leasing out space, the organisation said.

And while the Central Press started life as a printer and distributor, its modern mission will remain pretty much the same, as its future tenants won’t stray too far from the page.

“The new uses all over the ground floor here should really engage with the surrounding education precinct and provide something for the local school communities,” Mr Gole said.

“We think that booksellers, high quality printing, book-binding-type uses would be very compatible with the building.”
Yangon’s newest blue-plaqued building – which hasn’t stopped working since its completion in 1912 – almost wasn’t, according to YHT. Funding for its construction dried up in 1906, but three years later, Scottish architect John Begg redrew the facade and construction began anew, said the organisation’s brochure.

Three years later, the building – then called the Government Press – got its start as a distribution hub for government stationary from India, eventually moving on to printing gazetteers and comprehensive census reports, the brochure said. After Independence and under Socialism, the institution grew and became the Government Printing and Stationary Department.

The Central Press also used to be the Office for the Minister of Information, whose ministry still keeps offices in the building. Meanwhile, presses from varied eras continue to work, with some kicking out gold-embossed invitations.

“Heritage is really only of value if the building is used and alive,” Mr Gole said. “The original use is still happening.”

U Thant Thaw Kaung said YHT is cooperating with the Ministry of Information to execute and monitor the renovation, but added that it is in the negotiation stage and it is unclear how many shops the building will hold or when they will open.

“We are trying to open one or two bookshops and a cafe within three weeks, at least before next year, although there are no detailed plans,” he said. “We will discuss very soon with the Ministry of Information and Yangon City Development Committee.”

On August 9, the Central Press officially joined Yangon’s City Hall, AYA Bank headquarters, the Armenian Church, the Central Fire Station, the General Post Office and Myanma Agricultural Development Bank in becoming a blue-plaque building.
Royal Phillips has made $75,000 available to YHT for their Blue Plaques project.

Source: Myanmar Times

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