Van Dorp Building, From Time to Time

*Notes by Semarang Historian, Rukardi Achmadi

NV. Drukkerij G.C.T. Van Dorp & Co. Many refer to the building as the Van Dorp Building or before becoming the 3D Museum, it’s called the Red Building because of the red paint that dominated the outer walls.

Back in the days, Van Dorp was a well-known printing and publishing company. For more than a century, he produced quality reading material for the people of the Dutch East Indies. Although owned by a Dutchman, Van Dorp did not only print Dutch books. The company, located in Oudstadhuis Straat (now Jalan Branjangan, Semarang Old Town area), also published Javanese and Malay books, such as the Babad Tanah Djawi version of the Wedana district in Magetan Raden Panji Jaya Subrata (four volumes), Babad Pacina (published 1874 ) which tells the story of the Chinese rebellion against the VOC after the massacre in Batavia in 1740, as well as Serat Kancil, Awit Kancil Kalahiraken Ngantos Dumugi Pejahipun Wonten ing Nagari Egypt, Mawi Kasekaraken (1871).

Van Dorp also published Slompret Melajoe (1860-1911), the first newspaper in Semarang to use Malay language. The books and newspapers published by Van Dorp was spread throughout the land and became a reference for a number of prominent scholars, including Dr. B.J.O. Schrieke and Prof. Dr. PA Hoessein Djajadiningrat.

NV. Drukkerij G.C.T. Van Dorp & Co., quoted by Amen Budiman, was founded by G.C.T. Van Dorp, a Dutch bookbinder who tried his fortune by becoming a soldier in the Dutch East Indies. Halted to carry out his duties as a soldier, he opened a printing and publishing business in Semarang. Slowly but sure, his business advanced, until in 1857, Van Dorp was able to buy the firm de Olifant & Co., the first private printing company in the Dutch East Indies, which had published the Semarang Newspaper Nieuws en Advertentieblad (the forerunner to the Newspaper de Locomotief). As a showcase to sell his products, Van Dorp opened a bookstore in Bodjong (now Jalan Pemuda), not far from the Hotel Du Pavillon.

In 1900, the company sought to expand its market by opening branches in Surabaya. Ten years later Van Dorp upgraded his status to an NV. The movement was followed by an update of printing presses in the 1930s. As a large company, Van Dorp was able to promote its products through the publication of 50 thousand catalogs distributed to various regions.

When he grew older and felt unable to work anymore, Van Dorp handed over management of the company to a Dutchman named Prins. But this confidant passed it to Ravenswaay and Leeff. Finally, NV. Drukkerij G.C.T. Van Dorp & Co fell into the hands of Van Eck and Kraaienbrink. After the proclamation of Indonesian independence, Van dorp was still operating. He only really tancep kayon (totally deceased) in the late 1950s, when his assets were nationalized and taken over by the Indonesian government. By the new management, the printing business on Jalan Branjangan was continued under the brand of PT. Nusantara works. The bookstore on Jalan Pemuda changed its name to Permata Bookstore.

But behind the big name of Van Dorp, there is a sad story of the workers who worked in it. Triggered by the low wages in the midst of skyrocketing prices for essential goods, in the early 1920s, Van Dorp’s workers went on strike. They demanded the company to improve their welfare and working conditions. The strike was then followed by workers from other printing and publishing companies in Semarang, such as De Locomotief, Misset, Benjamin, Warna Warta, and Bisschop. The action advocated by Vakgroep Sarekat Islam Semarang Afdeeling Drukkerijen (Sarekat Islam Semarang Workers Printing Section) and Persakoean Kaoem Boeroeh (PPKB) Vakcentrale Corporation continued for more than two months. The strike ended, after the Semarang Residents had intervened until the companies fulfilled part of their demands.

Until 2016, the former Van Dorp building was no longer noisy with machines and the work activities of print workers. However, that does not mean it is not used anymore. The minimalist-style building, was secretly used for vehicle storage and workshops of a small-scale furniture company. Like the outside appearance, the inside of this building is also not well maintained. Plaster wall was peeling a lot. Some of them were patched haphazardly with new cement mixture. Worse than that, the construction for the horses on the roof of one part of the building, has been replaced with mild steel. Where were the used teak logs? I had no idea. Meanwhile, raw materials and furniture-making tools were piled up, irregularly in any place. The fate of this building did not seem as fortunate as old books published by Van Dorp which are still well preserved in a number of libraries and collector’s bookshelves.

Editor’s Note:
In 2017, the Van Dorp Building was restored into the Dream Museum Zone (DMZ), with hundreds of art drawings that make two-dimensional paintings into three dimensions. It is said that the DMZ is now the best 3D (three-dimensional) museum in Indonesia, with 120 images consisting of 25 themes.

Above image: taken in 1858, unknown photographer

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