History of Petaling Jaya

Mother Earth Travel > Malaysia > Petaling Jaya > History

It all started when tin deposits were discovered at the mouth of Klang River in the 15th century. As miners and immigrants, who were mainly Chinese, flocked in for a piece of the action, a small town soon took root and was named after the river, Klang. It continued to grow under the protection of the Sultan of Malacca until the 16th century when the Bugis, an ethnic group from Indonesia, landed here and established the royal Selangor Sultanate in early 18th century.

By the middle of the 19th century, Klang, also known as Kelang, had prospered into a royal town whose strategic location played an integral role in the development of the state. Meanwhile, the quest for bonanza continued up at a muddy confluence of Klang River and it soon led to the birth of another settlement, Kuala Lumpur, which literally means 'muddy confluence' in Malay.

Though the boom in tin trade during that time also brought forth continued struggles among the Malay nobilities, Bugis and Chinese, eventually leading to the interference and control by the British, both Klang and Kuala Lumpur continued to thrive well beyond Malaysia's independence in 1957.

Today, while Kuala Lumpur has become the country's capital city, Klang remains home to Port Klang (formerly known as Port Swettenham), the country's largest port. The success of the two has also spilled over to other parts of the country, notably the neighbouring Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam, which are some 40km apart.

Petaling Jaya is located in the Petaling District, one of the nine districts that have made Selangor the most developed and prosperous state in Malaysia. While the state itself has a long history, the birth of Petaling Jaya, fondly known as PJ among the locals, did not come until early 1950s.

Petaling Jaya was born as Malaysia's first satellite town to support the fast developing Kuala Lumpur, an economic hub since the 1850s. The Kuala Lumpur of the 1950s, a time when Malaysia was still under the British rule, was also the administration centre of the Federated Malay States, which comprised Johor, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor. Bustling but congested, Kuala Lumpur was soon confronted with critical problems of accommodating its workforce and issues on the building up of squatters. To the British administration, a satellite town was the way out.

The migration from Kuala Lumpur to the Petaling area had indeed started before the town was officially named in 1953 as Petaling Jaya. Denoting success, as taken from the literal meaning of jaya, Petaling Jaya started out as a town of slightly over two square kilometres scattered with low-cost wooden houses built largely by people whose livelihood was to be found in Kuala Lumpur. This little pekan, or town in Malay, was the predecessor of what was to be known as 'PJ Old Town'. The name remains until today and it now includes Seksyen 1, 2, and 3 of Petaling Jaya.

The satellite town began to take shape in 1952 when 800 houses were built and another 200 under construction. In 1954, the Petaling Jaya Local Authority was officially formed. From then on, seksyen (or "section" in English) after seksyen of residential and commercial areas sprouted as rubber and oil palm plantations made way for systematic infrastructure development.

By the end of 1957, there were well over 3,200 houses in Petaling Jaya, along with more than 100 shops and 28 operating factories. The year also saw the opening of the first phase of the Federal Highway (Lebuhraya Persekutuan) which divided Petaling Jaya into two. Linking Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Port Klang, it enhanced PJ's reputation as a strategically located town, particularly in the eyes of industrialists and the affluent searching for prime residential land.

Petaling Jaya reached another milestone in its history in 1964 when its Local Authority status was upgraded to Petaling Jaya Municipal Board. With an extended area of 19.9 square kilometres, the population then stood at 35,100. Relentless progress continued and by 1977, when it was conferred the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MPPJ) status, it had grown into an expansive town that included Seksyen 52, the Sungai Way-Subang (SS) area and the new township of Subang Jaya. Further expansion to the north later saw the rise of the vast Damansara area, which includes Bandar Utama, Kota Damansara, Damansara Perdana, Bandar Sri Damansara and Damansara Impian.

Carved out of an oil palm plantation known as Sungai Renggam, Shah Alam was officially founded in 1963 as a modern city to succeed Kuala Lumpur, which was then serving as both the federal capital and the state capital of Selangor. Being centrally located between Port Klang and Petaling Jaya and a mere 30km away from Kuala Lumpur, the site was chosen following a proposal by V Antonic, an advisor of the United Nations Town Developer.

Shah Alam became the state capital on 7 December 1978. Unlike the imposing Kuala Lumpur, it is today an orderly town exuding an air of serenity, thanks to an environment-friendly blueprint which has been dictating developments in the town right from the beginning. Amid the tranquility, it houses the biggest mosque in South East Asia, the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque that can accommodate 24,000 people. It also boasts two world-class sporting facilities, Shah Alam Sports Complex and Shah Alam Racing Circuit, and the Malaysia Agriculture Park, known as the only agro-forestry park in this part of the world.

Today, PJ's strategic location has made it a metropolis in its own right in the Klang Valley, a bustling area that stretches from Port Klang northeastward to Kuala Lumpur and southeastward to Bangi. Scattering around the 97.2 square kilometres of PJ are modern shopping complexes, international-class hotels, and entertainment outlets that rival their respective counterparts in Kuala Lumpur.

Seksyen 52, the 'New Town' or 'The State', has remained the heart of PJ with the many public, financial and commercial services it offers. Petaling Jaya Hilton, the first international-class hotel in PJ, is found here. Subang Jaya, on the other hand, has gone on to establish itself as the satellite town of PJ. The old Subang International Airport lies just a few kilometres away.

Next to Subang Jaya is Bandar Sunway, a blossoming township where a premier theme park, a shopping and entertainment complex, a modern convention and exhibition centre and a hotel resort come together to form one of the most glamorous spots in Malaysia.

Bandar Utama symbolises yet another achievement for PJ. Amid its peaceful environment filled largely with upper- to middle-class houses, its centerpiece, One Utama, is ranked among the largest and most trendy shopping complexes in Malaysia. Together with the enclave of Damansara Utama, it is a popular area known for its nightlife activities. The area beyond Bandar Utama, notably Bandar Sri Damansara, has in turn become a prime spot for residential and commercial purposes.

So rapid is the progress made by Petaling Jaya that it has become an apt alternative to Kuala Lumpur in practically every aspect, for both locals and tourists. Its most comforting achievement, however, may well lie in its ability to remain green and roomy.