History of The House on Sathorn
THE HISTORY OF SATHORN ROAD
Sathorn Road has become a major transportation link between Phra Nakhon and Thonburi sides of Bangkok. It is now a home to important business sectors and leading entertainment venues. Its history began back in 1895 in the Reign of King Rama V when ‘Chai Sua Yom’, a wealthy Chinese businessman engineered the digging of Sathorn Canal to help improve the transportation inside the city.
Originally, this big canal was called ‘Klong Chai Sua Yom’ connecting Chao Phraya River to Wat Hua Lamphong Canal. ‘Chai Sua Yom’ was later granted the name ‘Luang Sathon Rajayukta’ (หลวงสาทรราชายุตก์) by King Chulalongkorn for his accomplishment and therefore, the canal and the road are now called after his name, ‘Sathorn’.
THE BUILDING IN THE PAST
The House on Sathorn was originally the residence of wealthy Chinese immigrant Chai Sua Yom, owner of an engineering company that was responsible for digging the Sathorn canal for public transportation. For his work, he was bestowed the title Luang Sathorn Racha Yutka by King Chulalongkorn. Although the canal had not been used according to intended purpose for decades, the name Sathorn has come to identify the stretch through which it ran.
In the 1920s, with the owner’s fortune in decline, the property changed hands and was converted into the upmarket Hotel Royal. From 1948 to 1999, it was leased out and became the Embassy of the Soviet Union, and later the Russian Federation. Its latest reinvention is that of a hub of upmarket F&B establishments owned and operated by W Bangkok, its immediate neighbor in the same compound. The extensive renovation of the structure was done in consultation with the Thai government’s Department of Fine Arts. This ensured the faithful restoration of the building to its original, and approval of changes and additions.
LUANG SATHORN RAJAYUTKA
Luang Sathorn Rajayutka (Original name: Yom Pisolyabutr) was a former owner of Luang Sathorn Mansion or ‘The House on Sathorn’ in the present. Luang Sathorn Rajayutka received his title in 1887 from King Chulalongkorn Rama V, who assigned him to procure construction supplies for Bang Pa-In Royal Palace (Summer Palace).
Born in 1857, he is the fourth child of Phya Pison Sombut Boriboon (Yim Pisolyabutr) and Prang (Sombutsiri). He had 13 siblings and other 4 half siblings. The family of Luang Sathorn was originally Hoklo people moved from Hokkien, China to Siam. Luang Sathorn continued the canalization business from his father. Apart from canalization, he also carried on other businesses such as cargo ships, trade with China and so on.
He got married to Riw and had 3 children named Chim, Chuen, and Cham. He passed away from Cholera on May 1st, 1895 at the age of 38 years old. At that time, his 3 children were still young; therefore, everything including businesses and the Luang Sathorn Mansion were cared for by his son-in-law, Luang Chitchamnong Vanich (Tomya Rongkavanich).
LUANG CHITCHAMNONG VANICH
Luang Chitchamnong was married to Cham, the eldest daughter of Luang Sathorn Rajayutk. Apart from the businesses carried from Luang Sathorn Rajayutk, Luang Chitchamnong also started operating rice mills which at that time was a common business for all wealthy Thai - Chinese families.
With inheritances of land around Rangsit area from Luang Sathorn Rajayutk, Cham and Luang Chitchamnong invested upon them with 10 rice mills and the business went really well in the beginning. Then, they started to trade rice with partners in Europe. It was said that when they started rice trading via agents, that was the cause of bankruptcy. In 1909, Luang Chitchamnong became debtor to many financial sectors including the treasury which is now the Crown Property Bureau present day.
HOTEL ROYAL & HOTEL THAILAND
It was believed that in 1923, the mansion was rented by Italian lady, Madame Adele Staro, as Hotel Royal, one of the most luxurious hotels in Bangkok. Between the years of 1922 – 1923, there were several Hotel Royal advertisements on The Straits Times Singapore Newspaper. In the newspaper, it explained what the Hotel Royal was like and what facilities were available but there was no single photo of the hotel on the advertisement.
The Hotel was mentioned in a book entitled ‘Fuen Kwam Lung’ meaning ‘recall’ in English by Phya Anuman Rajadhon. One day, Phya Anuman helped his friend, Mario Tamayo, an Italian architect, finish his work. Mario was paid by having Madame Staro arrange an Italian meal for his friends at Hotel Royal. That’s how Phya Anuman met Madame Staro. He stated that Madame Staro was around 50 years old but she was still beautiful when he first met her.
In February 1925, there was a notice on The Straits Times Singapore Newspaper once again stating that Madame Adele Staro was leaving Bangkok and it also mentioned that Madame Staro sold Hotel Royal to a syndicate but there was no further information on this. It was unclear how Hotel Royal transferred to Hotel Thailand. In 1936, The Malaya Tribune Newspaper announced the passing of Madame Staro in its column.
THE FORMER RUSSIAN EMBASSY
Since 1948, Thailand’s very first Russian Embassy resided in this heritage mansion for many decades amid many historic moments such as the Cold War and the establishment of the Soviet-Thai Friendship Society. However, it was in 1991, that a monumental act was made by the Royal Thai Government that recognized the Russian Federation as a sovereign state and confirmed their commitment in developing friendly and mutual beneficial relations. The House on Sathorn served as residence to the former Russian Embassy from 1948 – 1999.
Since the early 1900s, the Thai Royal Family and the Soviet Union had close relations as many Thai aristocrats including the son of King Chulalongkorn - H.R.H. Prince Chakrabongse, spent many years in St. Petersburg and Moscow for education. In later years, H.R.H. Prince Chakrabongse would marry a Russian woman by the name of Ekaterina Desnitskaya. In 1941, diplomatic relations between Thailand and the Soviet Union were then established and not long after in 1947, both Thailand and the Soviet Union signed the Agreement on the Exchange of Diplomatic Missions. A year later, the Russian government acquired a 50 year lease to a 3-story building to serve as their first Russian Embassy in Thailand. That building is what we currently call The House on Sathorn.
THE BUILDING & ITS UNIQUE DESIGN
Consisting of four separate buildings that enclose a courtyard, and surrounded by a garden in a spacious compound, the colonial mansion boasts the original three-storey structure with a hexagonal portico at the centre of the façade. It was originally painted two shades of yellow, which the recent restoration brought back. On the left side of the portico is another box-like projection that terminates with the attic windows.
The façade is decorated with a series of cornices relieved by graceful half-arch mouldings that crown each window on the ground floor. These large, tall and shuttered windows reinforce an upward sweep that gives the building an illusion of height while providing sufficient light and ventilation to the interiors. Pig’s heads (The Boar), an unlikely motif for a stately home, decorate the pillars in reference to the owner’s Chinese zodiac symbol. The meaning of the symbol also bring prosperity and good fortune to the family. Found throughout the design of The House on Sathorn from the fence, wall decoration, or engraved on the ground, is The Chinese Rice Flower, also known as the Chinese Perfume Plant. This was supposedly the lady of the house’s favorite flower. Interwined with a traditional Celtic trefoil knot, the rice flower represents strength and invincibility.
Today, The House on Sathorn further stands out in an eclectic location.