Located at Jalan Kali Besar Barat 17, along the once busy Ciliwung river, in the subdistrict of Roa Malaka, Toko Merah was originally the home of Willem Baron van Imhoff, who later became Governor General of the East India Company in 1743-1750.
In its long history, the building was converted into a maritime academy from 1743-1755, the first and most prestigious maritime academy in the Far East at the time, then it became a Guest House for high ranking officials (Heerenlogement) from 1787 – 1808.
William Bligh, commander of the Bounty, whose deputy staged a mutiny on board ship on 28 April 1789 was once a guest here. This mutiny was made famous through the film Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as deputy commander Christian Fletcher.
In 1851 the building was bought by a Chinese trader who painted the brick walls completely red. Since then it became known as the Red Shop or Toko Merah. The red color dominates both its exterior as well as its interior.
During this period, the building became the center of slave trade in this Dutch colony. Traces from this period in history can be seen in the names of surrounding districts, such as Manggarai, for example, which was the village for slaves from Flores, Kampung Bali for those from Bali and Kampung Ambon from Ambon in the Moluccas, and others.
In the 18th century, ships could sail into the Ciliwung at Kali Besar (meaning the Large Canal), and dock right in front of the row of shops here, loading and unloading their precious ware. This area was then a “Central Business District” of the time, with busy traffic on land as well as on the river. Nowadays, though, with the silting of the river, no boats can enter the Kali Besar although on land traffic remains heavy.
Toko Merah is built in 18th century Baroque architecture. Its ornamentation is a mix of classic European and Chinese décor, where its Baroque staircase is most impressive.