Reminiscences of the Old Lam Soon Community Centre

The kampong house that used to stand at the junction of Old Choa Chu Kang Road and Jalan Lekar was the former Lam Soon Community Centre. It has just been demolished to make way for a new Animal Quarantine Centre.

Lam Soon Community Centre was opened in the mid-sixties, shortly after Singapore’s independence, to serve the residents living in the rural vicinity. Its location was commonly known as the 13¼ milestone of Choa Chu Kang Road in the past.

The community centre’s building was constructed using the funds donated by members of the Choa Chu Kang Citizens Consultative Committee. But soon after its completion, the community centre was vandalised by a group of anti-national people who splashed red and white paints onto the walls and pavements. Offensive slogans were also drawn on the building. The deliberate act angered the committee and villagers, prompting the police to step in to investigate.

In 1971, Lam Soon Community Centre was one of the venues visited by former President Benjamin Sheares (1907-1981) as part of his islandwide tour of the People’s Association and community centres.

Like many other old community centres in Singapore, Lam Soon Community Centre was multi-functional. It conducted many courses, exhibitions, road shows and ceremonies, and even organised outings and tours to places such as Pulau Tekong, Desaru and Kukup. In the early seventies, it also held National Service (NS) send-off parties for newly enlisted recruits and their families and loved ones. During the general elections, the community centre also functioned as a polling station.

After almost three decades, the old Lam Soon Community Centre was closed in the early nineties, and the building was left abandoned and occasionally used as a storage place.

In 1994, a new Lam Soon Community Centre was set up at Block 421 Choa Chu Kang Avenue 4, becoming one of the few void deck community centres in Singapore. It would continue for another 24 years before it officially walked into history in 2018, after which its role in serving the residents was replaced by the new Keat Hong Community Club.

Other than the former community centre and new animal quarantine centre, Jalan Lekar is also home to The Animal Lodge, ACRES (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) Wildlife Rescue Centre and Qian Hu, one of Singapore’s well-known fish farms. The road currently still bears the old black font-white background street signage.

Animal quarantine centres in Singapore include the Sembawang Animal Quarantine Centre (SAQS) and Changi Animal & Plant Quarantine Station (CAPQ), which are used for inspection and quarantine of imported pets, mammals and birds. Both are managed under National Parks Board’s (NParks) Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS).

Published: 20 August 2021

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Creative and Unique National Day Parade Floats Procession Through the Years

Floats procession was one of the highlights of Singapore’s National Day celebration event. Starting from 1967, various local organisations, ministries and statutory boards would spent tons of efforts to design their floats, wowing spectators with different flashy, creative and sometimes unique appearances. In the early days, the floats also aimed to send messages and promote slogans to the public.

1969 – A float by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) displaying a large merlion at the front. First designed in 1964, the merlion became STPB’s trademark two years later with exclusive rights for its usage.

1969 – Under the Ministry of Health, the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board (SFPPB) was established in 1965 to oversee family planning in Singapore under the government’s Five-Year Family Planning Program (1966–1970). Its float here advocated the “small families” slogan, as well as commemorated Singapore’s 150th anniversary (1819-1969).

1969 – This float designed in the shape of the iconic National Theatre (1963-1984) was the efforts by the National Theatre Trust, which managed the funds raised from the general public and organisations for the construction, operations and maintenance of the theatre.

1969 – The Adult Education Board (AEB), under the Ministry of Culture, was established in 1960 to provide adult education through language proficiency, vocational, technical and general courses. It was later evolved to become ITE (Institute of Technical Education) in the early nineties.

1972 – The Singapore Police Force (SPF) float displayed its crest, embeded with the “Polis Repablik Singapura” (Republic of Singapore Police in Malay) name that was adopted in 1968. The police force also saw another big change in 1969, when its grey flannel shirts and khaki shorts were replaced by the modern navy blue shirts and pants.

1972 – The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) float depicted Singaporeans from all walks of life, working together for the nation’s industrial development and towards a better life.

1973 – A beautiful float by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) with the “Garden City” slogan.

1974 – The Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) was converted into a statutory corporation by the government in 1972 so that the bank could improve its operations by having more flexibility and freedom in management.

1974 – The Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce’s float had participants portraying Hindu mythology of Lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi.

1974 – Probably one of the “strangest” float designs ever, but it was clear that the new nation needed to boost productivity and enhance efficiency and effectiveness. The National Productivity Board (NPB) was set up in 1972 under the Ministry of Labour for this purpose.

1975 – In the 10th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, a float was created by a local Chinese opera troupe and participated in the National Day Parade.

1975 – The float of the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board (SFPPB) was simple in design yet bold and clear in its “Two is Enough” message.

1980 – The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) was formed in 1974 for the long term planning of Singapore’s land usage. Its float, consisted of several iconic skyscrapers, promoted the importance of a well-planned city in the eighties.

1980 – A national confederation of trade unions, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was formed in 1961. Its float here displayed the Chinese wordings of “Marching into the Eighties”.

1980 – The float by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) probably would not win any prizes in design but it did carry an encouraging message of “Better Homes for a Better Life”.

1980 – The Sentosa Development Corporation’s (SDC) float displayed a cannon, representing one of its main attractions Fort Siloso, which was opened in Sentosa in 1974 as a military museum.

1980 – The National Courtesy Campaign kicked off in 1979, and was promoted here in a mock up double decker bus. Singapore had its first fleet of double decker buses in 1977. Meanwhile, iconic mascot Singa did not appear in the courtesy campaign until 1982.

1980 – The Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) was established in 1964, and as its slogan on the float implied, it would begin to leverage on technology to automate and computerise its port operations in the eighties.

1980 – The Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) was formed in 1974 as a statutory board to manage and administrate all the domestic and international telecommunications of Singapore.

1982 – Established in 1963, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) had been advocating the conservation and usage of water in Singapore.

1982 – Singapore’s fast progress in the early eighties was likened to a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), conceptualised here as the design of the float. The MRT would become a reality for Singapore when it officially operationalised in 1987.

1982 – A unique float designed in the shape of a giant red clog. Clogs were once popular footwear in Singapore, especially among the hawkers, housewives and residents living in Chinatown, where many clog shops flourished.

1984 – The People’s Association’s (PA) float commemorated Singapore’s 25 Years of Nation Building (1959-1984).

1984 – Private organisations also sponsored floats to participate in the procession, as shown here in a smurf-themed float by Cardinal Points Pte Ltd. It proved to be popular among the kids.

1984 – This unique float by the Handicraft Centre won the Most Creative Float award.

1987 – The national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) started in 1972 after the split and cease of the former Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA). Its logo of a golden bird spreading its wings has since become a renowned symbol of SIA.

1987 – Raffles City, the new landmark opened in 1986, consisted of a shopping complex,  hotel, offices and a large convention centre.

1987 – The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) was formed in 1984 as a regulator of civilian air traffic and also to promote Singapore as an international air and aviation hub.

1991 – The Public Works Department (PWD) was a long-time government agency in-charge of public infrastructure projects. It was incorporated in 1999 and become CPG Corporation today.

1991 – The Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) was set up in 1987 for the train operations and maintenance. The MRT system was widely accepted by the public, and by the early nineties, more new stations were opened at the extended North-South and East-West lines.

1991 – The Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) proudly displayed the wordings “World’s No. 1 Container Port” on its float. Indeed, a year earlier, its annual throughput had reached 5.2 million TEUs (cargo capacity term of “twenty-foot equivalent unit”), helping Singapore to become the busiest container port in the world.

A happy 56th birthday to Singapore!

Photo Credit: All photos are sourced from the Ministry of Information and The Arts (MITA) via the National Archives of Singapore.

Published: 9 August 2021

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The Small Quiet HDB Estate of Lorong Lew Lian

The small quiet neighbourhood of Lorong Lew Lian today is located near the meeting point of three old major roads – Upper Serangoon Road, Upper Paya Lebar Road and Yio Chu Kang Road. Also known as Upper Serangoon (or Hougang) 5 milestone (gor kok jio in Hokkien or ngoh kok jio in Teochew), this area was previously a large Teochew cemetery called kwong yik sua (广义山), under the ownership and management of Ngee Ann Kongsi.

A small village called Kampong Lew Lian, made up of dozens of attap and wooden shacks, existed at the edge of the cemetery. There were also several funeral parlours, small temples and clan associations around the cemetery. One of the prominent ones was Nanyang Neo Clan Association, who had their clan temple built at Kampong Lorong Lew Lian in 1928.

In 1974, Nanyang Neo Clan Association moved to Kovan Road after the lands of Kampong Lew Lian were acquired by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for public housing development.

Off Upper Serangoon Road, a dirt track of the same name led to Kampong Lew Lian. It lied right behind the former Paya Lebar Police Station. Built in the 1930s, its colonial office and quarter buildings were demolished and gave way in 2017 to a new condominium named Forest Woods.

Despite its close proximity to the police station, Kampong Lew Lian appeared in the wrong headlines in the fifties after a couple of high profile murder and armed robbery cases.

It is assumed that Kampong Lew Lian (and later Lorong Lew Lian) and the neighbouring Lorong Ong Lye were named after durian and pineapple (lew lian and ong lye mean durian and pineapple in Hokkien), two of the locals’ favourite fruits. But it remains questionable if there were ever durian and pineapple plantations in the vicinity in the past. In Singapore, other than Kampong Lew Lian and Lorong Lew Lian (and Lew Lian Vale, a minor road adjacent to Lorong Lew Lian), there is also a Jalan Durian at Pulau Ubin.

Kampong Lew Lian grew modestly in the fifties, while the dirt track of Kampong Lew Lian was upgraded in 1957 to a proper road. It was then renamed Lorong Lew Lian, and served as a short linkage between Upper Serangoon Road and Paya Lebar Road (present-day Upper Paya Lebar Road) via Lorong Ong Lye.

A larger Paya Lebar Village was located on the opposite side of Kampong Lew Lian, divided by Paya Lebar Road. After the war, Kampong Lew Lian enjoyed a peaceful period of 20 years, but several development projects were slowly inching towards it. By the late sixties and early seventies, the private residential estates of Barley Rise Estate and Wonder Grove had been built a short distance away from the kampong and cemetery.

There was also a row of shophouses built at Lorong Lew Lian. It was made up of shops, eateries and a well-known beauty parlour with a vintage signage hanged at the entrance of its doorway. Together with the police station, the shophouses were torn down in 2017 and replaced by the new Forest Woods condominium.

The end of Kampong Lew Lian eventually came in the mid-seventies, when the Housing and Development Board (HDB) decided to build a housing estate at Lorong Lew Lian. It would be the first HDB estate in the vicinity, and the only HDB estate in the former Paya Lebar constituency in the seventies.

The construction of the Lorong Lew Lian flats began in February 1976, with almost 1,000 units and shops housed in eight HDB blocks, numbered 1 to 8. The blocks were completed one-and-a-half year later, and a balloting ceremony was officiated by Tan Cheng San, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Paya Lebar, in June 1977. It was the 31st ballot for the sale of flats since HDB started the Home Ownership Scheme, in which the lower income groups were able to pay their homes through their savings in the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

The Lorong Lew Lian flats’ 99-year leases kicked off in May 1978. More than four decades have since passed.

Despite the development, some remnants of Kampong Lew Lian stayed on into the early eighties – there were still nine inhabited Kampong Lew Lian houses by 1982, causing some confusion to the postal services where postmen mixed up their deliveries between the similar Lorong Lew Lian and Kampong Lew Lian addresses.

Aimed at making Lorong Lew Lian a self-sufficient estate, many public amenities were added shortly after the completion of the flats, including a kindergarten (in 1978), a community centre (between Block 2 and 3) and a public basketball court (also in 1978) to promote a healthy lifestyle for the youths.

Rows of shops at the first floors of the blocks provided convenience for the residents of Lorong Lew Lian, although many of them, at the start, still preferred to visit the nearby Lim Tua Tow Road market and shops for their daily purchase of groceries.

Today, one of the estate’s oldest shop tenants is Lim’s Dentist, whose appearance looks particularly nostalgic with its old-fashioned signage, gates, floor tiles and chairs.

The Chinese cemetery, on the other hand, was acquired in 1981 by HDB for further public housing development. The tombs were exhumed, with many of the remains transferred and interred at the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

By the late eighties, the cemetery was cleared and its site was used for the construction of another cluster of HDB flats, numbered 401 to 427. Completed in 1988, these flats were zoned under Serangoon Central.

The Lorong Lew Lian flats underwent an upgrading exercise in 1994 and the housing estate became known as Lew Lian Gardens.

In November 1995, the national campaign of Clean and Green Week was launched, and during one of the Tree Planting Day events, several species of durian trees were planted at Lorong Lew Lian. Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and other ministers and MPs were invited to plant the durian saplings around the housing estate.

The planted durian trees have since grown tall and are still around today, reminding us of this neighbourhood’s unique name and heritage.

Published: 6 August 2021

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Goodbye to the Iconic Landmarks of Shaw Tower and Liang Court

The downtown area saw a couple of changes this year with the demolition and redevelopment of long-time landmarks in Shaw Tower (also known as Shaw Towers) and Liang Court.

Shortly after Singapore’s independence, particularly in the seventies, it was an era of rapid development. Dozens of new multi-million buildings and skyscrapers were springing up at the downtown and city areas, including the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) building, United Industrial Corporation (UIC) building, Robina House, Shenton House, Shing Kuang House (at Shenton Way), Hong Leong Building, Central Provident Fund (CPF) building (at Robinson Road), United Overseas Bank (UOB) building (at Raffles Place), Chung Khiaw Bank building (at Cecil Street), Straits Trading building, Cecil House (at Battery Road), Peace Centre (at Selegie Road) and Textile Centre (at Jalan Sultan).

One set of buildings particularly caught the eye due to their daring Brutalist architectural designs. Built between the early and mid-seventies, they were the Golden Mile Complex, People’s Park Complex and Shaw Tower.

Upon its completion in 1975 at a cost of $36 million, Shaw Tower was one of the tallest buildings in Singapore, standing at 36 storeys and 134m tall. The record was short-lived though, as it was broken a year later with the completion of the 198m-tall OCBC Centre.

Owned by the Shaw Organisation, Shaw Tower became a well-known landmark at the junction of Beach Road and Middle Road with its waffle-like appearance. After the nineties, with the rise of internet, its appearance reminded people of a block of ethernet ports.

But just two years after its completion, the Business Times reported that Shaw Organisation was looking to sell Shaw Tower for $60 million. The Capitol Building, another property owned by the organisation, was also put up for sale but without success.

Shaw Tower consisted of a double-storey podium made up of 242 units for shops, coffee houses and restaurants. It also housed two popular cinemas – Jade and Prince Theatres – which were located on different levels and at the opposite ends of the building.

The 1,952-seat Prince Theatre – its original name was Pearl Theatre – had the largest cinema hall in Singapore. It mainly screened popular movies, whereas the smaller 844-seat Jade Theatre was used for the release of new movies. In 1976, the newly-opened Prince Theatre screened Jaws, one of the biggest US blockbuster movies during that time. It raked in a record $940,000 in just 74 days.

Both Jade and Prince Theatres enjoyed their best periods in the eighties, with almost 9,000 patrons visiting both cinemas each day. However, by the late eighties, the cinemas began to lose their popularity. Hence, in 1988, in order to give the cinema-goers a wider choice of movies and also to prevent the large cinema halls from having too many empty seats, both Jade and Prince Theatres were split into two smaller cinemas, called Jade 1 and 2, and Prince 1 and 2.

But stiff competition from emerging new cinemas in the nineties continued to chip away the businesses of Jade and Prince Theatres. After having their ownership changed several times, Prince Theatre was eventually shut down in 2008 and was leased out to churches for holding religious events. Jade Theatre, on the other hand, was acquired by Indian cinema chain Carnival Cinemas in 2017.

In 2018, the tenants of Shaw Tower were alerted of the building’s redevelopment plan. By mid-2020, most of the tenants had moved out, and the 45-year-old landmark began its demolition process. A new Shaw Tower, 35-storey and 200m tall, is expected to be erected at the original site by 2024.

Another downtown’s landmark that was recently demolished was Liang Court at Clarke Quay. Opened in 1984, the complex with the iconic brownish twin towers by the Singapore River were a mixture of hotels, service apartments, offices, department stores, supermarkets, restaurants and lifestyle shops.

Catering largely to Japanese expatriates and the Japanese community in Singapore, there had been numerous Japanese shops and restaurants at Liang Court over the years, including the likes of Kinokuniya and Meidi-ya. But Liang Court’s first anchor tenant was the immensely popular Japanese department store and supermarket Daimaru, which was opened two months prior to the complex’s official opening.

Towering over the mall were the 25-storey twin towers used as hotel and service apartments, called Hotel New Otani and Liang Court Regency respectively.

Entering the millennium, with many other shopping and mixed complexes established in Singapore, Liang Court was increasingly facing competition and pressure. Hotel New Otani was then sold and became Accor Hotels (later renamed Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay), whereas Liang Court Regency became known as Somerset Liang Court Singapore. The mall also changed ownership several times, in 1999, 2006 and 2019. Daimaru could not survive, closing down in 2003 and exiting the Singapore market.

Long-time tenant Kinokuniya eventually closed in 2019, while the rest of Liang Court’s tenants – shops, hotel and service apartments – ceased their operations by April 2020. The entire Liang Court complex was torn down in July 2021, making way for a new development called Canninghill Piers, a residential-and-commercial complex expected to be ready by 2024.

Published: 23 July 2021

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Remnants of Singapore’s Lost Roads – Boh Sua Tian Road

Along Yio Chu Kang Road once existed a Boh Sua Tian Road that extended into the rural parts of Seletar. The road was named after the nearby wireless station, which was formerly owned by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Seletar in the fifties and sixties. The name boh sua tian (无线电) means wireless in Hokkien and Teochew.

A Yio Chu Kang Village, also known as Kampong Boh Sua Tian, once existed at Yio Chu Kang Road 10th milestone (near the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Boh Sua Tian Road) as early as the 1930s. The large village, having a postal code of 28, was a bustling and self-sufficient one made up of hundreds of residents, attap and wooden houses, provision shops, vegetable and pig farms, durian orchards and fish ponds.

At the other end of Boh Sua Tian Road was another kampong called Kampong Pengkalan Petai, a Malay village that was located along Sungei Seletar (developed into Lower Seletar Reservoir in the late eighties).

In 1958, the Singapore Auxiliary Fire Services held its first fire-fighting course at Kampong Boh Sua Tian. The aim was to teach the residents of the safety measures such as fire prevention, as well as the methods of using fire extinguishers, water and sand buckets to fight fires. The course was also launched at other villages at Sembawang, Changi, Jurong, Bukit Panjang and Pasir Panjang.

A People’s Action Party (PAP) branch, named the Jalan Kayu-Boh Sua Tian Sub-branch, was opened in 1966 to serve the communities living between Boh Sua Tian Road and Jalan Kayu.

Boh Sua Tian Road was further developed in the seventies. It became longer and was branched off to other roads – mostly dirt tracks – named Lorong Gemilap, Lorong Anchak, Lorong Jirak, Lorong Andong, Lorong Selangin and Lorong Hablor.

At its peak, Boh Sua Tian Road was home to numerous community centres, temples and schools, such as Sin Cheng Chinese School and Kong Hwa Chinese School. A Seletar Sewage Treatment Works was also installed at the junction of Boh Sua Tian Road and Lorong Andong in the seventies.

Like many other villages in Singapore, Kampong Boh Sua Tian also faced various issues such as poorly maintained roads, defective street lights, illegally dumped rubbish, clogged drains as well as gang fights and harassments. The history of the village eventually came to an end with the development of the Central Expressway (CTE). With the lands of their home acquired by the government, many of the residents, by the early eighties, had moved to nearby flats at Seletar Hills and Ang Mo Kio. Lorong Gemilap, the access road to the village, was expunged in 1988.

yio chu kang village house 1980s

In 1984, the expansion project for the Lower Seletar Reservoir resulted in many trucks and heavy vehicles taking their daily routes via Boh Sua Tian Road. Due to the intensive usage of the road, Boh Sua Tian Road was filled with potholes, causing inconvenience to the remaining residents still living in the vicinity.

The first phase of the massive CTE project (between Yio Chu Kang Road and Bukit Timah Road) was completed in 1989, after which the development of the expressway was continued to be linked to the Seletar Expressway (SLE) and Tampines Expressway (TPE). In 1990, the direct link between SLE and CTE was officially opened for traffic.

Boh Sua Tian Road remained accessible in the early nineties, with an underpass constructed at the slip roads to the expressway. But by 1995, the road and its accompanying network of minor roads and tracks were closed to vehicular access and erased from the official maps. Their locations are now occupied by the interchange between the three expressways (CTE, SLE and TPE).

Today, a short remnant stretch of Boh Sua Tian Road (and the underpass) still exists, albeit forgotten over the years, under the slip roads (from Yio Chu Kang Road to CTE) and Yio Chu Kang Flyover.

Published: 30 June 2021

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Landmarks of Yesteryears – Times House at Kim Seng Road

Located at the junction of Kim Seng Road and River Valley Road, Times House was the home for Singapore’s English newspaper The Straits Times for more than four decades.

The Straits Times was one of the oldest newspapers in Singapore (after Singapore Chronicles and The Singapore Free Press), with its origin went back to the mid-19th century. Catchick Moses collaborated with English journalist Robert Carr Woods (1816-1875) to launch The Straits Times, where Robert Woods also served as the newspapers’ first editor. This history of Catchick Moses, an Armenian-speaking merchant, founding the English-medium newspaper, however, has been disputed by historians.

Consisted of eight folio pages, The Straits Times was launched on 15 July 1845 on a weekly basis, with copies printed from its office at the Commercial Square (Raffles Place today). Catchick Moses withdrew from the business a year later in 1846, but the printing and circulation of the newspapers would continue. In 1903, the operations of the company were shifted to another premises at Cecil Street. But this office was taken over and occupied by the Japanese during the occupation, who would launch their own newspapers called The Shonan Times.

Shortly after the war, The Straits Times resumed its publication on 7 September 1945. The company grew rapidly and acquired offices at Anson Road but it would still be insufficient for the expanded operations of its printing business. Finally, on 3 April 1958, The Straits Times called a new home at the Times House, an iconic landmark at Kim Seng Road for more than 40 years.

The site was purchased at a cost of $420,000, and a further $1m was invested to make Times House a fully airconditioned news complex designed by architectural firm Swan & Maclaren. Made up of Front and Press Blocks, Times House was equipped with a modern Crabtree Presses, a huge 6m-tall 114-tonne printing press that could churn out 40,000 copies of newspapers every hour. In the seventies and eighties, Times House was further renovated and added a Circulation Block to accommodate the growing operations.

But Times House could only largely functioned as a branch office after its completion, as the headquarters of The Straits Times was relocated to Kuala Lumpur following the independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957.

The separation of Singapore and Malaysia in 1965, however, saw the company restructured into Straits Times Press (Singapore) and New Straits Times (Malaysia). With the incorporation of The Straits Times Press Ltd in 1975, the company moved back to Times House as its main office.

At least three major strikes occurred at Times House between 1966 and 1971, involving hundreds of printing workers, clerical staff and journalists over employee benefits and bonuses. The strikes, often lasting five days to two weeks, disrupted the operations and stopped the circulation of the newspapers. Previously, in 1954, there was also the Straits Times strike that occurred at the former Anson Road office, where 300 employees protested against unfair treatment and poor salaries.

In November 1984, The Straits Times Press was merged with Times Publishing, Singapore News and Publications and Singapore Newspaper Services to form the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), whose headquarters was established at its News Centre at Genting Lane. In the subsequent decades, SPH grew and diversified its business from printed newspapers to magazines, radio stations, TV channels, digital media, event management and properties.

After another massive renovation in the late eighties, Times House was converted into the editorial office and corporate headquarters of SPH, whereas the printing facilities were shifted to its Jurong print centre. The last copies of The Straits Times were printed at Times House on 5 June 1989.

SPH moved its headquarters to a new $40m complex at Toa Payoh North in 2002, bringing down the curtains at Times House after 44 years. Its site was subsequently sold a year later to Marco Polo Developments (Wharf Estates Singapore today) for almost $120 million, which went on to demolish Times House in 2004 and build The Cosmopolitan condominium in 2008.

Published: 15 June 2021

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The Forgotten Former Schools at Parry Avenue

Parry Avenue came into existence after the war but its surrounding areas were still largely undeveloped in the early fifties. The Singapore Rural Board, in 1949, prohibited pig rearing activities near Parry Avenue as it was developed as a residential area.

After the mid-fifties, a network of minor roads was constructed, branching off the main Yio Chu Kang Road. Back then, a section of Chuan Hoe Avenue was called Japanese Cemetery Road, named after the cemetery in the vicinity. Parry Avenue was further extended in the sixties.

Parry Avenue Boys’ and Girls’ Schools, and Parry Government Chinese Middle School

By the late fifties, numerous new primary schools were established by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to provide primary education for the growing population born after the war.

At Parry Avenue were three new primary schools – Parry Avenue Boys’ School, Parry Avenue Girls’ School, and the Chinese-stream Parry Government Chinese Primary School (also known as Parry Government Chinese School, Parry Chinese School or Parry Government Chinese Middle School). They were catered to provide educational needs to the population living at Jalan Hwi Yoh, Yio Chu Kang Road, Upper Serangoon Road, Seletar Hills and Jalan Kayu.

The national level of primary education remained low in the fifties. In 1958, the Education Ministry announced on the newspapers to request parents to seek admission for their children to the published list of government schools with vacancies. Parry Avenue Boys’ and Girls’ Schools were two of the schools with many vacancies. Both schools were also affiliated. It meant that the sibling of a student at Parry Avenue Boys’ School could claim affiliation and register to study at Parry Avenue Girls’ School, and vice versa.

The Parry Avenue Boys’ School and Girls’ School were also among the first selected English-stream primary schools in the sixties to provide Tamil classes to the Tamil students. Tamil as the second language was continued to be offered at both schools till the eighties. The other second languages were Chinese and Malay.

Both Parry Avenue Boys’ and Girls’ Schools were excellent in track and field, competing regularly in the Serangoon District Singapore Combined Primary School Sports in the sixties and had won medals in the relays, hurdles and high jumps. Its large field was often selected as the hosting venue of annual athletic meets.

Both schools also won certificates of merit, along with 10 other schools, in 1968 in an inter-school cleanliness competition organised by the Singapore Tourist Association (STA), where a total of 517 schools in Singapore participated.

In 1980, Parry Avenue Girls’ School was part of the 12-school choir at the Singapore Festival of Choirs held at Victoria Theatre, where they presented to the audience a range of songs made up of both Asian and Western folk melodies, such as Sarinande, Di-Tanjong Tanjong, Hallelujah Chorus, Holla Hi Holla Ho and Tiratomba. Towards the end of the performance, the 20 best singers from the 12 schools also combined to sing “Let there be peace on Earth” and “Harmony”.

Parry Primary School

The boys’ and girls’ schools of Parry Avenue and Parry Government Chinese Middle School were merged in 1981 to become Parry Primary School.

In the same year, the new Parry Primary School was selected, along with Broadrick Primary School and three secondary schools (Anglican High, Chinese High and Nanyang Girls’ High), to be part of a pilot project for full-day school.

This meant that the schools would operate on a five-day week from 730am to 230pm (for lower primary), 730am to 310pm (for upper primary) and 730am to 320pm (for secondary). The students would then carry out their extra-curricular activities (ECA) for an hour after their classes. Saturdays would be left entirely free.

The Ministry of Education hoped that this scheme would keep the students in school under the guidance of their teachers. On the other hand, they would be able to have more time with their families during the weekends.

However, many teachers began to seek transfer out of Parry and Broadrick Primary Schools. Teaching in a full-day school meant they would spend lesser time with their families. This was because many teachers were mothers themselves. The students were also observed to be restless, tired or sleepy by the afternoons.

Hence, by December 1983, the Education Ministry decided to switch the pilot project’s full-day schools back to the half-day, double-session mode.

In 1983, Parry Primary School was the first non-mission school in Singapore to start a Boys’ Brigade as ECA for its students.

In 2007, Parry Primary School, due to dwindling student enrollment, was merged with Xinghua Primary School at Hougang Avenue 1. Xinghua Primary School has a long history dated back to 1930 when it was founded as Sing Hua School at Lim Tua Tow Road. It was relocated to Hougang and renamed as Xinghua in 1984. In 2000, Xinghua Primary School had a brief temporary relocation to Parry Avenue. Another school, Charlton Primary School at Aroozoo Avenue, was also merged with Xinghua Primary School in 2003.

Parry Secondary School

The fourth school at Parry Avenue was Parry Secondary School. It was established in 1967 (but was officially opened on 3 July 1968 by Sia Kah Hui, then-Parliamentary Secretary to the Labour Minister).

Parry Secondary School was opened at the same period with two other new government secondary schools in Singapore – Toh Tuck Secondary School at Toh Tuck Road and Changkat Changi Secondary School at Jalan Tiga Ratus, off Changi Road.

Between the late sixties and the early seventies, when the National Service was still at its infancy, due to a lack of training centres, Parry Secondary School was utilised to provide basic police training course for the Vigilante Corps.

Parry Secondary School proved itself as a contender in badminton, regularly participating in the Serangoon district badminton championships against other secondary schools. Its students also took part in inter-secondary school track and field events, such as high jumps, as well as football competitions. The secondary school shared the large field with its neighbouring primary schools.

Parry Secondary School’s Art Society and Home Economics Club made the headlines in 1978 when they held a “Art and the Home” exhibition at the Toa Payoh Library, showcasing their elegant and practical design works in home accessories. They would later take part in another art exhibition in 1980 at the National Museum Young People’s Gallery.

The premises of Parry Secondary School was used several times for Singapore’s General Elections. In the 1972 election, it was one of the 10 nomination and votes-counting centres. The electoral division it represented was made up of Jalan Kayu, Nee Soon, Punggol, Sembawang, Serangoon Gardens and Upper Serangoon. It was subsequently used again as a nomination and polling centre in the 1976, 1980 and 1984 elections.

The Education Ministry introduced in 1972 the “instant school” scheme to Parry Secondary School and three other secondary schools (Monk’s Hill Secondary School, Rangoon Road Secondary School and Chai Chee Secondary School). It was due to an unexpected surge in the number of primary school students passing the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). In 1971, 47,000 or 53% of the students passed PSLE. The number increased to 53,000 or 62% a year later.

To accommodate the additional 6,000 students, the four secondary schools had to hold additional classes at their respective primary schools – Parry Secondary School/Parry Government Chinese Primary School, Monk’s Hill Secondary School/Bukit Tunggal Malay School, Rangoon Road Secondary School/Joo Avenue Primary School and Chai Chee Secondary School/Siglap Malay School.

The new secondary one students would take their English, second languages and mathematics classes at the primary school premises, while making the trips back to their secondary schools’ labs and workshops for the science and technical lessons.

This issue was gradually eased after Singapore built more secondary schools in the seventies.

In 1976, Parry Secondary School celebrated its 10-year anniversary, attended by guest-of-honour Sia Kah Hui, the former Minister of State (Labour).

The eighties saw a significant population shift to the new towns. Also, due to dwindling student enrollment, in 1984, Parry Secondary School and Hwi Yoh Secondary School were merged to form Peicai Secondary School. The new secondary school’s name, picked by the Education Ministry, aimed to reflect the histories of the two merged schools – Parry was “Pei Li” in Chinese, and Hwi Yoh was “Xi Cai”. Hence, the two names combined to form “Pei Cai” which means “nurture of talents”.

The new Peicai Secondary School was established in 1984 at the former premises of Hwi Yoh Secondary School, whereas Parry Secondary School officially walked into history. The campus of Parry Secondary School was then taken over by Rosyth School, which was located along the nearby Rosyth Road.

Established in 1956, Rosyth School became one of Singapore’s four primary schools to host the Gifted Education Program in the mid-eighties. Due to this, its old school buildings at Rosyth road were unable to accommodate the rising number of students. At Parry Avenue, Rosyth School operated for 17 years before it shifted again to Serangoon North Avenue 4 in 2001.

The former Parry schools were no longer in operation, but their premises at Parry Avenue still exist. The school buildings are currently left vacant, while the large school field is occasionally used by the nearby residents for dog walking.

Published: 18 May 2021

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A Brief Past of Ridout Tea Garden and its Popular McDonald’s

The popular McDonald’s outlet at Ridout Tea Garden may be closing this end of 2021. Many Singaporeans expressed a pity when the news was released not long ago, as this unique McDonald’s with a picturesque setting has become a prominent landmark in the vicinity since 1989.

The Ridout Tea Garden’s history began even earlier as Queenstown Japanese Garden. It was 1970 when a small Japanese garden was first built at its current location. A typical Japanese-style garden or park was not new in Singapore. Alkaff Lake Gardens was built by the wealthy Alkaff family in the 1920s as the first Japanese garden in Singapore. It lasted until 1949 when it was sold, with the site redeveloped over the years to become Sennett Estate. A larger and better known Japanese Garden was created at Jurong in the late sixties and officially opened in 1973.

Queenstown Japanese Garden became a popular leisure venue for the nearby residents, with occasional events such as photographic competitions organised by the Queenstown Community Centre. It also consisted of 23 shops that sold a wide variety of consumer products such as furniture, sports equipment, clothes, electronic goods as well as food and beverages. One eatery, called Queen’s Garden Restaurant, offered both Western and Chinese cuisines.

The Queenstown Japanese Garden, however, was destroyed in a fire in June 1978. Almost all the shops had gone up in smokes, resulting in an estimated total cost of $1 million in damages. Only the electronic goods shop, stocked with $200,000 worth of equipment at the time of the disaster, was fortunately spared. It, however, could not survive for long as much of the garden was in ruins. With the crowds gone, the shop was the last to move out of the garden.

In 1980, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) decided to rebuild the area with another garden. $500,000 was pumped into the project, which aimed to construct another park with the popular Japanese vibe. The building – formerly occupied by the shop spared from the fire disaster – was reworked and converted into a new single-storey tea house designed with a double-slope roof and installed with wooden and plexiglass sliding doors. A pond with beautifully landscaped gardens, footpaths and bridges was also created.

Unlike the former Queenstown Japanese Garden, there would be no shops for the new garden. Instead it was to be leased out to private operators as two unique eating places that could accommodate about 300 customers.

Named Ridout Tea Garden, after the nearby Ridout Road, the change of name signified the birth of a brand new place of interest as well as to avoid confusion with the Japanese Garden at Jurong. The name origin of Ridout Road came from Major General Sir Dudley Ridout (1866-1941), the British commanding officer of the Malaya Command in the 1910s and 1920s.

When it was opened in 1980, the concept of Ridout Tea Garden was well-received but the crowds commonly seen at the former Queenstown Japanese Garden were absent, likely due to the lack of shopping amenities. There were some snack kiosks but it was a stark contrast compared to its popular past in the seventies.

Hence, in 1981, Kentucky Fried Chicken was invited to set up an outlet at Ridout Tea Garden, where the authority hoped that the popular fast food could attract the crowds to return.

In 1983, Ridout Tea Garden was one of the several filming locations for the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation’s (SBC) six-episode Army Series drama, which told the stories of eight young men enlisted in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

McDonald’s eventually replaced Kentucky Fried Chicken at Ridout Tea Garden in 1989, and, after going strong for 32 years, is currently one of Singapore’s oldest McDonald’s outlets, after the closure of the other decades-old outlets at Marine Cove and King Albert Park in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Today, the oldest McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore is the one at People Park’s Complex, which opened since 1979.

Ridout Tea Garden’s McDonald’s shares the premises with two other tenants – a Thai restaurant named Bobo (but was closed in 2020) and Far East Flora, a plant nursery.

To many, when it eventually closes, this unique McDonald’s will be a place made up of many fond memories. A common place where students spent hours doing their homework. Where early office-goers grabbed their breakfasts. And where friends met for suppers. Also not forgetting the football fans who crowded here to cheer for their teams during the late night live telecast of the World Cup matches in 2010.

Published: 5 May 2021

Updated: 28 June 2021

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Singapore’s Heritage Tree Series – Broad-Leafed Mahogany

Launched on 17 August 2001, the Heritage Tree Scheme advocates the conservation of the old mature trees in Singapore that have beautified the country’s landscapes and served as green landmarks for decades. Open to the public, anyone can nominate trees to be considered as heritage trees, as long as the trees have a girth (trunk circumference) of more than 5m and have perceived values in botanical, social, historical, cultural and aesthetical aspects.

Till date, a total of 263 trees in Singapore have been given the heritage tree status by the National Parks Board (NParks). One of the heritage trees is the broad-leafed mahogany (scientific name: swietenia macrophylla).

Introduced to Malaya and Singapore from Central and South America in 1876, the broad-leafed mahogany, a native from Honduras, has been a popular roadside tree. It possesses a dense crown of dark glossy leaves, and can grow up to 30m tall. Its small flowers are greenish-yellow in colour and have a faint scent. The fruits are large brown woody pods of about 10 to 15cm long. When ripe, they split open to release dozens of flat winged seeds.

The broad-leafed mahogany’s densely-grained timber is highly valued for the manufacturing of furniture, panelling and musical instruments. Its fruits are also sometimes used as native medicine for diabetes treatment.

A total of nine broad-leafed mahoganies with heritage tree status can be found at Seletar Airport (five), Tanglin (one) and Sentosa (three). The ones at Seletar were planted when the Seletar West Camp was developed in the 1930s. While they had probably provided the shade along the passageway for the British servicemen in the past, they are now the shade trees at the Singapore Youth Flying Club premises. The Seletar broad-leafed mahoganies were endorsed as one of Singapore’s heritage trees in 2003.

Besides the broad-leafed mahogany, there are also the African mahogany (scientific name: khaya nyasica; introduced to Singapore in the late seventies) and West Indices mahogany (scientific name: swietenia mahogani) trees in Singapore.

Published: 21 April 2021

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A Forgotten Past – The Noah’s Ark of Pasir Panjang

Once located at Pasir Panjang Road 7¼ milestone (formal address was 189 West Coast Road), the zoo, dubbed as the Noah’s Ark of Pasir Panjang, was opened during the Chinese New Year period in 1957 by Tong Seng Mun (born 1920), a wildlife dealer and owner of Chop Wah On, Singapore’s oldest medical oil company located at Pagoda Street. Chop Wah Oh was established by Tong Chee Leong, Tong Seng Mun’s father, in 1916.

After his studies, Tong Seng Mun worked at Singapore’s police department. In 1942, he quitted his job to inherit his father’s medical oil company. A dealer and avid collector of wild animals, he even kept a tiger cub named Margaret at Chop Wah Oh, which led to a humorous incident in the sixties. Tong Seng Mun would later realise his dreams of his own zoo opened at Pasir Panjang in the fifties.

Occupying a size of 2 hectares (20,000 square metres), the Pasir Panjang zoo, facing the sea, was named Singapore Miniature Zoo and housed many large animals such as sun bears, lions, panthers, camels, tapirs, penguins, orangutans, birds of paradise and 50 tanks of tropical fish. It even had a baby rhinoceros and a baby elephant.

A 90kg sea lion was specially imported from Holland in 1956 for the zoo. Costing a grand $3,000, the sea lion was also featured at Singapore Aquarists Society’s fish exhibition held at the Happy World stadium.

The Singapore Miniature Zoo was opened daily from 9am to 7pm, and charged admission fees of 50c and 20c for adults and children respectively. In 1958, more than a year after the zoo was opened, it was almost forced to close down due to debts. With his pet shop business in England running into issues, Tong Seng Mun incurred a $3,500 debt that nearly saw his zoo’s animals auctioned off for repayments. Tong Seng Mun eventually managed to settle his debt and continue the Singapore Miniature Zoo.

Tong Seng Mun also faced some pressure from the World League of Animal Lovers International, which deplored the cruel treatment of monkeys being shipped overseas. Many of the animals were often found dead at the end of the long shipments. Tong Seng Mun proposed several points, including veterinary checks, sufficient food, issuing of import and export permits and registration of animal dealers by the government, to improve the wildlife trades.

The Singapore Miniature Zoo operated for nearly 10 years and was a popular attraction along Pasir Panjang until it was eventually closed in the sixties, affected by the new regulations of international wildlife trade.

Before the establishment of the Singapore Zoo at Mandai in 1973, Singapore had several private zoos that were opened to the public. Local Chinese businessman Hoo Ah Kay’s Whampoa Gardens had a menagerie-like collection of animals in the mid-19th century. Between 1875 and 1905, there was a miniature zoo at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, consisted of orangutans, a tiger, leopard, emu and sloth bear.

Indian merchant William Basapa opened a zoo at Punggol in 1928, but it was closed and destroyed during the Second World War. The Tampines zoo, opened in 1954, boasted of various wildlife such as crocodiles, leopards, tapirs, snakes and the large, flightless cassowaries. Another Punggol zoo was started by Chan Kim Suan and his brothers in 1963. It lasted until the early seventies as the last private zoo in Singapore.

When interviewed by the Free Press in 1957, Tong Seng Mun explained that his life ambition was to get the Singapore government interested in establishing a permanent zoological garden for the colony. Although his own zoo was closed in the sixties, he remained passionate in the wildlife.

In the sixties, there were feedbacks from the public and experts regarding a state-run zoo in Singapore. Different views were discussed and debated, such as the zoo’s educational value to the people, whether it would be a boost to the country’s tourism, and the possible high costs of operation and maintenance. Some also opined that caged animals were a cruel act.

The experienced Tong Seng Mun was later engaged as the consultant for Van Kleef Aquarium (1955-1991), Jurong Bird Park (opened in 1971) and the Singapore Zoo (opened in 1973). In 2014, the Tong family donated many digital copies of the former Singapore Miniature Zoo photographs to the National Archives of Singapore.

Published: 12 April 2021

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