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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Searching for the Remaining Old Flood Gauges in Singapore

Located at the junction of Cambridge Road and Carlisle Road, this old one-metre flood gauge serves as a reminder of the frequent floods that occurred in this vicinity especially in the seventies. Such flood gauges were installed at many low-lying areas in Singapore in the past, as a means to record the depths of the waters and the severity of the floods. Not many are left standing today.

Another one can be found along Commonwealth Avenue, near the MRT station, but its wooden frame and markings are in relatively poor conditions as compared to the Cambridge Road one.

In tropical Singapore, rainfall is plentiful and thunderstorms are common. On average, it rains 167 days a year (a rainy day is defined when the total daily rainfall reaches at least 0.2mm), with Novembers and Decembers receiving the largest amount of rainfall. According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), between 1981 and 2020, the annual rainfall in Singapore averaged 2166mm.

The wet climate means that Singapore has always been affected by floods. The particularly bad ones occurred, on records, in 1935, 1954, 1955, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1974, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2013. The flooding often caused disruption of services, power failures, traffic congestions, damaged properties, and, in the worst scenarios, loss of lives.

For example, one of the worst floods in Singapore’s history occurred on 11 December 1969, a Hari Raya holiday. Incessant heavy rains led to many parts of Singapore to become severely flooded, with water depths almost at the waist’s level. Electricity and telephone lines were cut, whereas farms were drowned and poultry swept away. There were several deaths, caused by the landslides and fallen trees.

The government launched Operation Rehabilitation, made up of food distributions, rent subsidies and other aids to the affected residents and farmers to help them resume their lives and work back to normal. Major clean-ups were also carried out to remove piles of debris accumulated during the floods.

Another flood disaster happened on the early morning of 7 September 1974. Three hours of torrential rain led to a 38mm accumulation of rainfall, recorded by the Paya Lebar meteorological station.

The low-lying Jalan Besar and Rochor areas were hit badly – at one stage, the floods there were almost 2 feet (61cm) deep. Many houses at Cambridge Road, Geylang Serai and Bukit Timah were flooded, forcing their residents to move out temporarily. Hundreds of cars at the downtown and city areas were stranded, with huge traffic jams reported during the morning peak hours.

In December 1978, thunderstorms again caused disastrous flooding at the areas from Bishan to Potong Pasir. This time, the floods claimed seven lives, thousands of pigs and poultry and destroyed large areas of farms and crops.

Since the early seventies, almost $2 billion had been invested to improve Singapore’s drainage infrastructure. A drainage master plan was drawn in the mid-seventies by the Ministry of Environment. Major diversion canals were constructed. A large canal, for instance, was constructed at Ulu Pandan in 1970 as part of the anti-flood scheme. New towns and housing estates developed in the seventies were also designed with better drainage networks. By the late eighties, things had significantly improved.

Further enhancements were carried out after 2000. The Marina Barrage, opened in 2008, is equipped with pumps to flush out the water into the sea during thunderstorms. In many of newer buildings, detention tanks and retention ponds were also installed to slow down the flow of water, hence preventing the overloading of the drainage network within a short period of time.

The Public Utility Board (PUB) has also installed water level sensors and CCTVs at numerous canals and drains, providing the public with quick updates of possible flash floods. Today, flash floods still occur due to sudden surge of rainfalls, but the waters tend to subside quickly. These new advanced devices are a stark contrast as compared to the old flood gauges that were once found in the different parts of Singapore.

Published: 28 March 2021

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Exploring the Remnants of Kay Siang Bunkers

The Kay Siang Bunkers have been hidden in the small forested area between Kay Siang Road and Margaret Road for decades. Probably built in the 1940s by the British as storage places for ammunition and other supplies, there are a total of three bunkers, designed with double doors for reinforced protection against impacts and bombings. These bunkers might be supporting facilities for the nearby Buller Camp at Alexandra Road, a former British military camp in this vicinity.

The Alexandra Road area was heavily damaged during the Second World War when the British’s Normanton oil depot was set on fire in an attempt to stop the Japanese from advancing.

The desperate bet failed as the thick smoke engulfed the nearby villages instead. When the enemies took over the place, they brutally massacred the remaining residents in the villages. It was unknown whether or how the bunkers served their purposes during the war. After the war, the Kay Siang bunkers were presumably forgotten and gradually consumed by nature.

In the early fifties, Buller Camp, along with the villages, farms, cemeteries and swamps in the vicinity, was demolished and cleared by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) for the development of a new Queenstown housing estate. Margaret Drive was constructed as the main road for the new Princess Estate. Despite the development, the Kay Siang Bunkers remained undisturbed.

The surrounding area around the bunkers saw some changes over the decades. Several schools, such as Hua Yi Government Chinese Middle School, Tanglin Girls’ School, Strathmore School and Kay Siang School, emerged around the bunkers and its forested home in the late fifties and sixties. Some students of these schools might have discovered and explored the bunkers.

Townsville Institute was established in the late eighties, occupying the former site of Hua Yi Government Chinese Middle School. It had a stadium built just a stone away from the bunkers.

The campus later became the headquarters for the Movement For The Intellectually Disabled. By the late 2000s, the premises, except the stadium, were torn down. A new Housing and Development Board (HDB) cluster of flats named Skyparc was developed.

On the opposite side of Kay Siang Road are some of the pre-war colonial houses, built and used by the British likely in the 1930s. Most of the houses have been used as exclusive private residences today.

Note: Interested explorers of Kay Siang Bunkers need to watch out for safety as the decades-old buildings, especially the remaining façade of the first bunker, may be structurally unstable.

Published: 10 March 2021

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Emerald Hill – A Gem at Orchard

The beautiful Emerald Hill area today was originally a jungle when the British first arrived at Singapore. The trees were cleared between 1819 and 1836 to provide fuel for the boiling of gambier leaves. After decades of exploitation, Emerald Hill became a barren wasteland, and was leased in 1837 to William Cuppage (1807-1872), who was originally a postal clerk in Singapore in the early 1830s and had worked his way up to become the Acting Postmaster-General in 1856.

In 1845, William Cuppage was granted the permanent ownership of Emerald Hill, where he planted vast nutmeg plantations and built two villas for himself called Erin Lodge and Fern Cottage. The nutmegs, however, failed in the 1860s due to diseases and falling prices.

When Cuppage died in 1872, he left the plantations to his three daughters. One of Cuppage’s son-in-law Edwin Koek, a lawyer and Municipal Commissioner, purchased the estate. Both Cuppage Road and Koek Road were named after William Cuppage and Edwin Koek respectively.

In the following decades, Emerald Hill had changed ownership several times. In 1900, the estate was purchased by local Chinese businessmen Seah Boon Kang and Seah Eng Kiat, who then carved up the land into smaller lots and sold them to individual owners who built the first terrace houses and shophouses at Emerald Hill. Many of these early terrace houses of Emerald Hill were designed in Georgian and Regency styles, with added touches of Chinese Baroque elements especially in their façades, wall ornaments and ceramic floor tiles.

The Emerald Hill of the early 20th century soon became a residential enclave for the wealthy local Chinese and Peranakan businessmen and their families. During this period, a typical Emerald Hill terrace house would cost about $3,000. It was a bustling place then, where many rickshaws and horse drawn carriages plied the roads.

The Orchard Road Market, situated between Cuppage Road and Koek Road, was the go-to place for the Emerald Hill residents to get their fresh produce and groceries. There was also the Singapore Cold Storage that catered mainly to the European residents living in the Orchard area. Opening in 1905 at the site of present-day Centrepoint, it was Singapore’s first supermarket.

A railway bridge also once existed near Emerald Hill. Known as the Orchard Road Railway Bridge, it was part of the railway system between Tank Road and Woodlands Jetty. In 1932, the Tank Road Station and Orchard Road Railway Bridge were subsequently demolished after the railway line was diverted to the Keppel Road Station.

The increasingly crowded Emerald Hill saw more street hawkers moving into the area to sell food and other stuff. The poor hygienic conditions of the hawkers and street eventually led to a typhoid outbreak in 1934, affecting as many as 11 adults and 13 school children, some of whom died.

In 1921, the Municipal Commission agreed to convert Emerald Hill Road into a public street. Six years later, Hullet Road, a short street connecting Emerald Hill Road to Cairnhill Road, was properly paved and also declared a public street. In 1937, Cairnhill Road was extended at its northern end to link up with Emerald Hill Road. The road extension was named Cairnhill Circle.

To the local residents, Emerald Hill Road was fondly known as tang leng tiam yia yee hang (“Tanglin Cinema Street” in Teochew). The cinema referred to the Pavilion Theatre (previously known as Palladium Theatre) that operated between 1914 and 1971 near Emerald Road Hill. The location of the cinema today is occupied by Orchard Gateway.

In 1925, the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School moved from Hill Street to the Orchard area, where its new $65,000 campus was located in the parcel of land bounded by Orchard Road, Emerald Hill Road, Cairnhill Road and Hullet Road.

The Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was founded in 1899 as an all-girls Peranakan school. To support its relocation plan, Dr Lim Boon Keng, one of the co-founders of the school, agreed to sell his parcel of land at Orchard to the government, which subsequently exchanged it with the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School’s Hill Street premises.

The Singapore Chinese Girls’ School stayed at the Emerald Hill area until 1994 when it moved to Dunearn Road. Its old school campus was then taken over by Chatsworth International School in 1998.

The Second World War impacted Emerald Hill just like any other places in Singapore. After the war, the wealthy Straits Chinese’s exclusive residential enclave had lost its upper class shine; the terrace houses and shophouses had become dilapidated and some were left vacant. Robberies and house break-ins were rampant at Emerald Hill in the fifties.

During the post-war period in the late 1940s, supplies of the basic necessities were extremely tight. In 1946, hundreds had to queue along Emerald Hill Road to get their milk at the Singapore Cold Storage, where the controlled quota was fixed at nine tins of condensed milk per person.

Some of the more prominent former residents of Emerald Hill Road were former Municipal Commissioners Seow Poh Leng and Chin Chye Fong (1892-1965). There were also Heng Pang Kiat, a Justice of Peace, and Chan Sze Jin (1886-1948), a Straits-born Chinese lawyer and member of Executive and Legislative Councils. More than 500 people attended Chan Sze Jin’s funeral when the procession left his Emerald Hill Road house on 27 September 1948.

The Tai Suah Ting cemetery at the Orchard area was exhumed and cleared in the mid-fifties. Orchard, due to its excellent location and close proximity from the city area, gradually became a bustling place, with C.K. Tang Department Store opening in 1958. Supermarkets, malls and hotels began filling up Orchard from the sixties to the eighties. Despite the rapid pace of development, Emerald Hill remained a hidden and quiet sanctuary from the increasing busy main streets.

In 1982, the century-old Orchard Road Market was demolished to make way for the further development of Orchard Road into a shopping belt. Peranakan Corner, at the junction between Emerald Hill Road and Orchard Road, was renamed Peranakan Place and was leased out by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to a private entity for the promotion of Peranakan culture to both locals and tourists.

In 1985, URA announced the plan of an Emerald Hill Conservation Area to be established at a cost of $2.2 million, inclusive of the restoration cost for some of the terrace houses.

In the late eighties, a section of Emerald Hill Road, the short stretch that led to its junction with Orchard Road, was pedestrianised and closed off to vehicular traffic. Likewise, part of the neighbouring Cuppage Road was also converted into a pedestrian walkway.

The Emerald Hill area was officially gazetted for conservation by URA on 7 July 1989, together with Peranakan Place and Cuppage Terrace. Most of Emerald Hill’s terrace houses were designated for private residential usage, except for a few that were granted for commercial purposes.

While the owners were required to maintain the front façades of the housing units, in order not to compromise the overall aesthetics of the Emerald Hill’s stretch of conserved terrace houses, they were allowed to add extensions at the rear of their units to create more spaces. These extensions, however, were not allowed to be taller than the front façades.

Emerald Hill and Peranakan Place are part of the Orchard Road’s Heritage Trail today.

Published: 26 February 2021

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The Colourful Landmark of Selegie Arts Centre

Tucked in the corner of Selegie Road and Prinsep Street, the three-storey wedge-shaped building is an eye-catching landmark, largely due to its odd shape and rows of window panes painted in bright cheerful colours.

The formal address of this building is 30 Selegie Road, and it was likely built in the late 19th century or early 20th century as part of the row of shophouses along Prinsep Street. According to the Newspapers Archives of Singapore, the junction of Selegie Road and Prinsep Street used to have many jinricksha (rickshaw) pullers, coolies and a public latrine.

In the eighties, the building housed a popular kopitiam at its first floor, serving delicious Indian rojak, banana leaf curry, tandoori chicken and kebabs. There was even a small yogurt bar in the coffeeshop. By the early nineties, Prinsep Street’s row of aging shophouses, affected by the urban renewal plan, were torn down. The unique wedge-shaped building was fortunately preserved, escaping the demolition plan. However, it was in a poor dilapidated state.

In 1994, the National Arts Council (NAC) moved in to house several of the local arts groups, giving the pale-yellow building a new lease of life and a new name called the Selegie Arts Centre. Tenders were opened and the public was invited to set up cafes and art retail shops such as bookshops, art materials shops and music shops.

The Selegie Arts Centre, since 1995, also houses the Photographic Society of Singapore as well as the Loke Wan Tho Gallery, which displays the former Cathay Organisation founder and cinema magnate’s award-winning photographs taken in the fifties.

As part of the Waterloo Street Arts Belt, the Selegie Arts Centre is managed under the NAC’s Arts Housing Scheme, which was implemented in 1985 as an effort to provide artists and arts groups in Singapore affordable spaces to carry out and develop their works, so as to contribute to an active Singapore arts scene.

Besides the Waterloo Street Arts Belt, NAC also works with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in the designation of the Chinatown and Little India Arts Belts. Under the housing scheme, the old shophouses and disused warehouses at Chinatown and Little India are leased to many arts groups, where they help to revitalise and rejuvenate the buildings and areas.

The other arts institutions and campuses around the Selegie vicinity include the Singapore Art Museum (Bras Basah Road), Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) (Bencoolen Street), Lasalle College of Arts (McNally Street), Stamford Arts Centre, Sculpture Square and Singapore Calligraphy Society (Waterloo Street).

Published: 20 January 2021

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The End of Lorong 3 Geylang Neighbourhood

The Lorong 3 Geylang terrace houses, 191 of them, had their 60-year leases ended on 31 December 2020. Began in 1960, the houses held on for six decades and eventually became Singapore’s first residential units to have met the expiry of their leases. By January 2021, all the housing units have since been vacated and taken over by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). It is expected that the small housing estate will be redeveloped for future residential purposes.

Before the sixties, Lorong 3 Geylang, running perpendicular at the start of Sims Avenue and Geylang Road, led to two villages – Kampong Koo Chye (sometimes spelt as Khoo Chye or Kuchai) and Kampong Hock Soon. Largely made up of wooden houses on stilts along one of the tributaries of Kallang River, Kampong Koo Chye was better known as it hit the news headlines in the late fifties due to a fire disaster.

Fires were major concerns in the fifties. Kampong Bugis and Kampong Tiong Bahru were destroyed by large fires in 1951 and 1959 respectively. Geylang’s Lorong 1 and Lorong 3 were also sites of two notorious fire disasters in the late fifties – the lorong 1 fire consumed a small village, whereas the much larger Kampong Koo Chye at Lorong 3 was burnt down in 1958.

5 April 1958 was the fateful day for Kampong Koo Chye. A huge fire swept through 200-plus wooden huts, resulting in five deaths and 79 injuries. 379 families with 2,000 residents were rendered homeless overnight. It was Qing Ming Festival then, and a lit joss stick was believed to have carelessly dropped and caused the flames to start spreading rapidly in the strong winds.

Four fire engines were quickly deployed and 300 men, made up of firefighters and the locals, fought the fire for almost three hours before the inferno could be brought under control. But by 430pm, most of the houses had been burnt to ashes. Only an evening downpour stopped the fire from spreading to a nearby Lee Rubber factory, where 3,000 tonnes of rubber were stored.

It was then Singapore’s worst post-war fire disaster. In the aftermath, many residents were seen trying to salvage their charred belongings in the smouldering wreckage of their former homes. Voluntary organisations and social welfare workers arrived to help out with the food, clothing and medical distribution. More than 2,000 homeless people were temporarily housed at Geylang English School. Some of the residents managed to seek refuge with their relatives at other kampongs.

To assist the victims affected by the disaster, the Singapore City Council pledged $100,000 to a newly set-up relief fund. A further $200,000 was collected through donations from the public and various organisations. The Singapore government, under Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock, contributed to the fund by matching the donation amount dollar to dollar. Much of the funds went to help the victims as well as the construction of a number of low-cost low-rise houses in the vicinity.

The houses – their construction would eventually cost $900,000 – were rapidly built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). Slightly more than 200 double-storey housing units were completed by 1960. Located at the end of Lorong 3 Geylang, the new residential estate – its land were acquired from private owners – was named Lorong Tiga Estate (tiga is three in Malay). Contracted with 60-year leases, each house was available for $5,000 with installment plans offered.

1,300 residents from the Kampong Koo Chye fire disaster had chosen to move into Lorong Tiga Estate. For the others, more than 100 families shifted to the SIT flats at Kallang and Queenstown. The rest decided to return to the rebuilt Kampong Koo Chye.

Lorong Tiga Estate was made up of 14 blocks, numbered Block 3 to 16. The blocks consist of five to 13 housing units. The Housing and Redevelopment Board (HDB) took over SIT in 1960, including all of its existing residential leases.

In the seventies, Kallang River and its tributaries were aligned, lengthened and canalised. New roads in Upper Boon Keng Road, Geylang Bahru and Kallang Bahru were built, serving the up and coming Kallang and Geylang Bahru industrial estates. Kampong Koo Chye walked into history by the mid-seventies, while new HDB flats were developed near Lorong Tiga Estate, including two HDB point blocks (Block 38 and 39) that were built beside the estate in 1976.

Fast forward to 60 years later, in 2020, the leases of the Lorong Tiga Estate houses finally came to an end. Before they were vacated, most owners had already moved out. At the end of 2020, only 40 housing units were still occupied by their owners. 16 had been converted for religious purposes, while 135 were used as dormitories for foreign workers.

Most of the HDB flats carry a 99-year lease. In the past two decades, many older flats underwent the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) and were demolished and replaced by new public housing. However, there are many other old flats that do not fall under the SERS. The flats at Stirling Road, for example, were built in 1968 and are currently one of the oldest batches of flats in Singapore. Tens of thousands more were built in the seventies. It will be a major challenge when the clock starts ticking towards the lease expiry of these flats.

Published: 6 January 2021

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Bidding Farewell to Dakota Crescent Flats

Dakota Crescent and its low-rise flats were built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in 1958, two years before the formation of the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

It was then known as the Old Kallang Airport Estate, a massive $2,250,000 housing project prided by SIT to be “one of the most pleasant and easily accessible suburbs in the colony, served by first class road and frequent bus services. Abdul Hamid bin Haji Jumat (1916-1978), the Minister for Local Government, Lands and Housing officiated the opening of the housing estate with a commemorative plaque in July 1958.

Old Airport Road was constructed as the main road leading to the housing estate, connected to a small network of minor roads named Jalan Satu, Jalan Dua, Jalan Tiga, Jalan Empat, Jalan Lima and Jalan Enam (“one” to “six” in Malay). Blocks of one-, two- and three-room flats were developed on both sides of Old Airport Road, where the Dakota Crescent blocks had even block numbers. The flats on the other side of road were assigned odd block numbers.

Old Kallang Airport Estate and Old Airport road were named after the defunct civilian airport located a short distance away, in which its operations were ceased in 1955. Dakota Crescent was named after Dakota DC-3, an American transport plane that once commonly did its landings at Kallang Airport. In 1946, one Dakota DC-3, belonged to the Royal Air Force (RAF), crashed at Kallang Airport in a thunderstorm. All of its passengers perished in the disaster.

Residents and shopkeepers started moving into Dakota Crescent in 1958. The rental of the one-room flats were $25 per month, but increased to $40 by the early sixties. The first shops, meanwhile, were available for lease at a monthly fee of $125 to $150. In 1959, around 4,000 residents from Kampong Tiong Bahru were temporarily housed at the vacant flats after their attap and timber houses were destroyed in a big fire.

The new housing estate faced several issues in the early days. It had no public phone booths – the residents urged the Singapore Telephone Board to install one so they could get in touch with the police in times of emergency. The lifts were unreliable – one of the flats’ lift was jammed and trapped a family of nine until they were freed by the SIT’s lift operators.

Street lights were installed in 1962, but only along the main Old Airport Road – the roads of Dakota Crescent, Jalan Satu, Jalan Dua and Jalan Tiga were still in the darkness at night. Other requests by some of the early residents included carparks and additional Singapore Traction Company’s bus services to the city area.

Other than the lack of public amenities, the early Old Kallang Airport Estate was also plagued by frequent criminal activities such as thefts, robberies and clashes between rivaling secret society members. In the early sixties, the nearest police station was located more than 6km away. The roads were also lined with street hawkers in the sixties, causing traffic obstruction and choked drains filled with garbage.

Despite the tough conditions, the community spirit within the estate was strong. In 1968, Old Kallang Airport Estate came in second as the nation’s cleanest estate competition organised by HDB, after hundreds of participating residents spent the morning sweeping and washing the corridors and staircases. The blocks at Dakota would win another “cleanest blocks” contest in 1995. In 1969, the small strip of land in front of Block 36 also topped HDB’s gardening competition.

The popular Old Airport Road hawker centre was added to the estate in 1973, housing some of the street hawkers. The nearby Mountbatten Adult Education Board (AEB)  Centre, in the seventies, provided numerous courses for the residents’ personal development and upgrading.

In the early eighties, many one-room flats within the Old Kallang Airport Estate were torn down, replaced by new high-rise blocks of three- and four-room flats. At Dakota Crescent, the HDB blocks of 58, 60 and 62 were built in 1983.

Schools were also built at the estate. Broadrick Secondary School and Maju Secondary School were officially opened in 1969 (In 1996, Broadrick Secondary School and Maju Secondary School were merged to form the new single-session Broadrick Secondary School). Mountbatten Primary School was merged in the eighties from Mountbatten English Primary School and Mountbatten Government Chinese Primary School (in 2001, it amalgamated with Fowlie Primary School and Haig Boys’ School to form Tanjong Katong Primary School).

Another big change came in the 2000s when almost half of the Dakota Crescent flats were torn down to make way for new condominiums. The old Block 34, 36, 38, 40 and 42 SIT flats were replaced by Dakota Residences, completed in 2010. The space left behind by the demolition of Block 44, 46, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 70 and 72 is now occupied by the Waterbank at Dakota.

On the other side of Old Airport Road, only Block 13 and 21 of the original Old Kallang Airport Estate development remain till this day.

In 2015, the government announced that Dakota Crescent would be slated for redevelopment under Mountbatten’s estate renewal plans. A Save Dakota Crescent group has since been formed to raise their concerns to the authority, pushing for the estate to be conserved and re-purposed for other uses. Their concerns were discussed in the parliament in October 2016.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) decided that Dakota Crescent’s central cluster of six flats and the iconic dove playground would be conserved and refurbished for civil and community uses, while the remaining nine blocks would be demolished and have their sites redeveloped.

By end of 2017, almost 95% of Dakota Crescent’s 400 households had moved out. Many of them were longtime residents of Dakota Crescent, who grew up in the neighbourhood and had lived there for more than half a century. Some of the residents chose to move the nearby Cassia Crescent.

The demolition project of the Dakota Crescent flats was put on hold in the first half of 2020 due to the Covid-19 circuit breaker enforcement. It has since resumed in late November 2020, and it is finally time to bid farewell to the 62-year-old SIT flats.

Published: 02 December 2020

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Singapore Trivia – A Lone Kampong House at Mandai

There is not much information on the kampong house – how long has it been left there, why was it not demolished last time?

Located about 100m off Gangsa Track (former Mandai Track 15), the small kampong house measures roughly 7m by 5m. Standing on stilts, it is made of wood and has a zinc roof. At the back of the house is a small pond, possibly used for fish or prawn farming in the past. Nearby are also former water wells and remnants of brick and wooden structures which could be used to keep poultry.

The green paint on the house’s walls has worn off, and its wooden stairs broken off, indicating that the house should be abandoned for a long time. But some of its connecting bolts are found relatively new; perhaps there were some repairs in recent years? Judging by its relatively small size and location, the house might be a temporary home or a storage place.

According to the Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) 1979 and 1985 maps, Mandai Track 15 used to have many houses, ponds, plantations and even a place of worship.

Gangsa Track, or Gangsa Trail, was developed for both the mountain bikers and trekkers in the early 2000s. Stretching about 5km from Mandai Road to Chestnut Nature Park (North), it was developed from Mandai Track 15, a beaten road off the main Mandai Road.

As for other rural roads such as Lorong Gangsa and Jalan Kwok Min, they existed until the nineties before they were expunged and consumed by the thick Mandai forest and undergrowth.

Between the early and mid-eighties, Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) was constructed from north to south, first from Woodlands to Mandai Road, then from Mandai Road to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE). This affected some of the Mandai villages, resulting in the relocation of their residents.

By the late eighties, the Mandai area was taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces as part of their training grounds, and almost all the villages were relocated and demolished.

Although Gangsa Track has been made accessible to the public since the early 2000s, Live Firing Area and Protected Area signages remain erected at certain points to warn people against straying needlessly into the forested area.

Published: 11 November 2020

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15 Defunct Department Stores We Miss the Most

As we bid farewell to longtime retail giant Robinsons, let us do a recap of those once-familiar Japanese, French, Hong Kong as well as local department stores that became defunct in Singapore (We will save the former supermarkets/hypermarkets for another day).

1. Robinsons (1858-2020)

Being in the business for a long 162 years, Robinsons began as a small shop at Raffles Place (formerly Commercial Square), named Spicier and Robinson. Its founders James Gaborian Spicer and Philip Robinson sold everything from European groceries, spices to women’s apparel.

In 1859, the business was renamed Robinsons and Company after James Spicer left the partnership. By the early 20th century, Robinsons had become the leading department store in Singapore, positioning itself as the upmarket store catering specially for the European expatriates.

In its history, Robinsons and its iconic department store at Raffles Place survived the Great Depression (it posted its first ever losses of about $233,000 in 1932), Second World War bombings, Japanese Occupation (it was closed between 1942 and 1945) and a disastrous fire in 1972 that killed nine people and destroyed million dollars’ worth of goods.

Robinsons picked itself up after the disaster, expanding to other parts of Singapore. It subsequently opened stores at the Specialist’s Shopping Centre (1972), Clifford Centre (1977-1983) and The Centrepoint (1983-2014). After the company was sold to the Al Futtaim Group, another three stores were opened – Raffles City (2001-2020), JEM (2013-2020) and The Heeren (2013-2020). But they were eventually closed in 2020 due to dwindling business, challenges from the eCommerce and the impact by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Memorable Slogan: “Robinsons Sale – The sale worth waiting for

2. John Little (1842-2016)

Before Robinsons, John Little was Singapore’s oldest department store. It was started in 1842 when John Martin Little opened his shop at Raffles Place (formerly Commercial Square), selling wine, textile, furniture, stationery and clocks. In 1955, John Little was acquired by Robinsons.

John Little left his iconic Raffles Place store in the sixties, and over the years, went on to open stores at the downtown area, such as Plaza Singapura and Specialist’s Shopping Centre. It was revamped with a new logo “JL” in the late eighties in order to woo the younger crowds.

John Little reached out into the new towns and suburban area in the early 2000s, by opening outlets at Parkway Parade, Jurong Point, Northpoint and Compass Point. But by 2015, Robinsons’ new owner Al Futtaim Group decided to close all the John Little department stores in Singapore, with the last one at Plaza Singapura shuttered in November 2016.

3. Yaohan (1974-1997)

Japanese department store Yaohan entered the Singapore market in 1974 with its first branch at Plaza Singapura. Offering a wide range of merchandise, Yaohan also boasted a supermarket, bakery and even a child play centre, a fresh concept that attracted many shoppers in the seventies and eighties. Before Yaohan, Singaporeans had not have the chance to experience shopping, supermarket and takeaway snacks under one roof.

At its peak, Yaohan had stores at Katong (1977-1983), Thomson Plaza (1979-1998), Bukit Timah (1981-1996), Jurong (1983-1997) and Parkway Parade (1983-1997). But by the late eighties, it faced challenges from other Japanese department stores such as Daimaru. The new mega player Takashimaya, opened at Ngee Ann City in 1993, also influenced changes in the consumers’ shopping habits.

Yaohan opened its last store at Marina Square in 1996 in a bid to catch up with its rivals, yet a year later, its mother company in Japan was declared insolvent due to mounting losses. In Singapore, its flagship store at Plaza Singapura was closed in 1997. Thomson Yaohan, the last one standing, eventually shut down in 1998.

Memorable slogan: “For one-stop family shopping

4. Daimaru (1983-2003) 

Daimaru was another Japanese department chain that had been eyeing the Singapore market for a long time. It was during the Second World War when Daimaru set up its first department store in Malaya – opened in Penang in 1942. It had a brief presence in Singapore, replacing the ousted John Little at Raffles Place. During the sixties and seventies, Daimaru carried out market researches and surveys to establish a branch in Singapore.

Finally, in November 1983, Daimaru’s flagship store at Liang Court was opened. It enjoyed the best days throughout the eighties, warding off challenges from other large retailers such as Isetan, Metro, Robinsons and Tangs. But entering the late nineties, Damairu was suffering from consecutive years of losses.

Despite the tough times, Daimaru seemingly won the battle when they took over the space left behind by Yaohan at Plaza Singapura, as the latter had shut down in 1997 due to bankruptcy. However, Plaza Singapura’s Daimaru did not last for too long. It was opened for six years before its operations were ceased due to its Japanese headquarters’ decision to scale down on their overseas venture and concentrate in their main business back at home.

5. Sogo (1986-2000)

Sogo was another Japanese retail giant that had established a number of department stores in Singapore in the nineties. Back in Japan, it had a long history, starting off as a kimono shop in 1830. In the eighties and nineties, Sogo expanded to other Asian regions, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Sogo opened its flagship store at Raffles City in 1986, with Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Suppiah Dhanabalan (born 1937) invited as the guest of honour to officiate the opening. The company subsequently opened two more new stores at Paragon and Tampines’ DBS Building.

But in 2000, Sogo ran into real estate investment issues and landed itself in a mountain of debts. Several overseas stores had to be closed, including the ones at Singapore. The 14-year-old Sogo flagship store at Raffles City was replaced by Robinsons, whereas Metro took over Sogo’s former premises at Paragon.

6. Tokyu (1987-1998)

Tokyu joined other Japanese department chains in Singapore by opening its first store at Marina Square in October 1987, where former Finance Minister Dr Richard Hu (born 1926) officiated the opening.

Tokyu Department Store was designed to provide shoppers a “complete Japanese experience with the ingenuity of traditional Japanese-style customer services”. Tokyu positioned itself as a brand offering moderately-priced merchandise from Japan, Hong Kong and other sources. By the late eighties, besides the Singapore store, Tokyu had expanded to Hawaii, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

In 1993, Tokyu closed its Marina Square branch (1987-1993) and moved to Tampines (1993-1998). But by 1998, Tokyu had exited the local market as the group looked to restructure and liquidate their overseas assets due to hefty losses incurred during the 1997/98 recession. In 2014, Tokyu Hands, a sister store of the former Tokyu Department Store came to Singapore with a new lifestyle store opened at Westgate.

7. Seiyu (1998-2008)

Another Japanese brand was Seiyu, which was established in 1946. In Singapore, Seiyu appeared in 1994 as Seiyu Wing On Department Store, a joint venture with Hong Kong company Wing On. Seiyu then took over and became the main department stores at Bugis Junction, Junction 8 (Bishan) and Lot 1 (Choa Chu Kang) in 1998.

Singapore’s Seiyu stores were bought over by Beijing Hualian Group in 2005 for $4 million, and their stores renamed BHG. By 2016, BHG has owned seven department stores in Singapore, at locations such as Seletar Mall, Century Square Shopping Centre and Jurong Point. Meanwhile, the Seiyu Group back in Japan was fully acquired by Walmart in 2008.

8. Galeries Lafayette (1982-1996)

Upmarket French department store chain Galeries Lafayette has been finding successes in its business since it opened in 1912. However, that success was not replicated in Singapore. It had an official opening at Goldhill Plaza on 7 December 1982, occupying three storeys and offering many exquisite yet affordable items of Galeries Lafayette’s own brands.

However, the department store lasted only four years at Goldhill Plaza, before it had to shut down in 1986 after posting a total of $15 million’s worth of losses. Poor store location, image problems and merchandising difficulties were cited as the reasons behind its closure.

But Galeries Lafayette was determined to make a comeback in Singapore. On 28 March 1987, it reopened its store at Liat Towers, aiming to claim a stake in the fast growing Orchard Road shopping belt. It took over the space previously occupied by Isetan, which had moved to Wisma Atria.

But once again, stiff competition and leasing issues eventually saw Galeries Lafayette bowed out of the Singapore market again, this time in early 1996.

9. Printemps (1983-1989)

Galeries Lafayette was not the only French department store trying to penetrate the Singapore market. Printemps, a French department store that dealt with lifestyle, fashion and accessories, had a brief presence at Singapore’s Orchard Road in the eighties. The retail giant was founded in 1865, and went global in the eighties and nineties by opening stores in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan as well as Singapore.

10. Lane Crawford (1994-1996)

Established Hong Kong retailer Lane Crawford has a significant history, dating back to 1850. It later expanded to China and Japan but was devastated by the Second World War. Lane Crawford quickly picked itself up after the war, becoming an upmarket department store that offered jewellery, fashion, furniture and watches.

In June 1994, Lane Crawford arrived at Singapore, with its store opened at Lane Crawford Place at Orchard Road. Former Minister for Information and The Arts George Yeo was the guest of honour for its official opening.

Singapore, however, was undergoing a retail slump in the mid-nineties. Lane Crawford itself was also bothered by internal issues, which saw some of its top management resigned in quick succession. In 1995, Lane Crawford slashed its store size from five floors to two.

Just slightly more than two years after its opening, Lane Crawford was closed in October 1996, incurring a loss of $7 million including a compensation to landlord Marco Polo Development for the early releasing of its four-year lease. Lane Crawford exited the Singapore market and Lane Crawford Place was subsequently renamed Wheelock Place.

11. Singapore Shui Hing (1980-1983)

Before Lane Crawford, Shui Hing had already attempted to break into the Singapore market. But it also suffered the same fate of having a short-lived presence here, lasting only three years. Shui Hing was started in Hong Kong in 1964, and had been successful, opening as many as 17 outlets in the former British colony by the end of the seventies.

In Singapore, Shui Hing opened the first store at Orchard Road in August 1980, selling mainly American and European merchandise. It was designed in American style, in order to provide customers a feel of “shopping in New York”. The store consisted of four storeys, made up of sections selling fashion, kitchenware and household products. It also had a gourmet shop serving food and beverages.

However, a year later, Shui Hing attempted to shed its pricey New York image. By mid-1983, the department store and its building were put up for sale at a price of $32 million. OG bought the building for $25 million, and Singapore Shui Hong officially walked into history in July 1983.

Memorable slogan: “It’s like shopping in New York”

12. Kmart Metro (1994-1996)

In 1994, Kmart collaborated with Metro to open three stores in Singapore, including the ones at Marina Square and Century Square (at Tampines). Positioning itself as a store offering great values, Kmart aimed to bring a whole new meaning to “discount shopping”.

But again, Singapore’s retail slump in the nineties put massive pressure on its three stores, which suffered a total loss of $12.6 million in 1995. A year later, Kmart’s main office in the United States decided to close more than 200 stores globally, including the Singapore outlets, to concentrate in its North and South American markets.

13. Cortina (1973-late 1980s)

Cortina Department Store was a prominent shopping venue housed at Colombo Court, North Bridge Road. Covering six floors, the department store sold everything from fashion, shoes, bags and perfumes to toys, wine and kitchenware. But the fortune of Cortina went into a decline in the early eighties. It was downsized in 1984 and moved to Funan Centre a year later.

Other local department stores of the past also included the Aurora Department Store (1938-1960s), located at the junction of North Bridge Road and High Street, and Vashi’s Department Store (1960s-1973), a department store at Raffles Place’s D’Almeida Street during the sixties. It was closed in September 1973.

Both were upmarket department stores catering to the masses living and working at the city area.

14. Emporium (1961-1987)

Emporium was a name once familiar to many Singaporeans. It was Singapore’s largest department chain in the early eighties before it was hit by the 1985 recession.

At its peak, the Emporium Holdings Group, established by Lim Tow Yong and his brother back in 1961, opened more than 50 department stores in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Its iconic Emporium department stores could be found in almost all major new towns in Singapore in the early eighties.

Besides Emporium, the group also owned Oriental, Chinese, Eastern, Sin Hua and Yuyi, which specialised in a wide range of Chinese products in garments, textiles and food stuff. In 1978, Emporium Holdings Group opened its 12th retail outlet – Klasse Department Store – at Lucky Plaza.

Debt-laden in the mid-eighties due to the unexpected recession and the group’s overly aggressive expansion, Emporium eventually fell into bankruptcy and faded away among the larger department store chains in Singapore.

Memorable Slogan: “There’s an Emporium around every corner to serve you!

15. Tah Chung Emporium (1967-1990s)

Located between Commonwealth Avenue and Margaret Drive, Tah Chung Emporium was opened in 1967, and had been Queenstown’s iconic landmark for more than two decades. It was housed in a three-storey building, with the first and third floor occupied by hawkers and a Chinese dim sum restaurant. The emporium had the entire second level to itself, selling household goods, kitchenware, apparel and electrical appliances.

In the seventies, Tah Chung Emporium also collaborated with the Emporium Holdings Group, Singapura Emporium (East Coast Road) and People’s Emporium (Tanjong Katong Road) to dish out a “combined emporiums sale”, offering discount vouchers, free gifts and other attractive sale gimmicks.

As Queenstown aged, Tah Chung Emporium went into a decline and was eventually closed in the late nineties, with its building torn down in 1999.

Other Emporiums

The name emporium was widely used between the sixties and eighties. Besides the larger department stores under Emporium Holdings Group and Tah Chung Emporium, there were many others such as Tashing Emporium (at People’s Park Complex), Overseas Emporium (People’s Park Complex), Great Wall Emporium (Maxwell Road), Shankar’s Emporium (High Street) and Neo Soon Whatt Emporium (Serangoon Gardens).

Tashing Co (Pte) Ltd started as a heavy machinery supplier in 1969. They also established Tashing Emporium, which offered products imported from Taiwan.  Their emporium business went into decline and was shut down in 2002, but Tashing Co (Pte) Ltd has since switched to wholesale distribution in food products and is among the top 1,000 food distributing SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in Singapore today.

Overseas Emporium was established in 1970 at the People’s Park Complex. At that time, it was the largest Chinese emporium in Singapore, and its signature paper bags carrying its Chinese name (中桥) were commonly seen throughout the seventies. Operating under the OEGroup, the department store is still a popular destination among the locals today.

Shankar’s Emporium was founded in the fifties, and has been in business for more than 65 years. Its headquarters is based in Singapore and has business operations in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Neo Soon Whatt Emporium was a small former department store at Serangoon Gardens in the late sixties, selling China and locally manufactured products.

Current Department Stores

Today, the major department stores in Singapore are Takashimaya, Isetan, OG, BHG, Tangs, Marks & Spencer (formerly St Michael, renamed in 1994) as well as Metro. 

Published: 7 November 2020

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(10th Year Edition) A Look Back at What Vanished in Singapore in the Past Decade

When RemSG blog was first set up in October 2010, it was largely due to the inspiration by the excellent Old Places documentary (by local director Royston Tan). Lamenting the loss of the good old National Library and other iconic landmarks, as well as a growing sentiment of nostalgia, there was a strong need to document some of the disappearing things in Singapore.

A decade has since passed in a blink of eye. While this year 2020 is certainly not the best year to remember, the coming new decade is still very much worth looking forward to. But let us first do a recap of the past 10 years – what are the new changes, and what had vanished into history.

Attractions

For major landmarks and attractions, Singapore added the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) to its city skyline in 2010, when it was officially opened on 23 June. It would have another grand opening on 17 February 2011. A year later, on 21 December 2012, it was the grand opening of Singapore’s other integrated resort Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), which brought along the popular Universal Studios (opened in 2010) and S.E.A. Aquarium (2012).

Two more places of interest – Gardens by the Bay and the River Safari – opened in 2012 and 2014 respectively. In 2019, Singapore welcomed its latest attraction in the $1.7 billion Jewel Changi Airport, which is designed with the world’s tallest indoor waterfall named the Rain Vortex.

While the new attractions are welcomed, we also bid goodbye to some of the older attractions. Sentosa, as the popular tourist destination, has seen the demise of its Underwater World (1991-2016), Tiger Sky Tower (2004-2018) and the gigantic 37m-tall Merlion (1995-2019) in the past decade.

They had joined the fate of the past iconic attractions and landmarks of Sentosa, such as the Monorail, Musical Fountain, Fountain Gardens, Asian Village, Fantasy Island and Volcanoland.

The Maritime Experiential Museum (2011-2020) of RWS, on the other hand, was opened in 2011 but dissolved in March 2020. It will make way for the extension of the S.E.A. Aquarium, which will be rebranded as the Singapore Oceanarium.

Malls & Commercial Buildings

“The only constant in life is change.” A perfect description for Singapore as well, where changes and redevelopments happen every year. Dozens of landmarks and buildings were demolished, redeveloped and replaced by the newer ones.

Starting the list are several decades-old malls. Eminent Plaza (1980s-2014) was pulled down in 2014, together with its neighbour Lavender Food Square along Jalan Besar, and was replaced by a new office tower called ARC 380.

Along Serangoon Road, Serangoon Plaza (1960s-2017), formerly known as President Shopping Centre, ceased to exist after more than 50 years. It was sold for $400 million in 2013, and was demolished in 2017. A new Centrium Square is expected to emerge at its site by late 2021.

Park Mall (1971-2016), a popular destination for furniture and home furnishings, was brought down in 2016. Located at Penang Road, it was first opened as Supreme House. Evolving from retail to fashion and finally a furniture mall, it eventually walked into history after 45 years. Standing in its place now is Citadines Connect City Centre.

Chinatown Plaza (1983-2019) at Craig Road was sold for $260 million in May 2018, and demolition works began a year later.

The Verge (2003-2017), or formerly Tekka Mall, situated along Selegie Road, lasted only 14 years, making it one of the shortest-lived shopping malls in Singapore. Standing in its place will be the new Tekka Place, an integrated commercial and residential complex.

Near the short-lived mall was the former Tiger Balm Building (1930s-2019), a longtime landmark at the junction of Selegie Road and Short Street. The four storey building was torn down in 2019, after more than 70 years of existence.

Pearls Centre (1977-2016), located along Eu Tong Sen Street, was closed in 2015 and torn down a year later. The complex was well-known for its retail shops, eateries and a softcore cinema named Yangtze Theatre.

The old Funan Centre (1985-2016), a popular place for IT gadgets. was rejuvenated in 2016. The old building was torn down and replaced with Funan Mall, a new mixed used development complex, with retail mall, office towers and service apartments.

One of the most recent commercial buildings to be affected by redevelopment projects was Liang Court (1985-early 2020s), a mixed complex of mall, hotel (Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay) and service apartments. Located at River Valley Road, its twin brown towers have been an iconic landmark along the Singapore River since 1985. With most of its tenants moved out in early 2020, the 35-year-old Liang Court will be pulled down soon.

Same goes for Shaw Tower (1976-early 2020s) at Beach Road, whose tenants received the redevelopment news in 2018 and have moved out of the premises in June 2020. The demolition may be carried out in the near future.

Residential Housing

Coming up in the 2020s are the Tengah New Town and Bidadari Estate, developed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). The Tengah New Town will comprise five housing districts with 42,000 Built-to-Order (BTO) flats, whereas the Bidadari Estate will have 10,000 units.

In the midst of the ongoing construction of the new towns and housing estates, the older ones are being phased out. Dakota Crescent (1958-early 2020s) and Redhill Close (1955-early 2020s) are now vacant and boarded up, with their Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats awaiting for demolition. Tanglin Halt will soon join them as we move into the new decade.

And at Tanglin Halt, a row of its Commonwealth Drive HDB flats (1962-2016), fondly known as chup lau chu (“ten storey houses” in Hokkien), had already been torn down. Many of the other residents as well as the small shopowners and businesses in the small neighbourhood have also started to move out.

Elsewhere, the Rochor Centre HDB Flats (1977-2019), a prominent colourful landmark located at junction of Rochor Road and Ophir Road, were emptied by end-2016 and demolished three years later.

Dozen of other HDB flats had been selected and demolished under the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) in the past decade.

These flats were located at Sims Drive, Clementi Avenue 1 and 5, Boon Lay Drive, Teban Gardens, Yung Ping Road, Henderson Road, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, Ghim Moh Road, Zion Road, Havelock Road, Upper Boon Keng Road, Toa Payoh Lorong 5 and Commonwealth Avenue.

The old Woodlands Town Centre (1980-2017), a small neighbourhood that was located just beside the Causeway and had functioned for many years as the stopover for commuters between Singapore and Johor, was gone by 2017, together with its flats, shops, hawker centre, bus interchange and Woodlands Cinema.

Beside the en-bloc HDB flats, several Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) estates had also been sold through collective sales, with their sites redeveloped into new condominiums.

Shunfu Ville (1986-2016), Eunosville (1987-2017), Raintree Gardens (1984-2016), Rio Casa (1986-2017) and Serangoon Ville (1986-2017) were all torn down in the past 10 years, with the latest being Normanton Park (1977-2018).

At Jalan Kayu, the redevelopment of Seletar West Farmway into a light industrial estate has seen the demolition of one of Singapore’s last rural centres. The low rise flats of the former Jalan Kayu Rural Centre (late 1970s-2016) were used as foreign worker dormitories in their final few years.

Stadiums

The good old National Stadium (1973-2010) was demolished as Singapore entered the decade of 2010s. It had given many Singaporeans the fond memories of the Malaysia Cup matches and the famous Kallang Roar. In its place now is the Singapore Sports Hub.

Jurong Stadium (1973-2020), also constructed in 1973, fared a decade better, as it lasted until 2020, although in its last few years, it was in a state of disrepair with only a few events and activities held.

Swimming Pools

A number of public swimming pools had met their demise in the past 10 years. Buona Vista Swimming Complex (1976-2014) and Bedok Swimming Complex (1981-2018) were demolished after more than 30 years of serving the residents. Elsewhere, the Old Police Academy Swimming Pool (1976-2015) made way in 2015 for the new Mount Pleasant MRT Station.

Bus Interchanges

The Bulim Bus Depot, Loyang Bus Depot and Seletar Bus Deport are new bus depots that are built by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) between 2015 and 2018. Several old bus interchanges are also upgraded to new integrated public transport hubs.

The old Bedok Bus interchange (1979-2011), in 2011, was torn down and replaced by an integrated development of condominium, bus interchange and shopping mall that are linked to the Bedok MRT Station.

Similarly, the old Yishun Bus Interchange (1987-2015) was demolished in 2015. It took four years for its site to be redeveloped into North Park Residences, Northpoint City and a fully air-conditioned bus interchange.

Elsewhere, the old Jurong East Bus Interchange (1985-2011) had its former site occupied by Westgate, whereas the previous Bukit Panjang Bus Interchange (1999-2012) was replaced by Hillion Mall and Hillion Residences. Both new towns are still using temporary bus interchanges built near the old ones.

Meanwhile, the Serangoon Bus Interchange (1988-2011), after its bus operations were ceased in 2011, has its building converted into a multi-storey carpark and community hub.

Hawker Centre/Eateries

Local food lovers may lament the loss of several popular hawker centres and eateries in Singapore in the past 10 years.

The Commonwealth Avenue Food Centre (1969-2011), Long House Food Centre (1980-2014), Lavender Food Square (1980s-2014) (previously called Bugis Square) and Market Street Food Centre (1984-2017), or fondly known as Golden Shoe Hawker Centre, had all but faded into the history.

The Golden Bridge (1973-2015) at Shenton Way was a unique one. It was one of the few overhead bridges in Singapore that housed eateries. It was eventually closed in 2014 and demolished a year later.

Cinemas

Numerous neighbourhood cinemas were, by the 2000s and 2010s, a pale shadow of their former selves; their heydays in the eighties and nineties were never going to return.

The Queenstown/Queensway Cinema (1977-1999, demolished in 2013) was torn down in 2013 as Queenstown underwent intensive redevelopment. At the east side, Bedok’s Princess Cinema (1983-2008, demolished in 2018) was closed in 2008 and had its building bulldozed a decade later. In its place now is DjitSun Bedok Mall.

Likewise, many buildings of former cinemas, such as Regal Theatre at Bukit Merah Town Centre, Republic Theatre at Marine Parade Road, Empress Cinema at Clementi Town Centre, Singapura Cinema at Changi Road, Hollywood Theatre at Tanjong Katong and New Crown/New Town Cinema at Ang Mo Kio Town Centre, were all demolished in the 2010s, many years after their closure. 

Playgrounds

By the 2010s, there were only a few sand-based playgrounds left in Singapore. The Toa Payoh dragon playground, the most iconic of all, was fortunately retained during the demolition of its nearby HDB flats (Block 28, 30, 32 and 33).

The little sparrow playground at Clementi Town Centre, however, was removed when several of its neighbouring old blocks were torn down.

At Bukit Batok, the dove playground was also demolished in the early 2010s, replaced by a new modern playground. The other dove playground at Dakota Crescent may also meet the same fate now that the former SIT estate is undergoing redevelopment.

But it was the pelican playground, the last in Singapore, at Dover Road that had many Singaporeans lamenting its loss. Abandoned and dilapidated, it was eventually flattened in mid-2012.

For many, the merry-go-rounds were their favourite part of a typical old playground. Two of them had disappeared in the past decade – one at Upper Seletar Reservoir, and the other, an authentic merry-go-round that were commonly seen in the eighties and nineties, at Begonia Road.

The merry-go-round at Tiong Bahru’s train playground is the last existing piece in Singapore.

Schools

Numerous schools, active as well as former campuses, were demolished in the past decade. Braddell-Westlake Secondary School (merged in 2000, closed in 2005) at Braddell Road had been left vacant for many years and was eventually bulldozed in 2017. A new campus for Raffles Girls’ School has since being built at its former site.

First Toa Payoh Secondary School (1968-2016), Toa Payoh’s first ever secondary school, had several mergers after 2000. After its last merger, with Bartley Secondary School, it officially walked into history and was demolished in 2017.

The former school premises of Broadrick Secondary School and Maju Secondary School at Dakota Crescent (1968-2016) were briefly used by Northlight School between 2007 and 2015, when Broadrick and Maju Secondary Schools merged and relocated to another nearby campus. The old school buildings were demolished in 2016.

At other places, the school premises of former Ang Mo Kio North Primary School (1983-2019), used by Chaoyang School in recent years, and the former Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Bishan (1994-2013) (acted as the holding campus for Saint Joseph’s Institution between 2013 and 2019), located at the junction of Bishan Street 13 and 14, were both torn down in 2019.

The former Outram Campus of Nanyang Polytechnic (1992-1998) along Jalan Bukit Merah was left abandoned for more than a decade, before it was leveled in 2016 with its site becoming part of the expanded Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

In 2017, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that a number of schools would be subjected to mergers, including the junior colleges (JC). It was the first time in history that JCs were merged and several names had since walked into the history books.

In 2019, Jurong Junior College (1981-2019) was merged with Pioneer Junior College (2000-2019) to form Jurong Pioneer Junior College, located at Teck Whye Walk. Serangoon Junior College (1988-2019) was merged into Anderson Junior College, whereas Tampines Junior College (1986-2019) and Innova Junior College (2005-2019) combined with Meridian Junior College and Yishun Junior College respectively.

Roads

Changes also occurred in Singapore’s extensive road network. A new expressway – Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) – was opened in December 2013 as Singapore’s 10th expressway. The construction of a new North-South Corridor (NSC) is underway.

Tuas South Boulevard, built in the early 2010s, became Singapore’s westernmost road. Lornie Highway was completed in 2019, after the exhumation of thousands of graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

A 1.5km section of the old Punggol Road has been undergoing the pedestrianisation project to become part of Punggol’s heritage trail.

While there are new roads built, some old ones became defunct and were expunged. In end 2016 and mid-2017 respectively, the roads in Sentosa and Tanah Merah Coast Road became Singapore’s first public roads to have dedicated cycling lanes. The redevelopment of Tanah Merah Coast Road also meant that the long and straight Changi Coast Road, beside Changi Airport’s runway, would be closed after 2017.

In the early 2010s, due to the development of the Seletar Aerospace Park, a new road called Seletar Aerospace Drive appeared, replacing many old roads and becoming the main access road in the vicinity.

A section of Tanglin Halt Close was closed in 2018. The single lane-dual carriageway Old Upper Thomson Road, in 2019, became a part carriageway-part Park Connector Network (PCN) road. And the most recent was the closure of the decades-old Jurong Road to make way for the development of Tengah New Town.

MRT/LRT

In the past decade, the Downtown Line (DTL) became Singapore’s fifth Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line in operation. It was opened in 2013 and, till date, consists of 34 stations. The sixth line Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) has debuted in January 2020, and is expected to primarily completed by 2024.

Meanwhile, the East-West Line is upgraded with a Tuas West Extension (from Joo Koon to Tuas Link), completed in 2017.

For the Light Rail Transit (LRT), the Ten Mile Junction station (1999-2019) of the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) was closed in January 2019, becoming the first MRT/LRT operational station to close permanently. The underutilised LRT station has been converted into a testing ground for the replacement of LRT trains.

SAF Camps

The Ayer Rajah Camp (1940s-2010) at Portsdown Road was closed in 2010. The vicinity underwent huge changes, where new road networks were built and Fusionopolis, Biopolis and Mediapolis developed. Mediapolis, a MediaCorp campus, was officially opened in 2015 near the site of the former Ayer Rajah Camp.

Elsewhere in Singapore, old vacant army camps such as Haig Camp and Old Keat Hong Camp were also demolished in the 2010s. The site of Haig Camp is now vacant, but the Old Keat Hong Camp had been replaced by a new Choa Chu Kang HDB neighbourhood.

In 2012, the old barracks at the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI) were demolished. Seletar West Camp (1930s-2013) also gave way in 2013 to the development of Seletar Aerospace Park.

The Ordnance Supply Base along Kranji Road (1930s-2013), formerly part of the Kranji Heritage Trail, was torn down towards the mid of 2010s. The area is earmarked for further light industrial development.

Parks

Many new parks have been developed and opened in Singapore, such as the new Thomson Nature Park and the rejuvenated Sembawang Hot Spring Park.

The Kampong Java Park (1973-2018), on the other hand, walked into the history in 2018. Located near Kandang Kerbau (KK) Women’s and Children’s Hospital, it had to make way for the construction of the North-South Corridor tunnel.

Businesses

Many small traditional businesses have struggled in Singapore. Today, there are not many shops selling music CDs, DVDs, comics, magazines and second hand books, largely due to the shift in technology or consumers’ behaviours. The Covid-19 pandemic and the economic recession have unfortunately led to more closure of businesses in Singapore.

For books, Borders exited Singapore in 2011 when its flagship bookstore at Wheelock Place and Parkway Parade were shut down in August and September that year. The good old second hand bookstore Sunny Bookshop, with outlets at Far East Plaza and Plaza Singapura, was closed in 2014.

The MPH Bookstores, hugely popular from the seventies to nineties, closed its Raffles City and Parkway Parade stores in July and September 2019, but did make a comeback at SingPost Centre a couple of months later. But earlier, in 2017, its longtime store (1976-2017) at Robinson Road had to shut down due to the redevelopment of its landlord Afro-Asia Building (1955-2017).

The year 2019 also saw a wave of closure in some iconic longtime bookstores, such as the Books Kinokuniya’s outlet at Liang Court (1983-2019) and Popular’s bookstore at Thomson Plaza (1988-2019).

77th Street (1988-2016), a local business in fashion and streetwear, used to have 16 stores in Singapore during its heydays. Its first outlet was a legendary one at Far East Plaza, where many teenagers would patronise it to buy the latest trendy apparel and accessories in the nineties.

Singapore’s longtime department store John Little (1845-2016) had been in business for 174 years, but their last store, at Plaza Singapura, was closed at the end of 2016.

Local hardware chain Home-Fix, established in 1993, was a familiar sight at many shopping malls. But in 2019, all its brick and mortar stores were closed as the company shifted its operations to the online platform.

There were more bad news in 2020, as familiar homegrown brands such as SportsLink (1983-2020) and Bakerzin (1998-2020) could not survive and had to close all their outlets.

Foreign brands like Forever 21 (fashion), Sasa (cosmetic), Fancl (cosmetic), Francfranc (lifestyle) were either closed down or exited the Singapore market in the 2010s. Topshop/Topman (fashion), in Singapore for 20 years since 2000, closed all its physical stores in 2020, and shifted to the online mode.

Carrefour (1997-2012), which had a hypermart at Suntec City, pulled out in 2012 after 15 years of business in Singapore. HMV (1997-2015), once Singapore’s largest music retailer, shut down its last store at Marina Square in 2015.

For food and beverage (F&B) business, the fast food has always been a favourite for many Singaporeans. A&W was the first to enter the local market, in 1966. They exited in 2003, but made a much anticipated comeback in 2019, with their new outlets opened at Jewel Changi and Ang Mo Kio Hub.

McDonald’s and KFC were the latecomers, making their debuts in Singapore in the late seventies. But some of their longtime outlets went on to become a place of fond memories for many Singaporeans.

The McDonald’s at East Coast Park’s Marine Cove (1982-2012) and King Albert Park (1991-2014) had become a landmark of their own over the years. But both walked into the history in the early 2010s. They were later replaced by a brand new McDonald’s (opened in 2016) and KAP Residences respectively.

Meanwhile, the KFC outlet at Bedok Central (1980s-2020) was a familiar sight for many. After more than 30 years, it was closed for good in July 2020. A new food court has since occupied its space.

Wendy’s (1980s, 2009-2015) twice attempted the Singapore market but could not last. It made a comeback in Singapore in 2009, opening as many as 11 outlets, but had closed all by 2015.

And not forgetting other popular restaurants that had ceased their operations in the past decade, such as Sizzler (1992-2012), The Cafe Cartel (closed in 2014) and Billy Bombers (closed in 2017).

For local ones, Singapore’s largest halal foodcourt operator Banquet (1999-2014) wound up its business in 2014 after falling into deep debts. During its peak, it had 46 food courts across Singapore.

The iconic Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant (1977-2020) at Keppel Road, impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, had decided to shutter its door in August 2020 after 43 years in business.

Nostalgic confectionery shop Chin Mee Chin, with its popular kopi, toast, puffs and egg tarts, ceased its business in early 2019 and has since been put up for sale.

Other old eateries with nostalgic settings were South Buona Vista Road’s Lim Seng Lee Duck Rice Eating House (1968-2013) and Clementi Road’s Union Farm Eating House (1953-2017).

Lim Seng Lee Duck Rice Eating House, with its signature boneless braised duck, closed in 2013 following the retirement of its owner. But the owner’s brother-in-law managed to revive the brand with a new store at Sam Leong Road.

Meanwhile, Union Farm Eating House started as a chicken farm in the fifties, and came to prominence with its paper-wrapped chicken. The kampong-styled eating house was no more by 2017, but the owner has reopened his business at a kopitiam at Jurong East.

Tong Ah Eating House (1939-2013), housed in the iconic pre-war shophouse at the junction of Keong Saik Road and Teck Lim Road, was a familiar traditional eatery for many Singaporeans for over half a century. It was closed in 2013, but has reopened in one of the nearby shophouses along Keong Saik Road.

The building continues to live on as an iconic landmark in the vicinity after the departure of its longtime tenant, and is now home to Potato Head, a burger and cocktail joint with an open-air rooftop bar.

Another old school coffeeshop Hup Lee (1950s-2017), located at Jalan Besar, was closed for good due to dwindling business and the retirement of its owner.

Near the Hup Lee kopitiam was Sungei Road, where the flea market (1930s-2017), after almost 80 years, was ordered to close for good in 2017. In the past few decades, the makeshift market was cleared several times, but had always made a comeback. But this time round, it was gone forever.

Hotels

Before the impact of Covid-19 in 2020, several hotels had already ceased their operations in the previous 10 years. Copthorne Orchid Hotel (1969-2011), at Dunearn Road, was closed and demolished in 2011, replaced by new condominium The Glyndebourne.

Tanjong Katong’s Lion City Hotel (1968-2011) was taken over for $313 million by UOL Group in the early 2010s; OneKM Mall is now standing at its former site.

The Sloane Court Hotel (1962-2018), famous for its cottage-style appearance and Western food restaurant, was closed in 2018. Sloane Residences is currently being built in its place.

Others

Geylang Serai Malay Village (1989-2011), along Geylang Road, was shut down and demolished in 2011 after years of losses. In its place is Wisma Geylang Serai, housing the Geylang Serai Community Centre and Malay Heritage Gallery.

When the railway lands were returned to Singapore in 2011, the plans were to convert them into a Green Corridor. Hence, by the mid-2010s, most of the former railway tracks and facilities were dismantled, including the iconic railway traffic light system at Bukit Panjang and the overhead railway bridge at Hillview.

The former Bukit Merah SAFRA (Singapore Armed Forces Reservist Association) Clubhouse (1982-2011), situated at the junction of Jalan Bukit Merah and Alexandra Road, was knocked down in 2011 for the construction of Alexandra Central Mall and Park Hotel.

The peace of Jalan Kayu and Seletar West Farmway areas were disrupted when a new Seletar West Road, leading to the new Seletar Aerospace Park, was constructed in 2012.

During the construction of the new road and the realignment of Jalan Kayu, the former Jalan Kayu Post Office building (1950s-2012), used as a rehabilitation centre and kindergarten in its last few years, was demolished.

The neighbouring florist and fish farms were also affected; they were either relocated to other places, or closed for good.

For example, Summer Koi Farm and Sea View Aquarium were closed in 2012 and 2018 respectively and have relocated to Chencharu Link. Others chose to cease their operations followed by the retirement of their old owners.

The hauntingly beautiful yet mysterious bungalow Matilda House (1902-2012) had been standing in the wilderness of Punggol for decades, before it was turned into a clubhouse for new condominium A Treasure Trove after 2012.

The exotic Tan Moh Hong Reptile Skin and Crocodile Farm (1945-2012) along Upper Serangoon Road ended their trade in 2012, with its land sold to be redeveloped into freehold terrace houses called Surin Villas.

The MacAlister Terrace and MacAlister Flats at the compounds of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) were demolished in 2013. A large carpark has been built in the vicinity after that.

Singapore’s second driving test centre, Queenstown Driving Test Centre (1968-2011), was torn down in 2016 for the development of a new condominium called Queens Peak Condo. After the closure of the driving centre in 1995, the building was used as the Queenstown Neighbourhood Police Centre.

The buildings of the former Paya Lebar Police Station (1930s-2016) and the nearby Lorong Lew Lian shophouses were leveled in 2016. A new condominium called Forest Wood Residences will be occupying the site by 2021.

The Transit Road shophouses, with popular tattoo parlours and shops selling army stuff, was a familiar sight for many National Service (NS) personnel booking in and out of the Nee Soon Camp. Most of the shops had closed in 2015, and the shophouses demolished two years later. The area is now occupied by Forest Hills Condominium and Roots @Transit Condo.

Several other old shophouses also made way for redevelopment, such as the ones along Upper Serangoon Road (opposite Potong Pasir), where the stretch is now occupied by Sennett Residence and Sant Ritz. 

The row of shophouses near the junction of Alexandra Road and Commonwealth Avenue – it had a popular eatery selling wanton mee – made way for Alexis, a condominium completed in 2014.

As part of the redevelopment plans for East Coast Park, the Island Park Resort chalets, or fondly known as the East Coast Park chalets (1980s-2017), were demolished in 2017. A new bicycle park with trails and circuits will be built.

Half of Sin Ming Industrial Estate was flattened in 2017. Many motor workshops at Sin Ming Industrial Estate Sector A and B were relocated to the nearby Sin Ming AutoCity complex. The vacant land is now reserved for future residential redevelopment by HDB.

Part of Bestway Building (1956-2018), also the former Singapore Polytechnic campus, made way in 2018 for the construction of Shenton Way Bus Terminal.

The Toa Payoh Rise apartments (1960s-2018), originally used as the housing quarters for the medical staff of Toa Payoh Hospital, were demolished in 2018 as they stood in the way of the new North-South Corridor (NSC).

At Silat Avenue, the low-rise SIT flats (1950s-2018) were integrated into the new Avenue South Residence project. Eight flats were demolished in 2018, while five were conserved and refurbished into heritage units for the new condominium. The new private residence will also consist of two 56-storey towers expected to be completed in 2023.

Mount Vernon Sanctuary and Columbarium (1970s-2018) was closed in 2018 and make way for the development of the new Bidadari housing estate.

The iconic former National Aerated Water Company building (1954-1990s) along Serangoon Road was sold in 2016. Like the Matilda House, its façade would be conserved and integrated into a new condominium named Jui Residences, whose name refers to water in Hokkien – a commemoration to the former company and building. The redevelopment works had kicked off in 2018.

Further down Serangoon Road was Singapore’s oldest pedestrian overhead bridge, built in 1967. However, it was dismantled in 2019.

The list ends with Pearl Bank Apartments (1976-2019), an iconic landmark with a unique architectural design standing at the Outram vicinity for four decades. It was demolished in 2019, and in a few years’ time, a new One Pearl Bank will be standing in its place as the new landmark.

What else in Singapore that you are most familiar of had changed or vanished in the past 10 years?

Published: 23 October 2020

Updated: 8 November 2020

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