Sloane Court Hotel and other Former Hotels of Singapore

Located along Balmoral Road at the prime district 10 vicinity, Sloane Court Hotel became the latest hotel in Singapore to end its business. It was recently acquired by Tiong Seng Holdings and Ocean Sky International for $80 million; its site is expected to be developed into a 12-storey, 80-unit condominium.

The humble hotel, which began in 1962, was initially plain-looking, as it was used as a 26-room boarding house exclusively for British soldiers and their contractors. However, when the British armed forces pulled out of Singapore in the early seventies, the hotel had to open up to a bigger market for its business to survive.

Some of its guests in the seventies included Indonesian and Thai businessmen, and Japanese engineers, who were hired to come to Singapore to develop the Jurong industrial estate.

In the late seventies, the hotel’s Hainanese owners, a Chiam family, decided to give the hotel’s facade a facelift. They sought opinions from Stanley Foster, a family friend and Englishman who had opened a smokehouse named Fosters at the Cameron Highlands. The Chiams eventually chose the Tudor style due to its timeless and classic nature, and it became the iconic feature of the hotel until now.

Stanley Foster also helped the Chiam family in naming the new-look hotel Sloane Court. Inspired, the Chiams went on to open two more Tudor-style houses serving food and drinks – Pavilion and Tangle Inn – although both did not survive past the eighties.

Beside the Tudor-style colonial building, another attraction of Sloane Court Hotel was its Berkeley Restaurant, which served traditional Western cuisine in Hainanese style. Some of the restaurant’s best-known specialties were its English Porterhouse steak, Penang-style Inche Kabin chicken and English devilled chicken, which was cooked in mango chutney with a touch of white vinegar.

The caterers managing Berkeley Restaurant also owned other eateries in the eighties – the Captain’s Cabin at Serangoon Gardens and Balmoral Steak House at Holland Road.

The hotel was later renovated to expand to 32 rooms, and its old English charm continued to attract many guests, among them European tourists, especially the British, and Singaporeans who had studied or lived in Britain, well into nineties. Its relatively low room charges and short distance away from the booming Orchard Road shopping belt also played a big part in its positive occupancy rate.

Singapore’s first hotel was started as early as 1839, 20 years after the founding of Singapore. Opened by a British businessman called Gaston Dutronquoy, the hotel, known as London Hotel or Dutronquoy’s Hotel, was located between High Street and Coleman Street, and had rooms, restaurants, theatre and a photography studio.

The Colonial Hotels

Singapore experienced a tourism boom in the late 19th century and 20th century. Many hotels, particularly the luxury ones, were built during this period. Some have flourished till this day, such as the Raffles Hotel (since 1887) and Goodwood Park Hotel (since 1929), which have cemented their legacies as Singapore’s iconic landmarks.

Other colonial hotels did not survive as long, and many had their businesses wounded up after decades of operation. Some of the renowned examples were Adelphi Hotel (1850s-1973), Grand Hotel de l’Europe (1857-1932), Hotel de la Paix (1865-1914), Bellevue Hotel (1901-1951), Caledonian Hotel (1904-1910s), Hotel van Wijk (1905-1931) and the old Sea View Hotel (1906-1964).

Before its closure in 1973, Adelphi Hotel was the oldest hotel in Singapore, claiming a history that had spanned more than 120 years. Today, that honour belongs to the Raffles Hotel, which just celebrated its 130-year establishment in 2017.

There were hundreds of hotels, large and small, established in Singapore since the 19th century. Some were well remembered and had left their marks in the history, while many others were forgotten.

Below were some of the iconic ones that were demolished in the past 30 years (the list of former hotels is not in any order).

Marco Polo Hotel, Tanglin Road (1968-1999)

Located at the junction of Tanglin Road and Grange Road, Marco Polo Hotel, or officially Omni Marco Polo Hotel, was a famous 10-storey 300-room hotel landmark built in 1968. It was owned by the Goodwood Group, and was first known as Hotel Malaysia when it was completed.

Well-known for its luxurious furnishings and high quality services, the hotel, by the eighties, was voted as one of the best hotels in the world. It became a top choice hotel for many foreign leaders and international celebrities during their stays at Singapore.

Many locals as well as tourists would also remember the iconic fountain at Tanglin Circus that formed a picturesque scene with the hotel. The fountain was built and commissioned in 1966 by the Public Works Department (PWD), but was demolished a decade later in 1977.

In the mid-eighties, the ownership of the hotel changed hands and Hotel Malaysia was renamed Omni Marco Polo Hotel in 1989. The owners, however, had to fold up the hotel business in the late nineties after its finances were badly affected by the Asian Currency Crisis. In 1999, Marco Polo Hotel officially walked into history, when it was demolished and replaced by a luxury condominium named Grange Residences.

Katong Park Hotel, Meyer Road (1953-2002)

Opened in 1953, the former landmark at Katong Park had many names – Embassy Hotel, Hotel Ambassador, Duke Hotel, and eventually Katong Park Hotel – before it made way for a condominium in the early 2000s.

First called Embassy Hotel, the hotel was officially opened on 26 April 1953 as a modern building that had air-conditioned rooms and other modern facilities. Also boasting to be the largest hotel in British Malaya after the Second World War, it had splendid views of Katong Park and the seafront.

The following decades saw the hotel’s ownership changed hands several times, first in 1960 when it was rebranded as Hotel Ambassador. The hotel was badly affected by the Konfrontasi crisis in late 1963, when Indonesian saboteurs set off explosions at Katong Park, causing its windows to be shattered by the strong blasts.

In 1982, Hotel Ambassador was renamed again, this time as Duke Hotel. The hotel was then sold and reopened as Katong Park Hotel in 1992. Like Marco Polo Hotel, Katong Park Hotel was dragged down by the Asian Currency Crisis. Its operations ran into deficit, and had to call it a day in 1998. A condominium called View@Meyer was built at its site in 2006.

Copthorne Orchid Hotel, Dunearn Road (1969-2011)

The six-storey Copthorne Orchid Hotel was first started in 1969 as Orchid Inn by local magnate and chairman of Hong Leong Group Kwek Hong Png.

The hotel would later be renamed Novotel Orchid Inn before becoming part of the group’s Copthorne Orchid hotel chain in Singapore and Malaysia.

The hotel’s reddish facade was a once familiar sight along Dunearn Road. It had been frequently patronised by both local and foreign celebrities, and among the hotel’s long serving staffs, the most popular topic was perhaps the marriage of Hong Kong star Chow Yun Fat and his Singaporean wife Jasmine Tan, who once worked at the hotel as a receptionist.

In 2011, Copthorne Orchid Hotel was closed after more than four decades of existence. It was subsequently demolished and replaced by a luxury freehold condominium called The Glyndebourne.

Oberoi Imperial Hotel, Jalan Rumbia (1971-1999)

Located at Jalan Rumbia, off River Valley Road, and just a short distance away from the iconic National Theatre, the former Oberoi Imperial Hotel started in the 1950s as a residential block to house the British military officers. It underwent extensive renovations in the late sixties and was converted into a luxury hotel that was officially opened in 1971.

The 13-storey hotel had more than 500 rooms, coffee houses, a swimming pool, lounge and three restaurants serving Chinese, Indian and international cuisine. Popular in the seventies and eighties, the hotel boasted a list of distinguished guests that included Tonga’s King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.

The hotel was sold to the Hind Group in 1977 for about $37 million, and was renamed as Imperial Hotel. In the late nineties, the group announced plans to redevelop the hotel. By 1999, the hotel was demolished, and in its place, a new luxury condominium called The Imperial was erected in the early 2000s.

MayFair City Hotel, Armenian Street (1950-2000s)

The former Mayfair City Hotel (also known as Mayfair Hotel in its early days) was housed in two Art Deco-style shophouses at Armenian Street. The hotel was four-storey tall; its ground level was occupied by a restaurant, lounge and bar, while the second to fourth level were made up of 26 air-conditioned rooms that had two beds, bath tubs, teak furniture and radio relay speakers.

When the hotel was opened in 1950, it was fully booked by the Qantas Empire Airways-British Overseas Airways Corp (QEA-BOAC) to accommodate its crews. The hotel’s popularity peaked in the sixties, but by the seventies, it was no longer considered a luxury hotel. In 1971, its rooms ranged between $30 and $40 per night as compared to the $45 rate and above charged by other luxurious hotels.

In 1976, the hotel suffered from poor occupancy rate and had to close down, although its cocktail lounge and restaurant remained opened for business. Three years later, the hotel made a comeback under a new management team. The hotel then operated till the late-2000s. This time, it was shut down for good, and its premises was converted into a foreign worker dormitory. The shophouses were subsequently vacated in 2011 for renovation projects.

Great Southern Hotel, Eu Tong Sen Street (1936-1994)

The Great Southern Hotel, or popularly known as Nam Tin (Southern Sky in Cantonese), was a well-known landmark along Eu Tong Sen Street. Completed in 1936, the boutique hotel was the holder of many records, including the tallest building at Chinatown, and the first Chinese hotel to be equipped with a lift.

Housed in a building owned by Lum Chang Holdings, the Cantonese-themed Great Southern Hotel was largely catered to rich Chinese from China and Hong Kong. The elaborate hotel was six storeys tall, and featured shops at its ground level and a Chinese restaurant on its fourth floor. There was a tea house at its rooftop garden, and its fifth level was previously home to the famous Southern Cabaret nightclub.

The fifties and sixties were arguably the hotel’s golden era, when its popularity and high standards, particularly in its entertainment and services provided, earned a fine reputation as the “Raffles Hotel of Chinatown”.

In 1994, the Great Southern Hotel was converted into a department store called Yue Hwa Chinese Products, after the hotel was sold to Indonesia-born Hong Kong businessman Yu Kwok Chun (born 1951) for $25 million. The preservation of the hotel’s facade and unique features helped its owner win the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Architectural Heritage Award in 1997.

Sea View Hotel (new), Amber Close (1969-2003)

The old Sea View Hotel, a nearby hotel of the same name, was a famous hotel in the first half of the 20th century, being dubbed as Singapore’s leading hotels along with Adelphi Hotel and Raffles Hotel. The hotel, located off Meyer Road, ceased its operation in 1964.

The new 18-storey Sea View Hotel was opened at Amber Close five years later in 1969.

Some of the memorable features of the new Sea View Hotel, well remembered by its former guests and the Katong residents, was its coffee lounge serving delicious Western food dishes and the unobstructed view of East Coast, before the land reclamation, at its highest floors.

Sea View Hotel was eventually closed down in 2003. Amber Close was expunged, and the site was redeveloped into a condominium named The Seaview.

Boulevard Hotel, Cuscaden Road (1973-2000)

Located at Cuscaden Road, the hotel was known as Cuscaden House Hotel before it was bought over in 1973 by Khoo Teck Puat (1917-2004), a well-known local banker and hotelier, and, at one point, Singapore’s richest man.

The hotel was renamed Hotel Malaysia (there were two Hotel Malaysia in Singapore in the late seventies and early eighties) in 1975, and again to Boulevard Hotel in 1983 after a series of renovation works.

The Hong Leong Group bought the property for $410 million in 1997, and subsequently demolished the hotel in 2000 for the development of the Cuscaden Residences condominium.

Garden Hotel, Balmoral Road (1971-2009)

The Garden Hotel, designed like a courtyard with gardens and fitted with air-conditioned rooms and a large swimming pool, began its business in 1971 at a construction cost of $3 million. It was situated along Balmoral Road, just opposite of Sloane Court Hotel.

The hotel was bought over by the Chua family of the Cycle and Carriage in 1981, when they spent $25 million in an acquisition from Vun Lee Pte Ltd. In 1999, property developer City Development Ltd purchased the property for more than $100 million. The Garden Hotel continued to operate until 2009, when it was closed to make way for the development of luxury condominium Volari at Balmoral.

Lion City Hotel, Tanjong Katong Road (1968-2011)

Owned and operated by the family of Wee Thiam Siew, a local property tycoon, the 10-storey 166-room Lion City Hotel was opened at a cost of $4.2 million in 1968 at the junction of Tanjong Katong and Geylang Roads. The hotel caught up with the fast-growing tourism industry after Singapore’s independence, when there was a period of hotel shortage to meet the increasing demands.

On 2 August 1968, the Lion City Hotel had a grand opening officiated by Dr Goh Keng Swee, then-Minister for Finance. Modernly designed, the hotel, at its highest floor, offered a panoramic view of the city area. Its rates in the late sixties and early seventies stood at $30 and $40 per night for single room and double room respectively. A deluxe suit would cost $90.

In 2011, UOL Group bought Lion City Hotel and the adjoining former Hollywood Theatre, which had stopped screening movies since the nineties, for $313 million. Today, the site of the former hotel was occupied by OneKM Mall.

Cockpit Hotel, Penang Road (1972-1997)

Completed in 1972, the Cockpit Hotel was built at the former site of another luxury hotel called Hotel de L’Europe (not the same Hotel de L’Europe of the 19th and early 20th century).

The Hotel de L’Europe, established in 1947, became known as the Cockpit due to the frequent stays of the Dutch airline KLM crews and passengers.

Indonesian businessman Hoo Liong Thing started the new 13-storey 230-room Cockpit Hotel in 1972, but the hotel changed hands several times, first in 1980 and again in 1983.

It was sold a final time in 1996 to property developer Wing Tai, which ceased the hotel operation a year later. The building was then left vacated for a long period of time, leading to numerous paranormal stories about the “abandoned” hotel.

Today, a condominium called Visioncrest Residence stands at its site.

Century Park Sheraton Hotel, Nassim Road (1979-2004)

Located at Nassim Road, one of Singapore’s most expensive districts and near the Orchard Road shopping belt, the Century Park Sheraton Hotel was opened in 1979 as a luxury hotel.

The 465-room hotel was owned by the All Nippon Airways (ANA), which bought the property for $59 million in 1977 as part of the international Sheraton hotel chain. For years, the hotel was famous for its luxurious furnishings, Europa Ridley nightclub and the Cafe-in-the-Park coffee house.

Century Park Sheraton Hotel was renamed as ANA Hotel in 1990, and lasted until 2004. Capitaland, after its acquisition of the hotel, demolished and replaced it with Nassim Park Residences.

Cairnhill Hotel, Cairnhill Close (1979-1999)

Famous for its Coffee Garden and buffets in the eighties, the Cairnhill Hotel, at Cairnhill Close, began in the late sixties as Regency Hotel which was converted from a block of luxury flats. However, the construction of the hotel was incomplete due to financial issues, and remained so for the next decade.

It was not until 1979 when Tan Kim Hai, a Malaysian property developer, acquired the property and injected funds for the hotel to be fully built. Named Cairnhill Hotel, the newly-completed hotel was 11 storey tall and had more than 180 rooms.

Cairnhill Hotel was taken over by Wing Tai Holdings in 1996. It survived for another three years before the hotel was closed for good. The building was then torn down and replaced by a condominium named The Light at Cairnhill.

Singapura Forum Hotel, Orchard Road (1962-1985)

The $5.5 million Singapura Forum Hotel was one of the first hotels to be established at Orchard Road, and also the first hotel in Singapore to be managed by an international hotel chain – the Intercontinental Hotels group. The hotel, located at Orchard Road towards the Tanglin area, was opened in 1963, just one day after the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.

Forums and workshops by private organisations were regularly held at the eight-storey 200-room hotel, but the hotel’s profits in the early seventies were affected due to the intense competition with other new luxury hotels in the vicinity.

In 1972, Ng Teng Fong, a well-known property magnate, bought over the hotel. Initially wanted to demolish and replace it with shopping complexes, he instead sold it to a Dubai-based investment company in 1982 for $178 million.

Singapura Forum Hotel was eventually shut down in July 1983. It was replaced by Forum Galleria shopping and office complex that was opened in 1986. Even though they had long gone, the hotel’s popular Sentosa Restaurant and Pebbles Bar were still well-remembered by its former guests.

New 7th Storey Hotel, Rochor Road (1953-2008)

Despite its name, the New 7th Storey Hotel was actually nine storey tall. When it was completed in 1953, it was briefly the tallest building at the Rochor vicinity, and many taxi drivers and motorists used it as a landmark for their directions.

The New 7th Storey Hotel, founded by Wee Thiam Siew, began as a high end hotel, frequently patronised by European guests for stays in Singapore as well as British officers for tea parties.

But the hotel’s status declined by the late nineties, when it gradually became a budget hotel for backpackers.

In 2008, the half-century old New 7th Storey Hotel was demolished to make way for the new Downtown Line’s Bugis MRT Station.

Reborn Hotels – A New Lease of Life

Instead of demolition and redevelopment, some of the older hotels were sold, renovated and rebranded as new hotels. These include:

Ming Court Hotel (1970-1991), Tanglin Road, present-day Orchard Parade Hotel
Hotel New Hong Kong (1971-1979), Victoria Street, present-day Hotel Grand Pacific
Merlin Hotel (1971-1981), Beach Road, present-day Plaza Parkroyal Hotel
Apollo Hotel (1971-2004), Havelock Road, present-day Furama Riverfront Singapore
Paramount Hotel (1983-2010), Marine Parade Road, present-day Village Hotel Katong
Crown Prince Hotel (1984-2005), Orchard Road, present-day Grand Park Orchard
Dai-Ichi Hotel (1985-1999), Anson Road, present-day M Hotel

Published: 11 January 2018

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Changes in the City – Afro-Asia Building

One of the oldest office buildings at the Central Business District (CBD), the Afro-Asia Building will be demolished and replaced by a new 19-storey tower that is expected to cost $320 million in construction. The current Afro-Asia Building, owned by Afro-Asia Shipping Company (AAS), was built in the 1950s.

The Afro-Asia Building was designed in typical post-war modernism with a heavy emphasis in reinforced concrete and glass. At seven storey tall, it towered over rows of shophouses and other buildings, most of them only three storey tall, along Robinson Road when it was completed in the fifties.

By the late seventies and early eighties, the CBD area experienced a property boom with Raffles Place “competing” with Shenton Way in the development of new office building projects. Within a few years, new skyscrapers such as the Raffles Tower, OUB (Overseas Union Bank) Centre, Chartered Bank Building and HSBC (Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank) Building were built.

In 1982, the office space rental at Raffles Place’s buildings and towers reached a high range of $80 to $100 per square metre. The office buildings located at the fringes of Shenton Way and Robinson Road, such as International Plaza and Afro-Asia Building, began to pale in comparison, as they charged at a lower range of $40 to $60 per square metre.

Several unions had made their headquarters at the Afro-Asia Building in the seventies and eighties, including Singapore Bank Employees’ Union and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). Other tenants were largely made up of banks, shipping and trading companies.

One of the better known tenants of Afro-Asia Building was MPH Bookstores, opened at the first level of the building in 1976. The book publishing company has a long history – it was first established in Malacca and moved to Singapore in 1890. Initially known as the Methodist Publishing House, it changed its name in 1927 to Malaya Publishing House, and Malaysia Publishing House after 1963.

Affected by the redevelopment of its landlord, the bookstore’s Robinson Road branch was closed in March 2017. This was after the closure of its iconic century-old flagship store at Stamford Road in 2002.

There was also a restaurant beside MPH Bookstores. It was once occupied by Pizza Hut between the mid-eighties and nineties. One of the largest Pizza Hut outlets in Singapore then, the popular fast food restaurant, patronised by many office workers during the lunch times, had a 150-seating capacity that cost $600,000 in renovation, including a $40,000 conveyor-belt oven that churned out pizzas in half the time compared to other outlets.

Beside the Afro-Asia Building, other office buildings at Robinson Road that were built during or before the 1950s included the Sindo House, Ramayana Building, AIA (American International Assurance) Building, Denmark House and Finlayson House. Most of them had been demolished or redeveloped. The former Telecoms Building (later Ogilvy Centre; present-day Hotel So Sofitel Singapore), constructed in the 1920s, is currently one of the oldest buildings along Robinson Road.

Published: 17 December 2017

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A Final Look at the Old Woodlands Town Centre

The Old Woodlands Town Centre was closed on 30 November 2017, after 37 years.

The small town centre, with six blocks of low-rise flats (1A-6A), was situated only 500m away from the causeway. Hence, for decades, the Old Woodlands Town Centre acted as the bustling transition town between Singapore and Malaysia, where its booming businesses such as the money exchangers, retail shops and eateries benefited from the large number of travellers and workers commuted daily between the two lands.

In the eighties, almost three-quarter of the shops’ regular customers were Malaysians. Dozens of large and small departmental stores and shops were established, one of which was the Welcome Department Store that sold a wide variety of products in men’s and women’s fashion, toys, houseware and electrical appliances. The biggest player was Emporium, while other smaller department stores included Aik Cheong Department Store and Yee Lian Department Store.

The history of Woodlands’ development began in the early seventies. In the 1970 HDB report, Woodlands was expected to be Singapore’s frontier town for the Malaysian visitors. By the mid-seventies, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) began planning for the building of the Woodlands Town Centre. A section of the dual-carriage Woodlands Road was converted in the late seventies into a single lane Woodlands Centre Road that formed a boundary loop around the new town centre.

The first phase of the Woodlands New Town construction was kicked off in the late seventies, but the progress was slow due to the low demand in its flats. The Woodlands New Town, however, was completed in 1980 at a construction cost of $10 million.

The new town centre was well-furnished and self-sufficient with rows of retail shops, coffeeshops, air-conditioned supermarket, cinemas, library and a HDB area office. The Woodlands branch of the Post Office Saving Bank (POSB) was also opened at the main Block 2. With the completion of the new town centre, HDB was hoping that it could prove to be an attraction for residents to move to Woodlands.

Other amenities were gradually added in the early eighties. The street hawkers were resettled at the town centre’s new hawker centre. In 1981, the Woodlands Bus Interchange at Woodlands Town Centre was completed. Designed with 17 berths, it provided, at the start, five bus services in 169, 178, 181, 204 and 208.

The bustling businesses at Woodlands Town Centre, however, had turned it into a magnet for all sorts of crimes. Snatch thefts and housebreaking were so rampant that some residents branded the place as a “black spot”. But the town centre was struck by its most serious case in 1984 when an arsonist burnt down two shophouses, causing the death of 10 people, many of them died of asphyxiation. It was the worst fire-related tragedy in Singapore since the 1972 fire at Robinson’s that claimed nine lives.

Beside the negative headlines of the crimes happening at the Woodlands Town Centre, its hawker centre was also subjected to constant criticisms. In 1987, the hawker centre was even dubbed as the “dirtiest in Singapore”. It took HDB and the Woodlands Town Centre Merchants’ Association a great deal of effort to educate the stallholders, cleaners and customers to improve the cleanliness of the hawker centre.

In 1988, the HDB, Ministry of the Environment and the Parks and Recreation Department even stop cleaning Woodland Town Centre for a day to demonstrate to its residents and visitors how bad the surroundings would be affected by inconsiderate littering.

The new Bukit Timah Expressway was opened in 1985, connecting the Woodlands Town Centre to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) and providing much needed convenience and accessibility to the northern residents of Singapore.

The same period also saw the completion of the Woodlands Town Garden, located opposite of the Woodlands Town Centre. The $8.5-million park was designed with ponds, Chinese pavilions, Malay-style huts, arch bridges, a watch tower and a floating restaurant. An underpass across the Woodlands Centre Road linked the 12.8-hectare park and Woodlands Town Centre together.

The Old Woodlands Town Centre was also a short distance away from Kampong Fatimah, previously one of the last kampongs in Singapore. In 1989, the residents of the idyllic kampong – with its wooden houses on stilts and crude plank bridges linking the houses together – had to be resettled, and its site was acquired by Singapore from the Malaysian government for the extension of the Woodlands Immigration Complex.

In 1992, with the opening of the new Woodlands Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line and underground bus interchange at Woodland Square, it became the new town centre for Woodlands. The “old” Woodlands Town Centre gradually lost its importance as the new town’s administrative centre. With minimal upgrading, the old town centre would largely remain the same for the next 25 years.

The fate of the old Woodlands Town Centre was finally sealed in the 2010s, when it was announced that its site would be acquired for redevelopment, as part of the extension project for the Woodlands Checkpoint to ease traffic congestion, improve lane clearance and enhance overall security. In 2012, the town centre’s blocks of low-rise flats were chosen under the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme, and by late November 2017, the residents and shopowners had vacated the place and the town centre closed.

Published: 09 December 2017

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Singapore’s Street of Religious Harmony (Part II) – Waterloo Street

One of Singapore’s oldest streets, Waterloo Street came into existence as early as the mid-19th century. It was originally known as Church Street, but there was a clash of names as there was another Church Street at Raffles Place. Hence, in 1858, the Municipal Council decided to change the name of the road to Waterloo Street to commemorate the famous Battle of Waterloo in 1815, in which the Duke of Wellington scored a decisive coalition victory over Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army.

Waterloo Street is located at the downtown area between Rochor Canal and the mouth of the Singapore River. In the past, the local Chinese called this area “soi po” (小坡), and, for convenient sake, named the parallel roads in the vicinity (North Bridge Road, Victoria Street, Queen Street, Waterloo Street, Bencoolen Street, Prinsep Street and Selegie Road) in numerical order. Waterloo Street was therefore also known as the fourth road, or “si beh lor” (四马路), in Hokkien.

Waterloo Street was once well-known for its Indian street hawkers. Some of the stalls were decades old, passed down by the hawkers’ fathers and grandfathers who had already operated there before the Second World War. However, the popular gourmet attraction that had many of the locals’ favourite Indian rojak, mee goreng, mee rebus and mee siam vanished in the late seventies when the street hawkers were relocated to the hawker centres at Boat Quay and Empress Place.

In 1997, a 100m-long section of Waterloo Street, in front of Sri Krishnan Temple and Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, was closed permanently for the conversion of the vehicular road to pedestrian walkways. They were part of an unique open-air and pedestrian-friendly Albert Mall, designed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple (1884-Present)

Currently there are four places of worship along the 550-long Waterloo Street, the most famous being the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, or more popularly known as si beh lor guanyin beo. Currently one of Singapore’s oldest Buddhist temples, it started as a simple temple in 1884, built to dedicate to Kwan Im or Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Today, the temple also worships Shakyamuni Buddha and other Chinese deities.

Except for several minor upgrades, the temple remained largely the same for many decades, even surviving the air raids during the Second World War, when it provided refuge for many victims. Between the late seventies and 1982, a new temple building was constructed to replace the previous one that was almost 80 years old.

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple has always enjoyed a large following of devotees. Many visit the temple during the birthday of the Goddess of Mercy and other important religious dates in the lunar calendar. Chinese New Year is another period in which tens of thousands of devotees can be seen visiting the temple and offering prayers for an auspicious start to the new year.

Such is the popularity and influence of the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple that many shops dealing with religious goods have been established at the nearby Albert Centre and Cheng Yan Court. It is also common to see devotees buying lotus flowers, joss sticks and candles from the street florists or getting their divination lots analysed by the fortune tellers at the compound in front of the temple.

The design of Cheng Yan Court, the Housing and Development Board flats built in the eighties, is inspired by Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple. The public housing, situated just in front of the temple, has incorporated typical Chinese temple’s architecture design in the motifs of its balcony railings and has similar jade-green tiled pitch roofs.

In 2001, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple was listed by the National Heritage Board as one of Singapore’s historic sites.

Sri Krishnan Temple (1870-Present)

There was a large Hindu migrant community living at the Victoria and Albert Streets in the mid-19th century. It was said that in 1870, a rich devotee named Hanuman Beem Singh set up a statue of Krishna, the God of compassion and love in Hinduism, in a little shrine under a Banyan tree at Waterloo Street. The shrine eventually developed into a makeshift temple with a significant following, and Waterloo Street became known to the local Hindus as Krishnan kovil sadakku, or “street of Krishnan Temple”.

In 1880, Hanuman Beem Singh passed the management of Sri Krishnan Temple to his son Humna Somapah. The temple’s management was passed again in 1904, this time to Joognee Ammal, Humna Somapah’s niece. Joognee Ammal oversaw the construction of the main shrine building with a rising roof (Vimanam) and conducted the consecration ceremony (Maha Kumbabishegam) in 1933. The same year also saw the addition of the temple’s dome, which, at 8m tall, was the highest point of the temple.

Vayloo Pakirisamy Pillai (1894-1984), well-know local Indian businessman, philanthropist and community leader, took over the management of Sri Krishnan Temple in 1935 and expanded the temple with a main shrine building. A concrete roof was added in 1959, and another consecration ceremony was carried out.

Sri Krishnan Temple was further renovated and expanded in the late eighties and 2000s, and two more consecration ceremonies were conducted in 1989 and 2002.

The temple, designed in classic South Indian style and the only Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, has become an important place of worship for the local Hindu community, especially during the celebrations of Deepavali and Krishna Jayanthi.

Sri Krishnan Temple was gazetted for conservation on 6 June 2014.

Church of Saints Peter & Paul (1870-Present)

Gazetted as a national monument on 10 February 2003, the Church of Saints Peter & Paul sits between Waterloo Street and Queen Street. It is, however, better known as the Queen Street Church.

The Church of Saints Peter & Paul was initiated by Father Pierre Paris to cater to the local Chinese and Indian Catholic followers. Named after St Peter and St Paul of Tarsus, the church building was completed in 1870 as the sister parish of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, located at the junction of Queen Street and Bras Basah Road.

In 1888, the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes was built to cater for the local Indian Catholics, and the Church of Saints Peter & Paul became exclusively for the Chinese Catholics.

In the following 100 years, the church underwent several major renovations and expansions, notably in 1891, 1910, 1969 and 2001. Today, it is Singapore’s second oldest Catholic church after the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

Designed in Gothic style that features both St Peter’s and St Paul’s statues, two of the church’s main attractions are its century-old stained-glass windows and bronze bells that were specially fabricated and imported from France and installed in 1869 as part of the church building.

Maghain Aboth Synagogue (1878-Present)

Another place of worship along Waterloo Street is the Maghain Aboth Synagogue, whose name means “Shield of our Fathers”. It is one of the two synagogues in Singapore – the other is the Chesed-El Synagogue located at Oxley Rise.

The oldest synagogue in Singapore as well as Southeast Asia, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue was built and consecrated in 1878 with the aid of Sir Manasseh Meyer (1846-1930), a wealthy and influential Jewish businessman and community leader.

Maghain Aboth Synagogue became an important religious and social centre for the local Jewish community since its completion. Over the years, it had underwent several renovations and restorations. The synagogue’s premises was expanded in 1924, and it was used as a gathering base for Jews to exchange news and information during the Second World War.

In 1998, Maghain Aboth Synagogue was gazetted as a national monument. The seven-storey Jacob Ballas Centre building is the synagogue’s latest addition, having completed in 2007.

Middle Road Church (1894-1930)

The Middle Road Church building was initially used as a Christian Institute, founded by a British army officer called Charles Phillips, to promote Christianity in Singapore. Built in 1872, the small wooden Gothic-style building first functioned as a Christian social centre for young men.

The building was later used by the Methodist missionaries, before it was converted into the Tamil Girls’ School (later Methodist Girls’ School) during the weekdays, and leased to the Foochow Chinese Mission for their Sunday worship services.

When it was inaugurated as the Middle Road Church in 1894, it became the first Methodist Church in Singapore for the Straits Chinese community, where its services were conducted in Baba Malay. British Methodist missionary William Girdlestone Shellabear(1862-1947) was appointed as the church’s first pastor.

By 1897, the church’s attendees had grown to almost 1,000, largely made up of children. A year later, the church bought over the building from the Methodist Girls’ School, and had it dedicated by the Bishop Warne of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1901. By then, the church was popularly known as the Baba Malay Church or Middle Road Church.

In 1930, the church was relocated to Kampong Kapor, and the building was sold to local tycoon Eu Tong Sen (1877-1941). At its new premises, the church was renamed as Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

For the next few decades, the former Middle Road Church building was either left vacant or used for other purposes – for example, it was converted into a motor workshop in the eighties. Since the nineties, the former church building has been largely utilised as an art or exhibition centre. It was declared as a historic site by the National Heritage Board on 22 January 2000.

Other than the religious landmarks, Waterloo Street of today is also home to many art organisations, such as the Singapore Calligraphy Centre, Chinese Calligraphy Society of Singapore, The Theatre Practice (formerly YMS Art Centre) and Dance Ensemble Singapore. At the junction of Waterloo Street and Bras Basah Road also lies the national monument of the former St Joseph’s Institute (1867-1988), currently occupied by the Singapore Arts Museum.

Also read Singapore’s Street of Religious Harmony (Part I) – Telok Ayer Street.

Published: 25 November 2017

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The Disappearance of the Historic Hallpike Street

Hallpike Street was previously a little known road that once existed between High Street and North Boat Quay. But the road had a significant history that goes back to the 19th century. Located near to the recorded landing site of Sir Stamford Raffles, it was also once the premises of Hallpike Boatyard, a large boat-building company owned by an English blacksmith named Stephen Hallpike (1786-1844).

Beside his blacksmith and boat-building businesses, Stephen Hallpike and his wife Ellen Richardson also run a boarding house that provided food and lodging for paying guests. Singapore, by then, was a thriving port called by many Chinese junks, Bugis prahus and European clippers. In 1831, for instance, eighteen junks from Shanghai arrived at Singapore, bringing with them $200,000 worth of cargoes.

Stephen Hallpike went on to become a successful and well-reputed person within the European community in early Singapore. Some records shed light on his background, that he was a former inmate who had been convicted of larceny in England and was shipped to Singapore in 1819 along with 159 other convicts. Regardless of his past, Stephen Hallpike settled well in Singapore and lived till an age of 58. He died in 1844, and had his tombstone erected among those at the Fort Canning Cemetery.

Until the 1870s, the northern bank of the Singapore River was almost exclusive for boat-building and repair works. Many boatyards were building tongkangs, but it was at Hallpike Boatyard where Elizabeth, Singapore’s first ocean-going vessel, was constructed. The 194-ton sailing ship was launched in 1829, an incredible feat for the newly-established trading post then.

In 1848, Ranee was completed at Hallpike Boatyard. The 60-foot long vessel was the first ever steamship built in Singapore. It represented the advancement in technology, ahead of the growing global trades that boomed in the 1860s with the opening of the Suez Canal and the popularisation of steamships.

Hallpike Boatyard was located beside another important landmark, the old Parliament House. The double-storey colonial mansion was built in 1827, and served as the first courthouse until 1865. The building was bought by the colonial government in 1841 and continued to function as a courthouse and other administrative offices. The old Parliament House would later become the Supreme Court (1875), Legislative Assembly House (1954), Parliament of Singapore (1965) and The Arts House (2004).

Due to the proximity of the boatyard, the colonial authority tried to shut it down several times as the loud noises from the boatyard’s operations were daily distractions to the public offices in the vicinity.

Hallpike Street, which was later named after Stephen Hallpike, was likely to be built in the 1870s after the decline and closing down of the Hallpike Boatyard. Several rows of shophouses appeared at Hallpike Street by the early 1900s.

Many immigrants from China started gathering at Hallpike Street, but the shophouses were mainly occupied by wealthy merchants before the Second World War. The short road would be busily choked with cars and rickshaws scuttled past daily, throwing up thick clouds of dust. Hallpike Street did not become a proper asphalt road until 1956.

Development caught up with Hallpike Street in the seventies, when nine of its old pre-war shophouses, along with other shophouses in the city area, were acquired by the Singapore government in the urban renewal projects. There were about 50 residents living and working at the Hallpike Street shophouses. Before the acquisition, the shophouses were belonged to Lee Wah Bank, Cathay Finance and a Chinese businessman. Cathay Finance was the agent for the estate of the famous cinema magnate Dato Loke Wan Tho (1915-1964).

There were also many street vendors selling hawker food at Hallpike Street. When the redevelopment kicked off, the street hawkers had to be relocated to the Boat Quay Hawker Centre, built in 1973. The hawker centre was famous for its delicious local food along the not-so-pleasant Singapore River.

By the late eighties, the surrounding areas along the Singapore River had changed rapidly. Sections of the long North Boat Quay was converted into a wide pedestrian walkway, and the street signage of Hallpike Street was removed as it was connected directly to North Boat Quay.

By the early nineties, the street, its shophouses and even its name had disappeared and forgotten. It was noticed by some heritage enthusiasts then, as they wrote in to the newspapers and authority requesting for the reinstatement of the street name. It, however, did not change the fact that Hallpike Street had completely vanished in history.

Published: 27 October 2017

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Nostalgic Coloured Photos of Former Seng Poh Road Market

In the late 1940s, Tiong Bahru was recovering from the horrors of the Second World War. Jobs were scarce, so many turned to street hawking. A new market emerged at Tiong Bahru, converted from two old shophouses in the vicinity. As more street hawkers joined, the limited space resulted in many rifts and conflicts. The street hawkers soon decided to shift their stalls and pushcarts to the nearby spacious Seng Poh Road to continue their trades.

In 1950, the Municipal Commission approved the construction of the Seng Poh Road Market, a large simple wooden building with zinc roofs. When the new market was completed, more than 200 hawkers applied to sell poultry, fish, vegetable, fruits and cooked food. In 1951, the Municipal Commission declared the Seng Poh Road Market, and the equally popular Lim Tua Tow Road Market at Upper Serangoon Road, as the new public markets.

Except for some repairs and a replacement of the battered roof, Seng Poh Road Market remained largely unchanged, in the next 40 years, until the late eighties. In the early nineties, it was given a major cleaning up. The old market’s history, however, came to an end in 2004, when it was torn down for a complete redevelopment. Its hawkers were then relocated to a temporary spot at Kim Pong Road. After two years of redevelopment, a new Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre was completed and opened in 2006.

Here is a trip down the memory lane of the former Seng Poh Road Market:

(All photos above are credited to Tiong Bahru Estate)

Published: 26 October 2017

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First Toa Payoh Secondary School No More

Although Toa Payoh was the second satellite town in Singapore after Queenstown, it was the first to be built solely by the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

In 1968, First Toa Payoh Secondary School (FTPSS) became Toa Payoh’s first secondary school, located at Toa Payoh Lorong 1. Initially made up of students from the nearby Kim Keat Vocational School and Thomson Secondary School, FTPSS was officially opened in May 1969 by Eric Cheong Yuen Chee, Member of Parliament (MP) for Toa Payoh, as an English and Chinese fully-integrated school.

FTPSS was an active participant in the inter-district track and field, cross country, badminton, football and hockey tournaments in the seventies. In 1971, the secondary school also held the two-day Festival of Music and Dance, where as many as 49 schools in Singapore participated in the events of cultural and folk dances performed in artistic and coordinated moves.

In the seventies, the FTPSS campus was also one of the schools in Singapore used by the Adult Education Board (AEB) to conduct a series of skill-learning courses for the public, such as tailoring, interior designing, dressmaking, photography and copper tooling.

In 1980, FTPSS, along with Jurong Secondary School, became two of the nation’s many pre-university centres to offer 3-year commerce courses for students with acceptable GCE ‘O’ level results. Pre-universities, together with junior colleges and polytechnics, were part of Singapore’s educational system for students to further their studies after secondary education. The pre-university classes at FTPSS lasted until 1991, when the school adopted the single-session schedules.

FTPSS had been actively involved in the campaigns that emphasized on social contributions and environmental protection. In the late seventies, its students were encouraged to participate in the “Use Your Hands” campaigns, beach cleaning activities and old newspapers’ collection for charitable events.

The new millennium saw FTPSS underwent a series of mergers due to falling enrollment of students in the vicinity. In 2001, it merged with Thomson Secondary School and Pei Dao Secondary School.

Another merger followed three years later, as FTPSS merged with Upper Serangoon Secondary School in 2004. In the same year, the secondary school was relocated to a new campus at Toa Payoh East, where the site is now temporarily occupied by Pei Chun Public School. FTPSS had its last merger in 2016, this time with Bartley Secondary School at the latter’s campus at Jalan Bunga Rampai.

In September 2017, hoardings have been erected around the former premises of FTPSS, together with the old school buildings of First Toa Payoh Primary School (FTPPS), at Toa Payoh Lorong 1. Demolition has commenced and is expected to be completed by early 2018. Located beside FTPSS, FTPPS was also started in 1968, and was shifted to Toa Payoh Lorong 8 in 2002 after merging with Braddell, Westlake and San Shan Primary Schools.

Although the name First Toa Payoh Secondary School and its original school campus have officially walked into history, its 48-year history, legacy and spirit shall be continued to be well-remembered by its many generations of former students.

Published: 08 October 2017

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