Tanglin Halt – Where the Trains used to Pass by

Tanglin Halt. This was where the trains used to pass by, exchanging key tokens with the station master in order to receive the authority to enter the correct tracks. Express trains from Kuala Lumpur used to stop regularly at Tanglin Halt, although that would be changed after 1936 when the Federated Malay States (FMS) Railways arranged their trains to run straight to Tanjong Pagar instead.

With the population surging rapidly after the Second World War, Singapore was facing a housing crunch. In 1952, the former Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) kicked off the development plans of Queenstown, Singapore’s first satellite new town, to tackle the housing shortage issue. Tanglin Halt was one of the five districts within Queenstown that were initially drawn up; the other four being Commonwealth, Duchess Estate, Princess Estate (present-day Dawson & Strathmore) and Queens’ Close.

tanglin halt sit flats

tanglin halt sit flats2

A number of low-storey SIT flats were constructed at Tanglin Halt. Built in the mid-fifties, they are currently only seven such three- and four-storey buildings left in the vicinity, serving as hostels for the university exchange students. With only 32,000 units built over a span of thirty years, SIT had proven to be ineffective in its housing development progress. It was eventually dissolved in 1959, and was replaced by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) a year later.

tanglin halt chup lau

In 1962, rows of 10-storey flats were built at Tanglin Halt. Fondly known as chup lau chu (10-storey buildings in Hokkien) to the local Chinese, these iconic blocks, with diagonal staircases at their sides, were featured at the back of the Singapore one-dollar note of the Orchid Series and the Marine Series’ one-cent coin (both first issued in 1967).

tanglin halt chup lau4

In the early stages of Tanglin Halt’s housing development, the government also planned to introduce a light industrial estate near the flats to provide adequate employment opportunities to the new residents. In 1964, a $1.5 million project was launched by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to build multi-storey factories at the fringes of Tanglin Halt. The objective was to attract 30 or more factories to operate in the five-storey buildings as part of Singapore’s industrialisation program. Such scheme, first tested at Tanglin Halt, would be introduced to other part of the country if proven successful.

tanglin halt chup lau2

tanglin halt chup lau3

The challenge to develop part of Tanglin Halt into a light industrial estate had yielded positive results. In April 1965, Nippon Paint, formerly known as Pan-Malaysia Paint Industry Limited, opened a $2 million factory along Commonwealth Avenue. The new facility, sitting on a 2-arce site and possessing a tropical research station to study the effects of tropical climate on paints, had demonstrated the Japanese industrialists’ confidence in the future of Malaysia and Singapore.

Local entrepreneurs also began to move into the new vicinity. Well-established Singapore trading company Lim Seng Huat Limited Group opened their knitted garments plant at Tanglin Halt in 1969. Setron, Singapore’s own television maker, also set up a factory to assemble and produce thousands of black-and-white TVs. By the seventies, the industrial estate at Tanglin Halt was bustling with manufacturing and commercial activities with various companies involved in different trades such as electronics, textile, frozen food, chocolate, fiberglass and paper products.

tanglin halt market 1967

Most common public amenities were added to Tanglin Halt by the late sixties. The Tanglin Halt Market was completed and opened in 1967. Tanglin Halt was also said to be the first district in Queenstown to have a public phone installed.

Tanglin Halt Road was constructed in the early sixties but was converted into an one-way street in 1964. Parking was permitted on one side of the road but it affected the traffic conditions as insufficient parking space failed to meet the demands of some 600 cars and a large number of scooters. It also did not help when many street hawkers plied their trades along the narrow road, often causing congestion to the one-directional traffic. The issue was eventually solved with more public carparks built at Tanglin Halt.

tanglin halt 1970s

church of the blessed sacrament 1970s

Tanglin Halt’s two most iconic landmarks are the Church of the Blessed Sacrament and Sri Muneeswaran Temple.

Unique for its blue slated roof and cross-shaped service hall, the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, designed by Y.G. Dowsett, was planned in the late fifties but could only be completed in 1965 due to limited funds. By the eighties, the church was able to serve some 7,000 parishioners at Queenstown. In 2005, the Church of the Blessed Sacrament was given the conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for its heritage value and architectural excellence.

old sri muneeswaran temple 1980s

The Sri Muneeswaran Temple, the other iconic place of worship at Tanglin Halt, has a history dated back to the early 1930s, when it was first set up as a railway shrine for the Hindu staffs who lived at Queenstown and worked for the Malayan Railway.

In 1969, the Hindu devotees at Queenstown donated generously to buy a parcel of land from the Malayan Railway Administration for the construction of a temple to replace the aging shrine. The temple, however, had to be moved in the nineties due to a road widening project along Queensway. The new Sri Muneeswaran Temple finally found its new home next to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in 1998.

tanglin halt

tanglin halt2

The chup lau chu were placed under the HDB’s Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) in 2008, and are now awaiting demolition after most residents had moved out by mid-2014. Another 31 blocks of flats, most of them already half-century old, and the popular Tanglin Halt market, hawker centre, shops and eateries are scheduled to be cleared and torn down by 2021, in what will be HDB’s biggest SERS project to revamp and redevelop the vicinity.

When the time comes, Tanglin Halt, an unique neighbourhood where the trains used to pass by, will never be the same again.

tanglin halt chup lau5

Published: 13 July 2014

Updated: 15 July 2014

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27 Responses to Tanglin Halt – Where the Trains used to Pass by

  1. Des says:

    Thank you for sharing 🙂 I really enjoy reading your blog and learning more about Singapore! 🙂

  2. sheaar says:

    How about something on Alexandra Estate? Would love to know the history of where I grew up please?

  3. qbix23 says:

    @Another 31 blocks of flats, most of them already half-century old, and the popular Tanglin Halt market, hawker centre, shops and eateries are scheduled to be cleared and torn down by 2020, in what will be HDB’s biggest SERS project to revamp and redevelop the vicinity.

    Oh dear, and with age and what is left out of this life… It’s time for a visit before all of this is gone…

  4. Victor Seow says:

    remembering Singapore of the fond years gone bt

  5. Liew NF says:

    It’s a nice place… Some of the famous landmarks include the Van Houten Factory, the Setron TV factory, Sharp and Telefunken factory used to be found there. Not forgetting the PUB gas tank were also famous landmarks of Tanglin Halt. Visit this web site for more info…

    http://blogtoexpress.blogspot.sg/2014/02/tanglin-halt-then-and-now.html

  6. Angela says:

    We used to live in Wessex estate and walk through the grass areas over the Malaysian train line and into tanglin halt to either catch the MRT or shop. So lucky to have that whole thriving community there around the hawker market and the MRT. Where will everyone who has made their whole life there go? It’s sad to see another area get modernised.

  7. logatfer says:

    Great article, as always!

  8. john chua says:

    John Chua: I used to live at Block 79, Tanglin Halt with my family from 1965 to 1974 with my young family. There was a railway track behind our block and my children like to go near the fencing to watch the train go by. .Every time if we passed by the area, I would tell my children that we used to live there and showed them the block. We used to rent the flat from the HDB until it offered for sale to us at a mere $7,500/-, which today can’t even buy a piece of COE paper.

  9. Boo says:

    Thank you for the great article

  10. zzzisle says:

    i like the pic with the $1 note.

  11. Reblogged this on old world underground and commented:
    And Tanglin Halt!

  12. Tim says:

    Hi, did I read that the Tanglin Halt market and surrounding blocks will be redeveloped? What a pity if it does as this is a area that is a bit bohemian – quiet , rustic and away from the commercial areas like Tiong Bahru and Holland V.

  13. Boon Kiat says:

    My Grandparents lived at one of the blocks known as the “chup lau chu”. We used to visit them every Sunday when we were young, so i am very familiar with the whole neighborhood but i never quite realized its rich heritage and history until reading this blog.

    And oh ya, i almost forgot, the trains that used to pass by this neighborhood, and you can hear their rumblings. So nostalgic, having not heard them in ages.

  14. nizam says:

    keep sharing content about Cab I’m a frequent reader of your blog

  15. Tanglin Halt flats when they were completed in the early 1960s


    (Photo credit: Facebook Group “Nostalgic Singapore)

  16. Moni Jiao says:

    It is good that new PUBLIC HOUSES will be build for Singaporean but HOWEVER VERY EXPENSIVE. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT, PUBLIC HOUSING WITH SUCH RIDICULOUS PRICE COMPARE TO THOSE YESTERYEARS SIT FLAT WHICH WERE BUILT FOR THE PUBLIC IN AFFORDABLE PRICE! HDB TRYINGTO CONTROL MARKET PRICE OF RESALE HDB FLATS BUT THERE REFUSE TO CONTROL THE PRICE OF NEW HDB FLAT.

  17. http://newsingapore.straitstimes.com/places_tanglin_halt

    Tanglin Halt’s kampung vibe makes move hard for longtime resident

    In 1965, Ms Tan Jee Wah’s parents moved into a three-room flat in Queenstown. It was a momentous occasion because the flat in Block 63, Commonwealth Drive was the first home they owned.

    The flat cost the Hainanese cook and his housekeeper wife $6,200. Before that, the couple and their children lived in a series of servants’ quarters provided by the expatriate families they worked for.

    Fast forward 50 years.

    “Both my parents are gone. But my elder brother and his family still live in the flat they bought,” says Ms Tan, 69, who is the second of four siblings “About 20 years ago, I bought my own flat just a few blocks away too.”

    There is, she says, much to love about her neighbourhood and the Tanglin Halt area that she has spent almost all her adult life in.

    “It’s like a kampung here. I speak to everyone. Everything’s here and it’s so convenient. I can take a bus or train to Orchard Road, I can walk to Holland Village,” says the theme park worker who shares her corner unit with Lucky, her Jack Russell.

    Last year, however, both she and her elder brother received a letter from the Housing & Development Board (HDB) telling them that their homes have been selected for the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers). The scheme – introduced in 1995 – sets out to rejuvenate old HDB flats and has been introduced in 78 other sites in Singapore.

    In what has been billed as the largest SERS project to date, their homes will be among the 3,500 flats in 31 blocks along Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive that will be demolished. Ms Tan and her brother have been offered a new flat in one of five new sites in Dawson Road, Margaret Drive and Strathmore Avenue.

    By 2020, the Dawson area will be a living showcase of the “Housing In A Park” concept, with its new-generation flats, modern amenities such as the Alexandra Canal Linear Park Connector, precinct pavilions and landscaped gardens. Dawson’s makeover is part of HDB’s Remaking Our Heartland (ROH) initiative for Queenstown which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched during the 2007 National Day Rally.

    As each new HDB town becomes more modern and better designed, the idea is to make sure that the older towns do not get left behind. Besides Queenstown, the ROH has also been rolled out in Yishun, Punggol, Jurong Lake, East Coast and Hougang.

    In many ways, the rejuvenated Dawson – where the striking SkyTerrace@Dawson and Skyville@Dawson BTO (Build To Order) buildings have already sprung up – will be as iconic as Queenstown was when it was first built. Named after Queen Elizabeth II to mark her coronation in 1952, it was the first satellite town in the little red dot.

    Construction of the first estate in the area – Princess Margaret Estate – began in the same year and two decades later, the area had become a self-contained community with its town centre, swimming and sports complex, cinemas and bowling alley. Queenstown became a test bed for public housing in Singapore and was a model for other estates including Holland Village and Buona Vista.

    Ms Tan literally saw Queenstown transform before her eyes. In fact, her own life mirrored the rapid changes her neighbourhood, and Singapore, were experiencing in the decades since independence. Although she did not even complete Primary Six (her father felt that education was not important for girls), she went on to carve out a successful career in the hospitality industry.

    Her first job after leaving school was babysitting the children of expatriates.

    “I then learnt how to cook and later became a cook,” says Ms Tan whose English is immaculate.

    Over the next decade, she worked for several expatriate families including the general manager of the Ford factory in Bukit Timah. One liked her so much they even took her along when they returned home to La Hoya in California in the 1970s. But she had to come back to Singapore when she could not get a working visa.

    “I landed a job with Peninsula hotel as a chambermaid after that and was promoted to supervisor after six months,” she says.

    Her career took several interesting turns after that, including a two-year stint as branch secretary of the Food, Drinks & Allied Workers’ Union as well as five years with fast food chain A&W as its operations manager. At A&W, she was given a Honda Accord to drive around, and she helped to open several A&W outlets including those in Thomson and Bukit Merah. She then returned to the hotel industry and worked for several well-known names – such as Sheraton Towers to Beaufort on Sentosa – in various capacities.

    Last year, the feisty and sprightly woman protested when her employer NTUC broached the subject of retirement.

    “I told them I was healthier than all of them,” says Ms Tan who now works as a ground staff in Wild Wild Wet waterpark.

    For much of her working life until the early 1990s, home for the chatty single was the Commonwealth Drive flat her parents bought.

    “At one stage, there were nine people living there,” she says with a laugh. “So I decided to get a five-room flat in Pasir Ris, and I got my parents to live with me.”

    Her parents lived with her for five years.

    “But they didn’t like it and were miserable. They were lonely and kept saying that they missed Tanglin Halt and wanted to go back,” she says.

    So 20 years ago, she and her parents moved back into a corner three-room unit in Block 58, just a hop and a skip away from Block 63. Her folks lived out their final days in the neighbourhood they loved. Ms Tan – who will opt for a two-room flat in Dawson – has mixed feelings about moving to her new neighbourhood. The camaraderie she has developed with her current neighbours, and the tranquil surroundings will be things she will miss most.

    “It’s the stress of having to move. It’s very convenient here, and it’s so quiet,” she says.

    But she also accepts change is inevitable. She grudgingly admits: “I know lah, it’s a brand new flat, and everything is very good. Let’s just hope I will enjoy my retirement there.”

  18. The Queenstown Ladies’ Dressing & Embroidery School at Block 77. The PAP Kindergarten was beside it. Year 1966


    (Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/myqueenstown)

  19. Pioneer estate now a ghost town

    The Straits Times
    20 August 2015

    Singapore’s first 10-storey flats, colloquially known as “chap lau chu” in Hokkien, are seven blocks of brown and beige-coloured flats in Commonwealth Drive. Built in the early 1960s, this pioneering “mini estate” introduced Singaporeans to the concept of a self-contained “public housing precinct” with several tall housing blocks next to a food centre.

    Decades later, the once-bustling neighbourhood lies vacant. After the area was earmarked for redevelopment in 2008, residents of blocks 74 to 80 and businesses cleared out by early last year. The abandoned estate has sat in limbo since, awaiting the wrecking ball which is expected to strike later this year.

    Entrances to the stairways of flats are gated and padlocked to keep away loiterers. An eerie silence hangs in the aisles of shuttered provision stores and the odd childcare centre or barber shop below the blocks. In the courtyard lies a worn-out playground and pavilion that were once a distraction to children and their elderly caregivers on many an afternoon.

    “It has an eerie vibe, especially when night falls and you see the leaves scattered all over the desolate streets,” said Mr Jason Seow, 45, a former Tanglin Halt resident who returned to photograph the place before it is torn down.

    As the nation relentlessly renews itself, more housing estates have been left deserted. These are curious places, caught in between yesterday and tomorrow, with everything intact but its inhabitants gone. Over the last decade, 19 projects have been completed under the Housing Board’s Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme. This means that residents in all these 19 areas have vacated their flats.

    However, the old blocks of flats in seven of these sites are either still in various stages of demolition or set aside for interim use or conservation today. The ghost town in Commonwealth Drive has become a spot for some to linger.

    On a warm weekday evening, two Chinese construction workers cut through the blocks to get groceries from the supermarket across the road. On the way back, they went to sit on the concrete floor at the fringe of Block 76, shelling peanuts and drinking rice wine.

    They later used a small sandy track that winds through the dense vegetation to get back to their nearby worksite. Security supervisor Tong, who declined to give his full name, found himself early for his night shift that same evening and sat down at a stone table for a rest.

    “This is a special place because there’s no one here and the quiet clears my mind,” said the 65-year-old.

    After 20 minutes, he left via another shortcut that office workers use to pass through the empty estate to get to Biopolis and Commonwealth MRT station.

    Hollowed-out neighbourhoods like these can also become hot spots for crime. In April, a researcher was slashed in the dim and derelict shortcut at night. Her employer, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), has advised staff against using the public footpath.

    Surveillance cameras have since been installed there by JTC Corporation. The Housing Board said it conducts inspections every day to “deter unauthorised entry into the vacated site”. The seven blocks are part of the authorities’ biggest housing redevelopment project to date, with 3,480 flats in 31 blocks in Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive slated for demolition.

    Affected residents have the option of moving to new flats in the nearby Dawson estate.

    Residents said the abandoned estate’s destruction seems inevitable, given that its once-distinctive “10-storey” look is now overshadowed, literally, by modern skyscrapers with futuristic names such as Galaxis, Sandcrawler and Fusionopolis.

    Yet one stubborn presence continues to haunt the forlorn corridors – karung guni man Chua Thiam Seng, 62. The long passageways below the flats are strewn with cardboard boxes and cans that he collects from occupied flats and coffee shops across the road.

    “This is my office,” he said with a toothless grin. Mr Chua has been a rag-and-bone man in the neighbourhood for the past 20 years.

    He claims to have taken up HDB’s offer of a new flat nearby after the relocation exercise, but he still sleeps in a little corner on cardboard beneath his former block on most nights. He added that it was for convenience, but reporters have spotted him cleaning up at a nearby market many mornings.

    The bachelor reminisced about the old days when the close-knit community would gather in coffee shops or outside the lottery shop to exchange gossip. He lamented: “They don’t construct flats like these any more and though my neighbours have moved nearby, they are not as close as before.”

    http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/housing/pioneer-estate-now-a-ghost-town

  20. Tan wei says:

    Hi there,
    Does anyone know how many flats were there in each of these chap lau chu blocks…How many were there on each floor?

  21. Susan says:

    Anyone know what is name of printing shop in block 79

  22. Boarded up and will be demolished soon….

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