Coney Island and the Forgotten Haw Par Beach Villa

When Coney Island, also known as Pulau Serangoon, was opened to the public on 10 October 2015, most are more interested and eager to spot the lonely Brahman bull that has roamed the tiny island for many years. Few, however, are aware that there is another lonely “figure” which has stood on the island for decades. It is the Haw Par Beach Villa, located at the mangrove area in the central part of Coney Island.

coney island haw par beach villa7

Coney Island

In history, two Singapore islands have been given the name of Coney Island – Pulau Satumu and Pulau Serangoon. The former, also called Pulau Setumu, is situated in the south-western side of Singapore and is home to the historic Raffles Lighthouse.

The name Coney Island did not restrict to the outlying islands. Probably influenced by the popularity of New York’s world-famous Coney Island, the name had been commonly used by the local entrepreneurs. In 1947, a proposed holiday resort by the sea at Tanjong Balai, off Jurong Road, was named Coney Island. The Happy World Amusement Park, in 1949, also planned to introduce a miniature Coney Island entertainment centre between Geylang Road and Serangoon Road.

coney island map 1954

Haw Par Island

Before the fifties, Pulau Serangoon was known instead as Haw Par Island. It was then owned by the prominent Burmese-born Aw brothers, Aw Boon Haw (1882-1954) and Aw Boon Par (1888-1944), who built a huge business empire with their trademark Tiger Balm ointment.

In 1937, Aw Boon Haw built his beach villa on Pulau Serangoon after purchasing the island. At their peak, the Aw family owned many properties in Singapore, including the famous Haw Par Villa, the Haw Par Mansion and the Jade House. During the Japanese Occupation, many of the Aw family’s properties were heavily damaged. The destroyed villa and the death of his beloved brother affected Aw Boon Haw badly. He passed away in 1954 on his return trip to Hong Kong.

By the eighties, Haw Par Villa was handed to the Singapore Tourism Board whereas the Jade House at Nassim Road was demolished. As for Haw Par Island, Aw Boon Haw sold it after the war to a local Indian businessman named Ghulam Mahmood. It was, by then, a popular spot for picnicking and organised water sports.

coney island pulau serangoon 1985

The Island’s Development

In 1950, Ghulam Mahmood planned to invest $100,000 to convert Haw Par Island into a holiday resort island. Calling the isle “Coney Island”, Ghulam Mahmood wanted it to be specially catered for the working and middle class people, where they could enjoy various facilities used for swimming, boating, fishing, skating and other indoor and outdoor activities. He also visioned the island to have restaurants, bars, dance halls as well as cottages for honeymoon couples. The proposal, however, did not work out well.

Over the years, the 32-acre (approximate 13 hectares) island changed ownerships several times. It was owned by a Thai businessman in the early seventies, who tried to sell it off at $1 million without success. In 1974, Coney Island and its foreshores were reclaimed and expanded by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) in a $20-million project, which also included the construction of a bridge between the island and the mainland. The planned conversion of the island into a recreational centre, however, came to nothing.

coney island path

coney island mangrove

The Beach Villa

Designed in Modern architectural style, likely by Ho Kwang Yew, a leading architect during the 1930s, the beach villa consisted of a main building and a service block that occupied 600 square metres and 100 square metres respectively. The main building was built with a central hall and an open veranda that surrounded the house. At one corner, there was a water well, presumably to supply fresh water to the occupants.

coney island haw par beach villa1

For many years, Coney Island was only accessible from Punggol and Changi Points. It was a popular destination among the locals for fishing, swimming, bird-watching, water-skiing, picnicking and camping activities. Hence, it was no surprise that the Haw Par Beach Villa was once a haunting topic among the picnickers and campers. The stories ended when the island was closed in the late nineties during the Punggol 21 development, when its size doubled to 50 hectares through land reclamations.

As for the beach villa, it remains forgotten until recently, when Coney Island opens up to the public once more.

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Published: 01 November 2015

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8 Responses to Coney Island and the Forgotten Haw Par Beach Villa

  1. mimbar says:

    Fantastic story… Been so many time to Coney Island but the path always sign “No Entries..”

  2. Zitrone says:

    Thank you for the beautiful write-up.

  3. dennisngwk says:

    Just hope that they don’t really go ahead to build expensive waterfront housing in the island

  4. Fifi says:

    Thank you so much for posting this wonderful article and the photographs, my father was stationed at RAF Changi 1963-1965 and I have one specific memory of the villa on the island. We were on the beach with some family friends (two parents and their four children) and they decided to swim out to the island, I persuaded my Mum and Dad that I should be allowed to go with them even though I was the youngest in the group. I was the eldest of our family so my parents agreed to me going but they remained on the beach to look after my brothers. The swim out was easy and coming ashore in the mangrove swamp was really exciting (at six years old I knew about the sea snakes but was not worried) it was even more exciting exploring the villa, we did not see the bull that day. Exploring over we started the swim back but the tide had come in and the distance was much greater, I became very tired and had to hang onto the father’s neck with one of his children and he rescued us back to the shore, luckily he was a strong enough swimmer. I remember feeling a little scared when I started to get tired but it all rather added to the excitement of the day. I never managed to get back to the island but it remained one of my most magical childhood memories.

  5. hi i was wondering whether the beach villa will be hard to locate? since they dont put it in the map. I’m doing school project and i would really like to visit this building. Thank you

  6. Coney Island cow dies

    12 October 2016
    Channel NewsAsia

    A free-roaming Brahman bull on Coney Island Park, fondly referred to as Coney Island cow, has died, the National Parks Board (NParks) announced on Wednesday (Oct 12).

    It could not be revived after it was sedated for blood and fecal samples to be taken during its annual health check by veterinarians on Sep 28.

    “Health checks are necessary for the cow’s own wellbeing and for public health reasons, for example, to prevent the spread of diseases between animals and humans. Given its large size, sedating the cow was a standard procedure to ensure the safety of all personnel involved,” NParks said.

    It added that post-mortem investigations by AVA have concluded and the results show that the cow had chronic underlying illnesses, and that it likely died of heart and lung complications while sedated.

    “The cow was a recognisable part of Coney Island Park and will be missed,” NParks stated. According to the NParks website, the cow’s presence on the island “remains a mystery”.

    “The cow may have wandered in from Punggol or Lorong Halus. It was only noticed after the dam crossings were built,” said NParks, adding that there were no reports of missing cows.

    http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/coney-island-cow-dies/3200104.html

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