The days have come to bid farewell to the last standing flats at Siglap. Also known as the Siglap Fire Site Housing Estate in its early days, the four blocks stood out in Siglap, where it is almost exclusively filled with private residences such as landed houses and condominiums.
The story of the Siglap flats began in the early sixties, when a large fire broke out at the junction of East Coast Road and Siglap Road. The fire, occurred on 5 February 1962 and caused by the letting off of firecrackers on the first day of the Chinese New Year, burnt down some 50 attap houses and affected 79 families with 465 residents at Siglap.
The disaster prompted the local community to rally in donations and other assistance. Political parties chipped thousands of dollars. A Kampong Siglap Fire Relief Committee was set up to help the homeless residents through a building fund. Variety concerts were held at the Badminton Hall and Happy World Stadium to raise the necessary money. The Siglap Secondary School was used as a relief centre, and the Singapore Council of Social Welfare and Lee Foundation stepped in with food, drinks as well as new books for students who had lost their textbooks in the fire.
When the fire was eventually put out, the victims, most of them fishermen, rushed to the ruins of their previous homes to salvage whatever they could. It was a different period for many. The Housing and Development Board (HDB), formed just two years earlier in 1960, decided to act fast. It proposed to build 80 units of single-storey temporary terrace houses without modern sanitation at the site of the fire. This plan was later changed to a building scheme of four blocks of five-storey flats, comprising of 136 two-room units, 10 shops and a clinic, all equipped with modern sanitary fittings.
The development was hindered by the resettlement of the residents and the refusal to move by some squatters. It took HDB eight months to build the flats. By December 1963, the four Siglap blocks, costing $500,000 in construction, were ready. The victims of the fire were given the priority in accommodation.
For more than 50 years, the little quiet and peaceful housing estate largely remained the same. The flats were never upgraded; they had no lifts and the residents of each block made use of a single staircase to get to their homes. Many shopkeepers had maintained their shops since the sixties, and the residents were contended living in the little estate that was self sufficient enough with the barber shop, clinic, photo studio and eateries.
In fact, many residents were reluctant to leave their homes when the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) for the Siglap flats were announced in November 2011. They appealed unsuccessfully against the location, which is at Chai Chee Road, of their new homes. But since then, many households had shifted, and by November 2015, the Siglap flats were almost vacated.
When the Siglap flats get demolished eventually, likely by early next year, they will bring a small slice of Siglap history with them, just like the former Kampong Siglap, old Siglap Market and the Ocean Cinema.
Published: 29 November 2015
You are doing a great job in retracing the history of these places. I always enjoy reading it. Do you do photo or walking tours?
Indeed, I enjoy reading your posts faithfully too..
If you do photo walking tours, do let me know. It will be great to know you in person.
Thanks Wilson and also to beowulf222 🙂
I used to go to the Barber and Kindergarten.
I used to go to the barber for years when I lived in Singapore! Memories! 😦 It’s a shame they won’t be around the next time I’m back visiting my neighbourhood!
Hey man the barber is currently working at bedok north i am unsure of which shop he is working at… but for his brother he was sent to one of bedok old folks home due to his age and the unablity to walk. The other barber shop run by two female open their shop at singlap centre opposite the block of flats. Do vist them before they are gone.
I remember the day of the fire as an 11-year old tock-tock mee boy helping my blind father selling wanton noodles from his pushcart. It was the afternoon when we reached the Siglap Market area but was prevented from approaching due to the fire. I remember the intensity of the fire and the billowing of thick black smoke. Curiously, I still recall today the name of a Eurasian boy, Noel, who loved our wanton mee and who I think had lost his home in that fire. After the flats were built I used to deliver noodles to some units there. I dreaded it as as there were no lifts. Later, my sister learnt how to make dresses at a shop on the ground floor.
When I was a little boy, I remember walking around Siglap with my father to visit my auntie. I cannot recall exactly the spot but I remember the tock-tock mee very well whenever we were at the house and ordering the noodles was a must. I also remember the Ocean cinema and was wondering if anyone has a photo of the cinema and the exact location, would really appreciate the info and picture if possible. Thank you.
I am not sure if you are referring to my father’s wanton mee. At the time there were quite a few noodle hawkers in the Siglap area. You can find photographs of my father and sister on the national archives website under ‘Siglap Market’. One of these photographs has the five-storey Siglap flats in the background. I also tried typing in ‘Ocean Cinema’ in the search field but it did not find any pictures. The Eurasian community formed a strong customer base for my father’s noodles. For many years he hawked, with the help of my sisters, in the East Coast area between Telok Kurau and Nallur Roads where many Eurasians lived.
Yep, the newly built Siglap flats in 1963
(Photo credit: National Archives of Singapore)
I was borne and raised in Jalan Tua Kong six months BEFORE the fire. Siglap Market, Ocean Cinema and the beach are such a big part of my childhood memories. For 2 years between ages 5 and 6 years, I accompanied my mother to Siglap Market every morning as I was the youngest and cannot be left alone at home. Till this day, almost 50 years later – i have such fond memories of visiting the market with my mother. I still remember the fish and meat stalls, the spice stall, and my favorite “kuay chup” food stall where my mother would sit me down, order a bowl of that delicious breakfast while she goes about her daily shopping.
Siglap Cinema – ah – saw so many movies there – “Computer wore tennis shoes”, “Chitty, Chitty Bang, Bang!”, etc. Still remember going up to the ticket booth and choosing my seats and the ticket agent will strike out the seat on the paper seating chart with her/his red pencil and giving me my ticket stub!!!
Loved growing up in the Siglap area. I still go back to visit Jln Tua Kong whenever i visit Singapore. Will go there again when i visit next in Mar/Apr 2016~~
Does anyone if this place is still standing ?
As of yesterday it’s still standing! They opened up the inside where the Kindergarten used to be as carpark!
We lived in those in 1968/70
So many changes in Singapore hardly recognisable which is sad. We where stationed RAF Changi and loved the place.neould have loved to stay unforgettably we had to come back to the U.K.visited In The ninety so dissapointed everything had gone.All we British loved this magic island. So many high rise buildings..lnthey call it progress.all the culture seems to have disappeared the young if today don’t realise what they have missed. Good luck to you all, and thank you for allowing us to stay in your country. Bests wishes. Carole xc
I detect a patronising note in your ‘good luck to you all’ comment..Perhaps you would rather see a Singapore full of squatter colonies, instead of high rise buildings, that would pander to your ‘magic island’ image? Upgraded housing with modern facilities, including running water and modern flush toilets, would not make our culture ‘disappear’. Indeed Singapore has progressed from the days we were living under British administration!
As of Jan 2019, the former Siglap flats are not demolished yet.
demolition has never started on the siglap flats as of nov 2019.
I remember going to school located below the blocks in PAP class of 94-97.. miss those times.
lived in Telok Kurau Lorong M
I am the grand-daughter of Sonny Govinden
The Kindergarten? I was there in the early 80s!
I was just there yesterday to take some photos cos I used to be from the Kindergarten at thy first floor. They had snake and Eagle in cage and turkey running around 😂
I was at the PAP kindergarten, from 1995-1997. After that moved back to the United States Again. Resided in Telok Kurau Lorong M