Mountbatten Road today is a 4.5km-long road, connecting to Geylang Road on one end and linking to East Coast Road on the other, where there is a good mixture of quality bungalows and high-end apartments. New houses have been popping up in this old residential district in recent years, but the old laidback charm and elegance of Mountbatten is still very much alive.
In the past, Mountbatten Road was known as Grove Road. It was later named after Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979), who was the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, last Viceroy of India and also Southeast Asia’s Supreme Allied Commander during the Second World War. In September 1945, Lord Mountbatten was in Singapore to witness the surrender of the Japanese Forces at the Municipal Building. Grove Road was renamed in his honour a year later.
In the late 19th century, the area between Grove Road and the original shoreline, before the land reclamation, was a huge plantation known as the Grove Estate, where its western boundary was Sungei Geylang (also known formerly as Sungei Gaylang or Gaylang River). Its eastern side was the Confederate Estate (Confederate Estate Road is present-day Joo Chiat Road), with Tanjong Katong Road as the divider. Due to its low-lying grounds, Grove Estate was extremely prone to floods, and bunds had to be erected to protect against the overflowing Sungei Geylang during high tides.
Thomas Dunman (1814-1887), Singapore’s first Superintendent and Commissioner of Police, was the then-owner of Grove Estate. After his retirement from the Straits Settlements Police Force in 1871, Thomas Dunman began cultivating Grove Estate. He died in 1887, and his son William Dunman (1857-1933) took over the assets. William Dunman would go on to expand the estate by hiring coolies to plant thousands of coconut trees, rubber trees and lemon grasses.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, William Dunman’s properties took a hit when the rubber trees at Grove Estate were destroyed by floods and the coconut trees overran by the infestation of red beetles. It almost bankrupted him, but fortunately for him, the rubber boom years in the 1920s made William Dunman a very wealthy man again.
In the early 1920s, as more Europeans entered Singapore, accommodation became an issue for the colonial Housing Commissions. The city area was getting congested and new blocks of flats at Coleman Street, North Bridge Road and Orchard Road were not getting constructed fast enough to meet the demands.
Grove Estate was proposed as an alternative, as it was only an hour’s trip from the city. William Dunman had already built numerous bungalows in his estate – he himself lived in a $2,000-bungalow by the lake – and these housings were deemed suitable for those junior married Europeans and bachelors. Moreover, William Dunman had an electricity plant and a brick factory to supply the construction materials if there was a need to built a large number of similar bungalows.
By the late 1920s, William “Old Billy” Dunman began selling off his Grove Estate, and moved to Cameron Highlands for retirement. He died at an age of 77 in Batu Gajah, Perak, after suffering from a fever in 1933.
One of the most prominent families at Mountbatten and Tanjong Katong in the early 20th century was the Lee family, who owned several grand residences in the vicinity. Wealthy Peranakan merchant Lee Cheng Yan (1841-1911) built the famous Mandalay Villa at Amber Road, which was later passed to his son Lee Choon Guan (1868-1924), also a successful businessman himself.
The Lee family used to throw lavish parties at the villa, inviting distinguished guests such as the Governor of Singapore and Sultan of Johore. Another grand residence, Bungalow 777 situated at the junction of Mountbatten and Crescent Roads, was owned by Lee Cheng Yan’s grandson Lee Pang Chuan.
Another well-known family at Mountbatten was the Chan family, who had lived in a double-storey Early Modern-style bungalow at 745 Mountbatten Road between the 1940s and 2000s.
It was owned by Dr Chan Ah Kow (1912-1996), a local swimming coach who had trained his children to become some of the best swimmers in Singapore in the sixties and seventies, including Patricia Chan, a multi-gold medalist at the Southeast Asian Games. The bungalow, dubbed as Chansville, was sold to SC Global in 2004 and was redeveloped as part of a luxurious residential project called the Five Legends of Mountbatten.
On 23 July 1993, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) designated the Mountbatten Road Conservation Area, giving conservation status to a total of 15 bungalows with significant histories. Most of the old bungalows have since been restored and refurbished. Some, after bought over by new owners, are given new leases of life with the addition of modern swimming pools, garages or extended buildings.
One example is Bungalow 733, which was built as early as 1927. An outhouse was added to the single-storey Early Style bungalow in 1955. When the new owner took over in 1999, the house’s original roof, staircases, floor tiles, timber partitions and windows were retained or carefully restored.
One of the bungalows in the vicinity has been functioning as a hotel since the end of the Second World War. Located at 759 Mountbatten Road, the two-storey hotel named Sing Hoe (formerly Sin Hoe) Hotel was owned in the fifties by Ong Tiow Kian, a Chinese hotel-keeper.
Sing Hoe Hotel was not the first hotel at the Mountbatten/Tanjong Katong district. The Grove Hotel had first started operating at Tanjong Katong in 1903. Named after Grove Estate, the hotel, housed in a two-storey bungalow at the sea front, was unlike any other early hotels built during the hotel boom years in the early 20th century.
While most hotels were built in the developed city area of Singapore, Grove Hotel was settled at the “countryside” of Mountbatten and Tanjong Katong, where it had horse-drawn carriages and sampans to ferry its guests between the city and the hotel. At the Grove Hotel, visitors and guests were treated to a different experience in exotic beaches, picnics and hiking.
Grove Hotel, however, operated only a few years before it became part of the old Sea View Hotel in 1909. The old Sea View Hotel was first owned by Sir Reuben Manasseh Meyer (1846-1930), a wealthy local Jewish businessman, municipal commissioner and philanthropist. Like Grove Hotel, it was also housed in a large colonial bungalow situated by the sea.
When the hotel was leased to the Armenian brothers of the Sarkies family in 1923, it went through a series of elaborated renovations. By the 1930s, the old Sea View Hotel became a prestigious hotel equipped with modern bathrooms, tennis courts, a grand ballroom, swimming pool, golf course and other luxurious facilities. In fact, it was rated, along with Adelphi Hotel and Raffles Hotel, as Singapore’s top three hotels.
The Sarkies was a famous family who had owned many high-end hotels in Southeast Asia in the late 19th and early 20th century. The four brothers (Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak Sarkies) and their cousin (Arathoon Sarkies), at one period, were the owners of Singapore’s top Raffles, Adelphi and Sea View Hotels.
Other than hotels, some Mountbatten Road’s old bungalows are converted into pre-school centres, such as the Brighton Montessori pre-school centre. Brighton is the name of an English seaside town; in the old days, Tanjong Katong, with its seaside location and idyllic surroundings, was fondly known as the “Brighton” of Singapore.
The old bungalows at Mountbatten Road came in different designs and styles. The most common and popular architectural styles belong to those of Colonial, Victorian, Art Deco and Early Modern. Owned by the wealthy and elite class, they used to have a fanciful nickname called the “millionaires’ bungalows”.
Some of the most unique and beautiful bungalows at Mountbatten Road are the single-storey ones with their eye-catching conical roofs. Built in the late 1920s, only a couple are left to be conserved. The houses, beside their iconic roofs, also come with detailed verandahs, balustrades, staircases and stilts that allow under-floor ventilation. It is a well-designed feature that has proven to be effective in the hot and humid climate of Singapore.
Published: 06 September 2016
Love your work.
I knew I had to do this one day, that is, to post a comment to let you know that I really enjoy your work and appreciate it.
This time I finally had to because of this observation that I had previously made. So much of your recollections of old Singapore are from the western part of Singapore. Nothing wrong with that, of course. You probably grew up there, and lived there as an adult. But even though I enjoy your work thoroughly, I don’t have any or much memories of those places. It’s good, still, to view pictures of how things used to be because they are still familiar to me.
I don’t and never have lived in the eastern part of Singapore. But as a teenager, I got to know much of it very well with friends from school that hung out with in many of those parts. Some of those friends lived there, and there were many house visits to them as well by our whole group of friends. I have very fond memories of the area.
Till today, and at 54, I still feel attached to the entire area all the way up to Changi Village. And till today, I take bus trips up, down and through the area when I feel like it – you may find this surprising, but I really feel it is good for my soul.
Maybe you could have more write ups of this special part of Singapore, even if you needed guest writers to help you out if you are less familiar with it.
Btw, I have always lived in the Farrer Park area, and you did have an article not long ago of it. I still go back to reading it from time to time.
Once again, thank you.
Hi Paul, thanks for your compliment!
Actually I’ve lived in AMK most of my life. I did done some articles on the eastern side of Singapore, hope you like them 🙂
Colonial History of Changi
Former Golden Palace at Tampines
Villa Haji Kahar and Bedok Rest House
The Sun Temple from Tekong to Bedok
The famous Red House at Pasir Ris
Thanks RS. Appreciate it. I will certainly be reading your links.
Thank you so much for bringing to everyone’s attention the beauty of these pre-war houses. So few of them are left! If you take a walk down to the Goodman Road vicinity now, you will see these old beauties being replaced by the most awful examples of modern BAD TASTE. A true sign of too much money and not enough thinking matter up there. The only example I would applaud is the new development at 737 Mountbatten, where they have given the old black and white house design a modern twist. Fabulous!
I’m super curious as to why the 3 houses on Mountbatten have been left derelict and vacant for so many years. Do you know why? Thanks in advance 🙂
I visited Singapore in the late 1950s stayed at the old sea view hotel which was magical for a 16 year old from Western Australia….we had friends the LEE FAMILY who lived at 82 PASIR PANJANG Road are there any old photos of this wonderful house i understand this area was reclaimed many years ago..thank you Val GRIFFITHS
Dear “Remember Singapore”,
My name is Koh S. K (Henry) a senior Singaporean man, I would like to ask if your ‘Remember Singapore’ do have any old photos or pictures sources of the old No.155, Kee Sun Avenue Mansion belonging to a Multi-millionaire Oil Company trader/owner Mr. Ching Kee Sun, (a Justice Of The Peace)?. In the 1960s my family former 2-storey bungalow was beside (divided by a canal drain)at No. 16, Jalan Sempadan, Siglap, to Mr. Ching Kee Sun Mansion, a beautiful mansion with it roof top design of ‘Pagoda’ like architecture. As the road name “Kee Sun Avenue”, Siglap was name after this oil trader Millionaire Mr. Ching Kee Sun.
“KEE SUN AVENUE”:-
Named after Mr Ching Kee Sun who in 1939 was made a Justice of the Peace, this avenue is where the St. Andrews Community Hospital is now. The area is also mainly occupied by landed properties. Mr Ching himself used to stay at Number 155 on what was then known as Kee Sun Road.
If you do have any photos of pictures source of the late Mr. Ching Kee Sun (Justice Of The Peace) his mansion at No. 155 Kee Sun Avenue, Siglap. I can be contacted at my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Koh S.K (Henry)
Hi Henry, thanks for sharing this piece of history.
I’ve done some studies and wrote a short article about Kee Sun Avenue: https://remembersingapore.org/2020/03/15/kee-sun-avenue-seaside-villa/
Lawrence Leow’s Crescendas Eco buys conservation bungalow at 759 Mountbatten Road for $29 mil
1 July 2022
The freehold conservation bungalow at 759 Mountbatten Road, in prime District 15 in the East Coast was sold for $29 million to Crescendas Eco Pte Ltd, an entity linked to Lawrence Leow, chairman and CEO of Crescendas Group. The sale was finalised on June 30, according to Adrian Lim, team director of Century 21, and Stephen Tan, senior group director of Huttons Asia, who jointly brokered the deal.
The purchase price of $29 million translates to $1,391 psf. It is also 16% above the $25 million reserve price for the two-storey bungalow sitting on a freehold site of 20,847.54 sq ft. It is also 7.4% higher than the guide price of $27 million indicated when the property was put up for sale in April.
According to the marketing agents, Lim and Tan, there were about 60 property viewings over the past three months, and many offers were received. However, the three highest offers were at $29 million. “After much consideration, the 17 sellers decided on a buyer with no major terms and a short completion period,” said the duo in a statement.
The property at Mountbatten Road has been operating as the 41-room Sing Hoe Hotel for the past 75 years, since World War II.
According to Century 21’s Lim, the buyer, Crescendas, is likely to continue to operate the property as a hotel. After all, its hospitality business, Crescendas Hospitality already operates Aqueen hotels and resorts, which currently operates two hotels in Singapore, namely at Jalan Afifi in Paya Lebar and Belilios Lane in Little India. It also has a hotel in Zhuhai, China. It also owns the Canareef Resort in Maldives.
Loved reading tthis thank you