Kee Sun Avenue today is a small quiet road leading to private semi-detached houses located between Upper Changi Coast Road and Marine Parade Road.
Almost a hundred years ago, this was home to an exquisite seaside villa owned by local wealthy businessman Ching Kee Sun (1888-undermined). It all began in 1910, when Ching Kee Sun’s father, a Canton-born contractor who settled in Singapore in the mid-19th century, bought this piece of land.
Before it was owned by the Ching family, it was a swampy area with only one Malay attap house standing. There was a 6m-tall tall tree nearby, rumoured to be possessed by a dead Malay fisherman. This haunting tale made many locals shun and avoid the area.
On the 2.5-acre site, Ching Kee Sun cleared the swamp, leveled the grounds and built his prized asset, a luxurious villa by the sea. He also spent $2,000 paving a 180m-long road that led to his residence. The road was named Kee Sun Road.
Ching Kee Sun was attached to China – he visited China many times – so he incorporated many traditional Chinese elements into the design of his villa. At the residence were Chinese pagodas, Chinese-styled rockeries and even a miniature model of Peking’s Summer Palace. The double-storey house also had a mixture of pine trees, gardens, caves, pathways, tennis lawns and Japanese bridges.
One of the villa’s buildings, shaped like a ship’s bow, jutted into the sea. From far, it looked like a ship during the high tides. From there, one could enjoy the gentle breezes and splendid panoramic view over the Siglap waters.
The Anglo-Chinese School-educated Ching Kee Sun had made his fortune as a comprador with the Asiatic Petroleum Company, a regional predecessor of Royal Dutch Shell. In 1939, he was made a Justice of Peace by the British colonial government. He later also joined the board of directors at Industrial and Commercial Bank, established in 1954.
As one of the leaders in the local Cantonese and Chinese community, Ching Kee Sun, along with other respected and prominent businessmen in Singapore, were actively involved in various donation drives for China in the 1930s. For example, he was part of the committee that raised funds for Szechuan province of China when it was hit hard by a famine in 1937.
One of the lows in Ching Kee Sun’s life would come during the Japanese Occupation, when he was forced, even during his mother’s funeral, to attend and pay respect at a memorial service at Bukit Batok’s Syonan Chureito, representing the Overseas Chinese Association at the absence of their ailing chairman Dr Lim Boon Keng.
Ching Kee Sun’s famous villa had been the venue for numerous parties and picnics over the years. It was also located near St Andrew’s Orthopaedic Hospital. The 60-bed hospital was constructed at a cost of $60,000 in 1939 for tuberculosis patients. Ching Kee Sun was one of the distinguished guests invited to the groundbreaking ceremony in 1937. After the event, he hosted a tea party for the guests at his villa.
The access roads to the hospital were built in 1938 and named Kee Sun Drive and Kee Sun Avenue.
During the Second World War, St Andrew’s Orthopaedic Hospital was seized and used a radio station by the Japanese. The hospital lasted until 1987, when it was closed and replaced by St Andrew’s Community Hospital. The premises is known as St Andrew’s Autism School today.
Ching Kee Sun’s neighbour Tay Lian Teck (1899-1942) was a prominent pre-war Singapore Legislative Councillor and Municipal Commissioner. Also a Justice of Peace, he held positions in the Singapore Trust Improvement (SIT), Singapore Chinese Football Association, Chinese Advisory Board and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Just before the fall of Singapore, Tay Lian Teck was killed when his ship was bombed by an enemy aircraft.
In 1947, to honour Tay Lian Teck, the Singapore Rural Board renamed Kee Sun Road, Kee Sun Avenue and Kee Sun Drive to Tay Lian Teck Road, Tay Lian Teck Avenue and Tay Lian Teck Drive respectively. Kee Sun Avenue was later reverted to its original name.
As for Ching Kee Sun’s seaside villa, it was last mentioned in the newspapers in the early sixties. It was probably affected by the series of land reclamation projects – the East Coast Reclamation began in 1966 – in the vicinity carried out by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). The land reclamation saw the coastline shifted hundreds of metres southwards. Today, Laguna Park stands at the former site of the seaside villa.
Published: 15 March 2020