Dakota Crescent and its low-rise flats were built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in 1958, two years before the formation of the Housing and Development Board (HDB).
It was then known as the Old Kallang Airport Estate, a massive $2,250,000 housing project prided by SIT to be “one of the most pleasant and easily accessible suburbs in the colony, served by first class road and frequent bus services“. Abdul Hamid bin Haji Jumat (1916-1978), the Minister for Local Government, Lands and Housing officiated the opening of the housing estate with a commemorative plaque in July 1958.
Old Airport Road was constructed as the main road leading to the housing estate, connected to a small network of minor roads named Jalan Satu, Jalan Dua, Jalan Tiga, Jalan Empat, Jalan Lima and Jalan Enam (“one” to “six” in Malay). Blocks of one-, two- and three-room flats were developed on both sides of Old Airport Road, where the Dakota Crescent blocks had even block numbers. The flats on the other side of road were assigned odd block numbers.
Old Kallang Airport Estate and Old Airport road were named after the defunct civilian airport located a short distance away, in which its operations were ceased in 1955. Dakota Crescent was named after Dakota DC-3, an American transport plane that once commonly did its landings at Kallang Airport. In 1946, one Dakota DC-3, belonged to the Royal Air Force (RAF), crashed at Kallang Airport in a thunderstorm. All of its passengers perished in the disaster.
Residents and shopkeepers started moving into Dakota Crescent in 1958. The rental of the one-room flats were $25 per month, but increased to $40 by the early sixties. The first shops, meanwhile, were available for lease at a monthly fee of $125 to $150. In 1959, around 4,000 residents from Kampong Tiong Bahru were temporarily housed at the vacant flats after their attap and timber houses were destroyed in a big fire.
The new housing estate faced several issues in the early days. It had no public phone booths – the residents urged the Singapore Telephone Board to install one so they could get in touch with the police in times of emergency. The lifts were unreliable – one of the flats’ lift was jammed and trapped a family of nine until they were freed by the SIT’s lift operators.
Street lights were installed in 1962, but only along the main Old Airport Road – the roads of Dakota Crescent, Jalan Satu, Jalan Dua and Jalan Tiga were still in the darkness at night. Other requests by some of the early residents included carparks and additional Singapore Traction Company’s bus services to the city area.
Other than the lack of public amenities, the early Old Kallang Airport Estate was also plagued by frequent criminal activities such as thefts, robberies and clashes between rivaling secret society members. In the early sixties, the nearest police station was located more than 6km away. The roads were also lined with street hawkers in the sixties, causing traffic obstruction and choked drains filled with garbage.
Despite the tough conditions, the community spirit within the estate was strong. In 1968, Old Kallang Airport Estate came in second as the nation’s cleanest estate competition organised by HDB, after hundreds of participating residents spent the morning sweeping and washing the corridors and staircases. The blocks at Dakota would win another “cleanest blocks” contest in 1995. In 1969, the small strip of land in front of Block 36 also topped HDB’s gardening competition.
The popular Old Airport Road hawker centre was added to the estate in 1973, housing some of the street hawkers. The nearby Mountbatten Adult Education Board (AEB) Centre, in the seventies, provided numerous courses for the residents’ personal development and upgrading.
In the early eighties, many one-room flats within the Old Kallang Airport Estate were torn down, replaced by new high-rise blocks of three- and four-room flats. At Dakota Crescent, the HDB blocks of 58, 60 and 62 were built in 1983.
Schools were also built at the estate. Broadrick Secondary School and Maju Secondary School were officially opened in 1969 (In 1996, Broadrick Secondary School and Maju Secondary School were merged to form the new single-session Broadrick Secondary School). Mountbatten Primary School was merged in the eighties from Mountbatten English Primary School and Mountbatten Government Chinese Primary School (in 2001, it amalgamated with Fowlie Primary School and Haig Boys’ School to form Tanjong Katong Primary School).
Another big change came in the 2000s when almost half of the Dakota Crescent flats were torn down to make way for new condominiums. The old Block 34, 36, 38, 40 and 42 SIT flats were replaced by Dakota Residences, completed in 2010. The space left behind by the demolition of Block 44, 46, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 70 and 72 is now occupied by the Waterbank at Dakota.
On the other side of Old Airport Road, only Block 13 and 21 of the original Old Kallang Airport Estate development remain till this day.
In 2015, the government announced that Dakota Crescent would be slated for redevelopment under Mountbatten’s estate renewal plans. A Save Dakota Crescent group has since been formed to raise their concerns to the authority, pushing for the estate to be conserved and re-purposed for other uses. Their concerns were discussed in the parliament in October 2016.
The Ministry of National Development (MND) decided that Dakota Crescent’s central cluster of six flats and the iconic dove playground would be conserved and refurbished for civil and community uses, while the remaining nine blocks would be demolished and have their sites redeveloped.
By end of 2017, almost 95% of Dakota Crescent’s 400 households had moved out. Many of them were longtime residents of Dakota Crescent, who grew up in the neighbourhood and had lived there for more than half a century. Some of the residents chose to move the nearby Cassia Crescent.
The demolition project of the Dakota Crescent flats was put on hold in the first half of 2020 due to the Covid-19 circuit breaker enforcement. It has since resumed in late November 2020, and it is finally time to bid farewell to the 62-year-old SIT flats.
Published: 02 December 2020