The Ellison Building is a beautiful colonial-styled building located at the junction of Bukit Timah and Selegie Roads. It was previously owned by Issac Ellison (1864-1928), a well-known figure and one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Singapore. Issac Ellison himself was Romanian Jewish, and the Ellison Building was built in 1924 possibly for his wife Flora Ellison, a Baghdadi Jew from Rangoon, Myanmar’s former capital.
In 1928, Issac Ellison died in Vienna. He was touring in Europe for two months when he was tragically killed in an accident, just before his return to Singapore. He was survived by his wife and 10 children.
Some of the iconic features of the Ellison Building include its curved design, a pair of semi-circular domes, situated at each end of the building, and the upper balconies. It also has 16 double-storey units. During the colonial period, the governors would sit at the balconies to catch the races held at Race Course Road on the Sundays, where some of the racehorses were owned by Issac Ellison.
The Ellison family had left Singapore decades ago, and the Ellison Building was sold to a private developer in the eighties before it was acquired by the Singapore government. The building was conserved in 2003, as part of the Mount Sophia Conservation Area.
In its long history, the Ellison Building has many neighbouring landmarks, ranging from the Singapore Boxing Stadium in the 1920s to the Rex Cinema (1946-present). It is one of the two prominent Jewish buildings in the conservation area; the other being the David Elias Building, located at the junction of Selegie Road, Middle Road and Short Street.
Today, the Ellison Building is largely made up of a mama shop, Bistro cafe, fruit stall and several eateries that sell nasi bryani, roti prata and Teochew porridge.
In 2016, however, it is announced that part of the Ellison Building – its three units 235, 237 and 239 – will be torn down to make way for the construction of the new 21.5km underground North-South Corridor. The affected portions will be reconstructed and reinstated in the future to its original architectural design under the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) guidance. This arrangement, however, is met with concerns and objections from the local heritage groups.
Published: 28 August 2016
Updated: 21 March 2017
Council of heritage practitioners slams decision to demolish and reconstruct historic Ellison Building
03 September 2016
The Straits Times
The International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) Singapore has issued a strongly worded statement against the authorities’ decision to demolish and reconstruct part of the conserved Ellison Building.
The council, part of the international Icomos Unesco advisory body, said it was “deeply disturbed by the authorities’ disregard for the heritage value of this building and the lack of transparency behind this decision”.
Part of the 1924 building at the corner of Selegie Road and Bukit Timah Road will be making way for the construction of the North-South Corridor – despite the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) conservation gazette.
Three of the building’s 16 two-storey units will be torn down. The affected units – 235, 237 and 239 – are along the building’s curved facade.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said previously it would reconstruct and reinstate the affected part of the government-owned building to its original architectural design, under the URA’s guidance, once the tunnel is completed in 2026.
Construction of the 21.5km underground corridor, using the traditional “cut and cover” method, is expected to take place progressively from next year.
The authorities had described the decision as an “exceptional course of action” that was taken after considerable study and deliberation. They said it was a last resort after concluding that it was not possible to completely avoid the building “in order to realise an important national infrastructure”.
Icomos Singapore said the decision is problematic and regressive on three fronts.
First, it said that conservation must act as a deterrent against destruction.
“The public must assume that a conserved building is in fact protected, and not an inconvenience to be done away with when it is deemed to hamper planning dictates. The decision to demolish the three shophouses sets a highly unhealthy precedent.
“It negates the critical role of heritage conservation in Singapore’s national planning agenda and undermines decades of painstaking efforts by state agencies, building owners, heritage stakeholders, professionals and builders, and the progress in conservation achieved so far.”
Second, it noted there was no evidence if the authorities had consulted with stakeholders, engaged with experts to explore alternative solutions, or undertaken a heritage impact assessment.
Third, reconstruction is an option that is explored only in situations such as warfare or natural calamities that have damaged significant structures and sites, as part of the healing process of a city and its inhabitants.
Icomos Singapore, which had conducted historical research and reviewed Singapore’s nomination dossier for the Botanic Gardens’ Unesco bid to be a World Heritage site, said: “The proposed partial demolition and reconstruction is a conscious planning decision. In this case, the decision to reconstruct appears to be little more than a convenient and expedient resolution that short circuits the due processes described earlier.”
It is the second organisation to have spoken out against the decision. The Singapore Heritage Society strongly urged the authorities to explore other options in a statement to The Straits Times two weeks ago.
Idiotic bureaucrats…….all they ever know is knock, knock, knock…..gone !!
Man who built structure aimed to leave behind legacy: Grandson
20 October 2016
The Straits Times
The Ellison Building, at the junction of Selegie Road and Rochor Canal Road, was commonly believed to have been constructed in 1924 by Isaac Ellison, a leading member of the Jewish community here, for his wife Flora.
But the grandson of the late Ellison has told The Straits Times that this is not true. Instead, his grandfather, who arrived here from Romania, had built the two-storey structure for commercial purposes as well as to embody the Jewish community’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“It was also meant to leave behind a legacy for Singapore, contribute to the culture and heritage of the area, and shape the city,” Mr Steven Ellison, 66, a development consultant, told The Straits Times over the phone from Australia.
He also shed more light on the conserved building, which has a Star of David on its facade.
He recalled how the neighbouring Rex Cinema, then owned by the Shaw Brothers, had utilised the Ellison Building’s roof to display their lit movie signs in the early 1960s.
In 1989, the Ellison Building was sold by the family to property developer Dennis Aw. Mr Steven Ellison said the Rent Control Act did not allow the Ellisons to raise rentals and they could no longer afford the upkeep of the building. It was sold to another firm in the mid-1990s, before it came into the hands of the Government.
Ellison died abroad at 65, and is buried in Vienna, Austria. According to an obituary, he was reputed to be very wealthy. Mr Steven Ellison recalled how he owned Iky’s Bar near Raffles Place, for instance. Iky was his grandfather’s nickname.
Mr Steven Ellison said his grandfather also built a mansion for his wife, an Iraqi Jewess from Myanmar’s former capital Rangoon, now called Yangon. This was at 87 Wilkie Road, next to Mount Emily. Some of the Ellisons are still based in Singapore. They include Mr Steven Ellison’s aunt and two children.
On the authorities’ initial decision to demolish and reconstruct the structure, he said: “It has historical value which money can’t buy. My family hopes that it can be retained as it is.”
While browsing in search of something, came across this post on Ellison Building, of which my personal reminiscences/connections go eight decades back. The proprietors of the two South Indian restaurants there, Ananda Bhavan at No 221 (still in operation under the same name) & Sri Krishna Vilas a couple of doors away (with I think a Chinese tailor in between) were well-known to my father. They all hailed from neighbouring vilages in Palghat Kerala. The son of Ananda Bhavan owner was about my age, and schooled at the nearby ‘Eton High School’ then situated at the triangular?-shaped clock-towered Eng Aun Tong Building at the junction of Selegie Road & Short Street. .Boards advertising current-running Indian films at cinema halls.were regularly placed outside both those eating establishments.
The spacious corner-shop at Mackenzie Road/Selegie Road was occupied by a Chinese kopi-tiam with an Indian barber-shop adjacent behind, while at the other end of the building Selegie/Bukit Timah Roads was the well-patronised ‘Colonial Bar’, with the ubiquitous ‘Mama shop’ next door.
I started working in 1949 with the auctioneer firm Nassim & Co. whose founder Mr Moshe J Nassim was a close friend of my father. His wife Sarah was daughter of Isaac Ellison, and one brother ‘Charlie’ – Charles Harold Ellison – also worked in the firm. Two other brothers, ‘Jack’ & ‘Joey’ often came to the office. Mr & Mrs Moshe Nassim with their son ‘Freddie’ & wife – migrated to Perth WA, circa 1953?
Given that the connection between my family and the Ellisons goes back some 90 years, It would be interesting to learn which of the above is Mr Steven Ellison’s father.
Steven Ellison is my uncle and his father (my Grandfather affectionally called Papa) was Joseph “Joey” Ellison.
My Papa Joey passed away in Perth in 1990.