The Colourful Landmark of Selegie Arts Centre

Tucked in the corner of Selegie Road and Prinsep Street, the three-storey wedge-shaped building is an eye-catching landmark, largely due to its odd shape and rows of window panes painted in bright cheerful colours.

The formal address of this building is 30 Selegie Road, and it was likely built in the late 19th century or early 20th century as part of the row of shophouses along Prinsep Street. According to the Newspapers Archives of Singapore, the junction of Selegie Road and Prinsep Street used to have many jinricksha (rickshaw) pullers, coolies and a public latrine.

In the eighties, the building housed a popular kopitiam at its first floor, serving delicious Indian rojak, banana leaf curry, tandoori chicken and kebabs. There was even a small yogurt bar in the coffeeshop. By the early nineties, Prinsep Street’s row of aging shophouses, affected by the urban renewal plan, were torn down. The unique wedge-shaped building was fortunately preserved, escaping the demolition plan. However, it was in a poor dilapidated state.

In 1994, the National Arts Council (NAC) moved in to house several of the local arts groups, giving the pale-yellow building a new lease of life and a new name called the Selegie Arts Centre. Tenders were opened and the public was invited to set up cafes and art retail shops such as bookshops, art materials shops and music shops.

The Selegie Arts Centre, since 1995, also houses the Photographic Society of Singapore as well as the Loke Wan Tho Gallery, which displays the former Cathay Organisation founder and cinema magnate’s award-winning photographs taken in the fifties.

As part of the Waterloo Street Arts Belt, the Selegie Arts Centre is managed under the NAC’s Arts Housing Scheme, which was implemented in 1985 as an effort to provide artists and arts groups in Singapore affordable spaces to carry out and develop their works, so as to contribute to an active Singapore arts scene.

Besides the Waterloo Street Arts Belt, NAC also works with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in the designation of the Chinatown and Little India Arts Belts. Under the housing scheme, the old shophouses and disused warehouses at Chinatown and Little India are leased to many arts groups, where they help to revitalise and rejuvenate the buildings and areas.

The other arts institutions and campuses around the Selegie vicinity include the Singapore Art Museum (Bras Basah Road), Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) (Bencoolen Street), Lasalle College of Arts (McNally Street), Stamford Arts Centre, Sculpture Square and Singapore Calligraphy Society (Waterloo Street).

Published: 20 January 2021

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The End of Lorong 3 Geylang Neighbourhood

The Lorong 3 Geylang terrace houses, 191 of them, had their 60-year leases ended on 31 December 2020. Began in 1960, the houses held on for six decades and eventually became Singapore’s first residential units to have met the expiry of their leases. By January 2021, all the housing units have since been vacated and taken over by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). It is expected that the small housing estate will be redeveloped for future residential purposes.

Before the sixties, Lorong 3 Geylang, running perpendicular at the start of Sims Avenue and Geylang Road, led to two villages – Kampong Koo Chye (sometimes spelt as Khoo Chye or Kuchai) and Kampong Hock Soon. Largely made up of wooden houses on stilts along one of the tributaries of Kallang River, Kampong Koo Chye was better known as it hit the news headlines in the late fifties due to a fire disaster.

Fires were major concerns in the fifties. Kampong Bugis and Kampong Tiong Bahru were destroyed by large fires in 1951 and 1959 respectively. Geylang’s Lorong 1 and Lorong 3 were also sites of two notorious fire disasters in the late fifties – the lorong 1 fire consumed a small village, whereas the much larger Kampong Koo Chye at Lorong 3 was burnt down in 1958.

5 April 1958 was the fateful day for Kampong Koo Chye. A huge fire swept through 200-plus wooden huts, resulting in five deaths and 79 injuries. 379 families with 2,000 residents were rendered homeless overnight. It was Qing Ming Festival then, and a lit joss stick was believed to have carelessly dropped and caused the flames to start spreading rapidly in the strong winds.

Four fire engines were quickly deployed and 300 men, made up of firefighters and the locals, fought the fire for almost three hours before the inferno could be brought under control. But by 430pm, most of the houses had been burnt to ashes. Only an evening downpour stopped the fire from spreading to a nearby Lee Rubber factory, where 3,000 tonnes of rubber were stored.

It was then Singapore’s worst post-war fire disaster. In the aftermath, many residents were seen trying to salvage their charred belongings in the smouldering wreckage of their former homes. Voluntary organisations and social welfare workers arrived to help out with the food, clothing and medical distribution. More than 2,000 homeless people were temporarily housed at Geylang English School. Some of the residents managed to seek refuge with their relatives at other kampongs.

To assist the victims affected by the disaster, the Singapore City Council pledged $100,000 to a newly set-up relief fund. A further $200,000 was collected through donations from the public and various organisations. The Singapore government, under Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock, contributed to the fund by matching the donation amount dollar to dollar. Much of the funds went to help the victims as well as the construction of a number of low-cost low-rise houses in the vicinity.

The houses – their construction would eventually cost $900,000 – were rapidly built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). Slightly more than 200 double-storey housing units were completed by 1960. Located at the end of Lorong 3 Geylang, the new residential estate – its land were acquired from private owners – was named Lorong Tiga Estate (tiga is three in Malay). Contracted with 60-year leases, each house was available for $5,000 with installment plans offered.

1,300 residents from the Kampong Koo Chye fire disaster had chosen to move into Lorong Tiga Estate. For the others, more than 100 families shifted to the SIT flats at Kallang and Queenstown. The rest decided to return to the rebuilt Kampong Koo Chye.

Lorong Tiga Estate was made up of 14 blocks, numbered Block 3 to 16. The blocks consist of five to 13 housing units. The Housing and Redevelopment Board (HDB) took over SIT in 1960, including all of its existing residential leases.

In the seventies, Kallang River and its tributaries were aligned, lengthened and canalised. New roads in Upper Boon Keng Road, Geylang Bahru and Kallang Bahru were built, serving the up and coming Kallang and Geylang Bahru industrial estates. Kampong Koo Chye walked into history by the mid-seventies, while new HDB flats were developed near Lorong Tiga Estate, including two HDB point blocks (Block 38 and 39) that were built beside the estate in 1976.

Fast forward to 60 years later, in 2020, the leases of the Lorong Tiga Estate houses finally came to an end. Before they were vacated, most owners had already moved out. At the end of 2020, only 40 housing units were still occupied by their owners. 16 had been converted for religious purposes, while 135 were used as dormitories for foreign workers.

Most of the HDB flats carry a 99-year lease. In the past two decades, many older flats underwent the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) and were demolished and replaced by new public housing. However, there are many other old flats that do not fall under the SERS. The flats at Stirling Road, for example, were built in 1968 and are currently one of the oldest batches of flats in Singapore. Tens of thousands more were built in the seventies. It will be a major challenge when the clock starts ticking towards the lease expiry of these flats.

Published: 6 January 2021

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Bidding Farewell to Dakota Crescent Flats

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

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Singapore Trivia – A Lone Kampong House at Mandai

There is not much information on the kampong house – how long has it been left there, why was it not demolished last time?

Located about 100m off Gangsa Track (former Mandai Track 15), the small kampong house measures roughly 7m by 5m. Standing on stilts, it is made of wood and has a zinc roof. At the back of the house is a small pond, possibly used for fish or prawn farming in the past. Nearby are also former water wells and remnants of brick and wooden structures which could be used to keep poultry.

The green paint on the house’s walls has worn off, and its wooden stairs broken off, indicating that the house should be abandoned for a long time. But some of its connecting bolts are found relatively new; perhaps there were some repairs in recent years? Judging by its relatively small size and location, the house might be a temporary home or a storage place.

According to the Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) 1979 and 1985 maps, Mandai Track 15 used to have many houses, ponds, plantations and even a place of worship.

Gangsa Track, or Gangsa Trail, was developed for both the mountain bikers and trekkers in the early 2000s. Stretching about 5km from Mandai Road to Chestnut Nature Park (North), it was developed from Mandai Track 15, a beaten road off the main Mandai Road.

As for other rural roads such as Lorong Gangsa and Jalan Kwok Min, they existed until the nineties before they were expunged and consumed by the thick Mandai forest and undergrowth.

Between the early and mid-eighties, Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) was constructed from north to south, first from Woodlands to Mandai Road, then from Mandai Road to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE). This affected some of the Mandai villages, resulting in the relocation of their residents.

By the late eighties, the Mandai area was taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces as part of their training grounds, and almost all the villages were relocated and demolished.

Although Gangsa Track has been made accessible to the public since the early 2000s, Live Firing Area and Protected Area signages remain erected at certain points to warn people against straying needlessly into the forested area.

Published: 11 November 2020

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15 Defunct Department Stores We Miss the Most

As we bid farewell to longtime retail giant Robinsons, let us do a recap of those once-familiar Japanese, French, Hong Kong as well as local department stores that became defunct in Singapore (We will save the former supermarkets/hypermarkets for another day).

1. Robinsons (1858-2020)

Being in the business for a long 162 years, Robinsons began as a small shop at Raffles Place (formerly Commercial Square), named Spicier and Robinson. Its founders James Gaborian Spicer and Philip Robinson sold everything from European groceries, spices to women’s apparel.

In 1859, the business was renamed Robinsons and Company after James Spicer left the partnership. By the early 20th century, Robinsons had become the leading department store in Singapore, positioning itself as the upmarket store catering specially for the European expatriates.

In its history, Robinsons and its iconic department store at Raffles Place survived the Great Depression (it posted its first ever losses of about $233,000 in 1932), Second World War bombings, Japanese Occupation (it was closed between 1942 and 1945) and a disastrous fire in 1972 that killed nine people and destroyed million dollars’ worth of goods.

Robinsons picked itself up after the disaster, expanding to other parts of Singapore. It subsequently opened stores at the Specialist’s Shopping Centre (1972), Clifford Centre (1977-1983) and The Centrepoint (1983-2014). After the company was sold to the Al Futtaim Group, another three stores were opened – Raffles City (2001-2020), JEM (2013-2020) and The Heeren (2013-2020). But they were eventually closed in 2020 due to dwindling business, challenges from the eCommerce and the impact by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Memorable Slogan: “Robinsons Sale – The sale worth waiting for

2. John Little (1842-2016)

Before Robinsons, John Little was Singapore’s oldest department store. It was started in 1842 when John Martin Little opened his shop at Raffles Place (formerly Commercial Square), selling wine, textile, furniture, stationery and clocks. In 1955, John Little was acquired by Robinsons.

John Little left his iconic Raffles Place store in the sixties, and over the years, went on to open stores at the downtown area, such as Plaza Singapura and Specialist’s Shopping Centre. It was revamped with a new logo “JL” in the late eighties in order to woo the younger crowds.

John Little reached out into the new towns and suburban area in the early 2000s, by opening outlets at Parkway Parade, Jurong Point, Northpoint and Compass Point. But by 2015, Robinsons’ new owner Al Futtaim Group decided to close all the John Little department stores in Singapore, with the last one at Plaza Singapura shuttered in November 2016.

3. Yaohan (1974-1997)

Japanese department store Yaohan entered the Singapore market in 1974 with its first branch at Plaza Singapura. Offering a wide range of merchandise, Yaohan also boasted a supermarket, bakery and even a child play centre, a fresh concept that attracted many shoppers in the seventies and eighties. Before Yaohan, Singaporeans had not have the chance to experience shopping, supermarket and takeaway snacks under one roof.

At its peak, Yaohan had stores at Katong (1977-1983), Thomson Plaza (1979-1998), Bukit Timah (1981-1996), Jurong (1983-1997) and Parkway Parade (1983-1997). But by the late eighties, it faced challenges from other Japanese department stores such as Daimaru. The new mega player Takashimaya, opened at Ngee Ann City in 1993, also influenced changes in the consumers’ shopping habits.

Yaohan opened its last store at Marina Square in 1996 in a bid to catch up with its rivals, yet a year later, its mother company in Japan was declared insolvent due to mounting losses. In Singapore, its flagship store at Plaza Singapura was closed in 1997. Thomson Yaohan, the last one standing, eventually shut down in 1998.

Memorable slogan: “For one-stop family shopping

4. Daimaru (1983-2003) 

Daimaru was another Japanese department chain that had been eyeing the Singapore market for a long time. It was during the Second World War when Daimaru set up its first department store in Malaya – opened in Penang in 1942. It had a brief presence in Singapore, replacing the ousted John Little at Raffles Place. During the sixties and seventies, Daimaru carried out market researches and surveys to establish a branch in Singapore.

Finally, in November 1983, Daimaru’s flagship store at Liang Court was opened. It enjoyed the best days throughout the eighties, warding off challenges from other large retailers such as Isetan, Metro, Robinsons and Tangs. But entering the late nineties, Damairu was suffering from consecutive years of losses.

Despite the tough times, Daimaru seemingly won the battle when they took over the space left behind by Yaohan at Plaza Singapura, as the latter had shut down in 1997 due to bankruptcy. However, Plaza Singapura’s Daimaru did not last for too long. It was opened for six years before its operations were ceased due to its Japanese headquarters’ decision to scale down on their overseas venture and concentrate in their main business back at home.

5. Sogo (1986-2000)

Sogo was another Japanese retail giant that had established a number of department stores in Singapore in the nineties. Back in Japan, it had a long history, starting off as a kimono shop in 1830. In the eighties and nineties, Sogo expanded to other Asian regions, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Sogo opened its flagship store at Raffles City in 1986, with Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Suppiah Dhanabalan (born 1937) invited as the guest of honour to officiate the opening. The company subsequently opened two more new stores at Paragon and Tampines’ DBS Building.

But in 2000, Sogo ran into real estate investment issues and landed itself in a mountain of debts. Several overseas stores had to be closed, including the ones at Singapore. The 14-year-old Sogo flagship store at Raffles City was replaced by Robinsons, whereas Metro took over Sogo’s former premises at Paragon.

6. Tokyu (1987-1998)

Tokyu joined other Japanese department chains in Singapore by opening its first store at Marina Square in October 1987, where former Finance Minister Dr Richard Hu (born 1926) officiated the opening.

Tokyu Department Store was designed to provide shoppers a “complete Japanese experience with the ingenuity of traditional Japanese-style customer services”. Tokyu positioned itself as a brand offering moderately-priced merchandise from Japan, Hong Kong and other sources. By the late eighties, besides the Singapore store, Tokyu had expanded to Hawaii, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

In 1993, Tokyu closed its Marina Square branch (1987-1993) and moved to Tampines (1993-1998). But by 1998, Tokyu had exited the local market as the group looked to restructure and liquidate their overseas assets due to hefty losses incurred during the 1997/98 recession. In 2014, Tokyu Hands, a sister store of the former Tokyu Department Store came to Singapore with a new lifestyle store opened at Westgate.

7. Seiyu (1998-2008)

Another Japanese brand was Seiyu, which was established in 1946. In Singapore, Seiyu appeared in 1994 as Seiyu Wing On Department Store, a joint venture with Hong Kong company Wing On. Seiyu then took over and became the main department stores at Bugis Junction, Junction 8 (Bishan) and Lot 1 (Choa Chu Kang) in 1998.

Singapore’s Seiyu stores were bought over by Beijing Hualian Group in 2005 for $4 million, and their stores renamed BHG. By 2016, BHG has owned seven department stores in Singapore, at locations such as Seletar Mall, Century Square Shopping Centre and Jurong Point. Meanwhile, the Seiyu Group back in Japan was fully acquired by Walmart in 2008.

8. Galeries Lafayette (1982-1996)

Upmarket French department store chain Galeries Lafayette has been finding successes in its business since it opened in 1912. However, that success was not replicated in Singapore. It had an official opening at Goldhill Plaza on 7 December 1982, occupying three storeys and offering many exquisite yet affordable items of Galeries Lafayette’s own brands.

However, the department store lasted only four years at Goldhill Plaza, before it had to shut down in 1986 after posting a total of $15 million’s worth of losses. Poor store location, image problems and merchandising difficulties were cited as the reasons behind its closure.

But Galeries Lafayette was determined to make a comeback in Singapore. On 28 March 1987, it reopened its store at Liat Towers, aiming to claim a stake in the fast growing Orchard Road shopping belt. It took over the space previously occupied by Isetan, which had moved to Wisma Atria.

But once again, stiff competition and leasing issues eventually saw Galeries Lafayette bowed out of the Singapore market again, this time in early 1996.

9. Printemps (1983-1989)

Galeries Lafayette was not the only French department store trying to penetrate the Singapore market. Printemps, a French department store that dealt with lifestyle, fashion and accessories, had a brief presence at Singapore’s Orchard Road in the eighties. The retail giant was founded in 1865, and went global in the eighties and nineties by opening stores in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan as well as Singapore.

10. Lane Crawford (1994-1996)

Established Hong Kong retailer Lane Crawford has a significant history, dating back to 1850. It later expanded to China and Japan but was devastated by the Second World War. Lane Crawford quickly picked itself up after the war, becoming an upmarket department store that offered jewellery, fashion, furniture and watches.

In June 1994, Lane Crawford arrived at Singapore, with its store opened at Lane Crawford Place at Orchard Road. Former Minister for Information and The Arts George Yeo was the guest of honour for its official opening.

Singapore, however, was undergoing a retail slump in the mid-nineties. Lane Crawford itself was also bothered by internal issues, which saw some of its top management resigned in quick succession. In 1995, Lane Crawford slashed its store size from five floors to two.

Just slightly more than two years after its opening, Lane Crawford was closed in October 1996, incurring a loss of $7 million including a compensation to landlord Marco Polo Development for the early releasing of its four-year lease. Lane Crawford exited the Singapore market and Lane Crawford Place was subsequently renamed Wheelock Place.

11. Singapore Shui Hing (1980-1983)

Before Lane Crawford, Shui Hing had already attempted to break into the Singapore market. But it also suffered the same fate of having a short-lived presence here, lasting only three years. Shui Hing was started in Hong Kong in 1964, and had been successful, opening as many as 17 outlets in the former British colony by the end of the seventies.

In Singapore, Shui Hing opened the first store at Orchard Road in August 1980, selling mainly American and European merchandise. It was designed in American style, in order to provide customers a feel of “shopping in New York”. The store consisted of four storeys, made up of sections selling fashion, kitchenware and household products. It also had a gourmet shop serving food and beverages.

However, a year later, Shui Hing attempted to shed its pricey New York image. By mid-1983, the department store and its building were put up for sale at a price of $32 million. OG bought the building for $25 million, and Singapore Shui Hong officially walked into history in July 1983.

Memorable slogan: “It’s like shopping in New York”

12. Kmart Metro (1994-1996)

In 1994, Kmart collaborated with Metro to open three stores in Singapore, including the ones at Marina Square and Century Square (at Tampines). Positioning itself as a store offering great values, Kmart aimed to bring a whole new meaning to “discount shopping”.

But again, Singapore’s retail slump in the nineties put massive pressure on its three stores, which suffered a total loss of $12.6 million in 1995. A year later, Kmart’s main office in the United States decided to close more than 200 stores globally, including the Singapore outlets, to concentrate in its North and South American markets.

13. Cortina (1973-late 1980s)

Cortina Department Store was a prominent shopping venue housed at Colombo Court, North Bridge Road. Covering six floors, the department store sold everything from fashion, shoes, bags and perfumes to toys, wine and kitchenware. But the fortune of Cortina went into a decline in the early eighties. It was downsized in 1984 and moved to Funan Centre a year later.

Other local department stores of the past also included the Aurora Department Store (1938-1960s), located at the junction of North Bridge Road and High Street, and Vashi’s Department Store (1960s-1973), a department store at Raffles Place’s D’Almeida Street during the sixties. It was closed in September 1973.

Both were upmarket department stores catering to the masses living and working at the city area.

14. Emporium (1961-1987)

Emporium was a name once familiar to many Singaporeans. It was Singapore’s largest department chain in the early eighties before it was hit by the 1985 recession.

At its peak, the Emporium Holdings Group, established by Lim Tow Yong and his brother back in 1961, opened more than 50 department stores in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Its iconic Emporium department stores could be found in almost all major new towns in Singapore in the early eighties.

Besides Emporium, the group also owned Oriental, Chinese, Eastern, Sin Hua and Yuyi, which specialised in a wide range of Chinese products in garments, textiles and food stuff. In 1978, Emporium Holdings Group opened its 12th retail outlet – Klasse Department Store – at Lucky Plaza.

Debt-laden in the mid-eighties due to the unexpected recession and the group’s overly aggressive expansion, Emporium eventually fell into bankruptcy and faded away among the larger department store chains in Singapore.

Memorable Slogan: “There’s an Emporium around every corner to serve you!

15. Tah Chung Emporium (1967-1990s)

Located between Commonwealth Avenue and Margaret Drive, Tah Chung Emporium was opened in 1967, and had been Queenstown’s iconic landmark for more than two decades. It was housed in a three-storey building, with the first and third floor occupied by hawkers and a Chinese dim sum restaurant. The emporium had the entire second level to itself, selling household goods, kitchenware, apparel and electrical appliances.

In the seventies, Tah Chung Emporium also collaborated with the Emporium Holdings Group, Singapura Emporium (East Coast Road) and People’s Emporium (Tanjong Katong Road) to dish out a “combined emporiums sale”, offering discount vouchers, free gifts and other attractive sale gimmicks.

As Queenstown aged, Tah Chung Emporium went into a decline and was eventually closed in the late nineties, with its building torn down in 1999.

Other Emporiums

The name emporium was widely used between the sixties and eighties. Besides the larger department stores under Emporium Holdings Group and Tah Chung Emporium, there were many others such as Tashing Emporium (at People’s Park Complex), Overseas Emporium (People’s Park Complex), Great Wall Emporium (Maxwell Road), Shankar’s Emporium (High Street) and Neo Soon Whatt Emporium (Serangoon Gardens).

Tashing Co (Pte) Ltd started as a heavy machinery supplier in 1969. They also established Tashing Emporium, which offered products imported from Taiwan.  Their emporium business went into decline and was shut down in 2002, but Tashing Co (Pte) Ltd has since switched to wholesale distribution in food products and is among the top 1,000 food distributing SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in Singapore today.

Overseas Emporium was established in 1970 at the People’s Park Complex. At that time, it was the largest Chinese emporium in Singapore, and its signature paper bags carrying its Chinese name (中桥) were commonly seen throughout the seventies. Operating under the OEGroup, the department store is still a popular destination among the locals today.

Shankar’s Emporium was founded in the fifties, and has been in business for more than 65 years. Its headquarters is based in Singapore and has business operations in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Neo Soon Whatt Emporium was a small former department store at Serangoon Gardens in the late sixties, selling China and locally manufactured products.

Current Department Stores

Today, the major department stores in Singapore are Takashimaya, Isetan, OG, BHG, Tangs, Marks & Spencer (formerly St Michael, renamed in 1994) as well as Metro. 

Published: 7 November 2020

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(10th Year Edition) A Look Back at What Vanished in Singapore in the Past Decade

When RemSG blog was first set up in October 2010, it was largely due to the inspiration by the excellent Old Places documentary (by local director Royston Tan). Lamenting the loss of the good old National Library and other iconic landmarks, as well as a growing sentiment of nostalgia, there was a strong need to document some of the disappearing things in Singapore.

A decade has since passed in a blink of eye. While this year 2020 is certainly not the best year to remember, the coming new decade is still very much worth looking forward to. But let us first do a recap of the past 10 years – what are the new changes, and what had vanished into history.


For major landmarks and attractions, Singapore added the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) to its city skyline in 2010, when it was officially opened on 23 June. It would have another grand opening on 17 February 2011. A year later, on 21 December 2012, it was the grand opening of Singapore’s other integrated resort Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), which brought along the popular Universal Studios (opened in 2010) and S.E.A. Aquarium (2012).

Two more places of interest – Gardens by the Bay and the River Safari – opened in 2012 and 2014 respectively. In 2019, Singapore welcomed its latest attraction in the $1.7 billion Jewel Changi Airport, which is designed with the world’s tallest indoor waterfall named the Rain Vortex.

While the new attractions are welcomed, we also bid goodbye to some of the older attractions. Sentosa, as the popular tourist destination, has seen the demise of its Underwater World (1991-2016), Tiger Sky Tower (2004-2018) and the gigantic 37m-tall Merlion (1995-2019) in the past decade.

They had joined the fate of the past iconic attractions and landmarks of Sentosa, such as the Monorail, Musical Fountain, Fountain Gardens, Asian Village, Fantasy Island and Volcanoland.

The Maritime Experiential Museum (2011-2020) of RWS, on the other hand, was opened in 2011 but dissolved in March 2020. It will make way for the extension of the S.E.A. Aquarium, which will be rebranded as the Singapore Oceanarium.

Malls & Commercial Buildings

“The only constant in life is change.” A perfect description for Singapore as well, where changes and redevelopments happen every year. Dozens of landmarks and buildings were demolished, redeveloped and replaced by the newer ones.

Starting the list are several decades-old malls. Eminent Plaza (1980s-2014) was pulled down in 2014, together with its neighbour Lavender Food Square along Jalan Besar, and was replaced by a new office tower called ARC 380.

Along Serangoon Road, Serangoon Plaza (1960s-2017), formerly known as President Shopping Centre, ceased to exist after more than 50 years. It was sold for $400 million in 2013, and was demolished in 2017. A new Centrium Square is expected to emerge at its site by late 2021.

Park Mall (1971-2016), a popular destination for furniture and home furnishings, was brought down in 2016. Located at Penang Road, it was first opened as Supreme House. Evolving from retail to fashion and finally a furniture mall, it eventually walked into history after 45 years. Standing in its place now is Citadines Connect City Centre.

Chinatown Plaza (1983-2019) at Craig Road was sold for $260 million in May 2018, and demolition works began a year later.

The Verge (2003-2017), or formerly Tekka Mall, situated along Selegie Road, lasted only 14 years, making it one of the shortest-lived shopping malls in Singapore. Standing in its place will be the new Tekka Place, an integrated commercial and residential complex.

Near the short-lived mall was the former Tiger Balm Building (1930s-2019), a longtime landmark at the junction of Selegie Road and Short Street. The four storey building was torn down in 2019, after more than 70 years of existence.

Pearls Centre (1977-2016), located along Eu Tong Sen Street, was closed in 2015 and torn down a year later. The complex was well-known for its retail shops, eateries and a softcore cinema named Yangtze Theatre.

The old Funan Centre (1985-2016), a popular place for IT gadgets. was rejuvenated in 2016. The old building was torn down and replaced with Funan Mall, a new mixed used development complex, with retail mall, office towers and service apartments.

One of the most recent commercial buildings to be affected by redevelopment projects was Liang Court (1985-early 2020s), a mixed complex of mall, hotel (Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay) and service apartments. Located at River Valley Road, its twin brown towers have been an iconic landmark along the Singapore River since 1985. With most of its tenants moved out in early 2020, the 35-year-old Liang Court will be pulled down soon.

Same goes for Shaw Tower (1976-early 2020s) at Beach Road, whose tenants received the redevelopment news in 2018 and have moved out of the premises in June 2020. The demolition may be carried out in the near future.

Residential Housing

Coming up in the 2020s are the Tengah New Town and Bidadari Estate, developed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). The Tengah New Town will comprise five housing districts with 42,000 Built-to-Order (BTO) flats, whereas the Bidadari Estate will have 10,000 units.

In the midst of the ongoing construction of the new towns and housing estates, the older ones are being phased out. Dakota Crescent (1958-early 2020s) and Redhill Close (1955-early 2020s) are now vacant and boarded up, with their Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats awaiting for demolition. Tanglin Halt will soon join them as we move into the new decade.

And at Tanglin Halt, a row of its Commonwealth Drive HDB flats (1962-2016), fondly known as chup lau chu (“ten storey houses” in Hokkien), had already been torn down. Many of the other residents as well as the small shopowners and businesses in the small neighbourhood have also started to move out.

Elsewhere, the Rochor Centre HDB Flats (1977-2019), a prominent colourful landmark located at junction of Rochor Road and Ophir Road, were emptied by end-2016 and demolished three years later.

Dozen of other HDB flats had been selected and demolished under the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) in the past decade.

These flats were located at Sims Drive, Clementi Avenue 1 and 5, Boon Lay Drive, Teban Gardens, Yung Ping Road, Henderson Road, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, Ghim Moh Road, Zion Road, Havelock Road, Upper Boon Keng Road, Toa Payoh Lorong 5 and Commonwealth Avenue.

The old Woodlands Town Centre (1980-2017), a small neighbourhood that was located just beside the Causeway and had functioned for many years as the stopover for commuters between Singapore and Johor, was gone by 2017, together with its flats, shops, hawker centre, bus interchange and Woodlands Cinema.

Beside the en-bloc HDB flats, several Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) estates had also been sold through collective sales, with their sites redeveloped into new condominiums.

Shunfu Ville (1986-2016), Eunosville (1987-2017), Raintree Gardens (1984-2016), Rio Casa (1986-2017) and Serangoon Ville (1986-2017) were all torn down in the past 10 years, with the latest being Normanton Park (1977-2018).

At Jalan Kayu, the redevelopment of Seletar West Farmway into a light industrial estate has seen the demolition of one of Singapore’s last rural centres. The low rise flats of the former Jalan Kayu Rural Centre (late 1970s-2016) were used as foreign worker dormitories in their final few years.


The good old National Stadium (1973-2010) was demolished as Singapore entered the decade of 2010s. It had given many Singaporeans the fond memories of the Malaysia Cup matches and the famous Kallang Roar. In its place now is the Singapore Sports Hub.

Jurong Stadium (1973-2020), also constructed in 1973, fared a decade better, as it lasted until 2020, although in its last few years, it was in a state of disrepair with only a few events and activities held.

Swimming Pools

A number of public swimming pools had met their demise in the past 10 years. Buona Vista Swimming Complex (1976-2014) and Bedok Swimming Complex (1981-2018) were demolished after more than 30 years of serving the residents. Elsewhere, the Old Police Academy Swimming Pool (1976-2015) made way in 2015 for the new Mount Pleasant MRT Station.

Bus Interchanges

The Bulim Bus Depot, Loyang Bus Depot and Seletar Bus Deport are new bus depots that are built by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) between 2015 and 2018. Several old bus interchanges are also upgraded to new integrated public transport hubs.

The old Bedok Bus interchange (1979-2011), in 2011, was torn down and replaced by an integrated development of condominium, bus interchange and shopping mall that are linked to the Bedok MRT Station.

Similarly, the old Yishun Bus Interchange (1987-2015) was demolished in 2015. It took four years for its site to be redeveloped into North Park Residences, Northpoint City and a fully air-conditioned bus interchange.

Elsewhere, the old Jurong East Bus Interchange (1985-2011) had its former site occupied by Westgate, whereas the previous Bukit Panjang Bus Interchange (1999-2012) was replaced by Hillion Mall and Hillion Residences. Both new towns are still using temporary bus interchanges built near the old ones.

Meanwhile, the Serangoon Bus Interchange (1988-2011), after its bus operations were ceased in 2011, has its building converted into a multi-storey carpark and community hub.

Hawker Centre/Eateries

Local food lovers may lament the loss of several popular hawker centres and eateries in Singapore in the past 10 years.

The Commonwealth Avenue Food Centre (1969-2011), Long House Food Centre (1980-2014), Lavender Food Square (1980s-2014) (previously called Bugis Square) and Market Street Food Centre (1984-2017), or fondly known as Golden Shoe Hawker Centre, had all but faded into the history.

The Golden Bridge (1973-2015) at Shenton Way was a unique one. It was one of the few overhead bridges in Singapore that housed eateries. It was eventually closed in 2014 and demolished a year later.


Numerous neighbourhood cinemas were, by the 2000s and 2010s, a pale shadow of their former selves; their heydays in the eighties and nineties were never going to return.

The Queenstown/Queensway Cinema (1977-1999, demolished in 2013) was torn down in 2013 as Queenstown underwent intensive redevelopment. At the east side, Bedok’s Princess Cinema (1983-2008, demolished in 2018) was closed in 2008 and had its building bulldozed a decade later. In its place now is DjitSun Bedok Mall.

Likewise, many buildings of former cinemas, such as Regal Theatre at Bukit Merah Town Centre, Republic Theatre at Marine Parade Road, Empress Cinema at Clementi Town Centre, Singapura Cinema at Changi Road, Hollywood Theatre at Tanjong Katong and New Crown/New Town Cinema at Ang Mo Kio Town Centre, were all demolished in the 2010s, many years after their closure. 


By the 2010s, there were only a few sand-based playgrounds left in Singapore. The Toa Payoh dragon playground, the most iconic of all, was fortunately retained during the demolition of its nearby HDB flats (Block 28, 30, 32 and 33).

The little sparrow playground at Clementi Town Centre, however, was removed when several of its neighbouring old blocks were torn down.

At Bukit Batok, the dove playground was also demolished in the early 2010s, replaced by a new modern playground. The other dove playground at Dakota Crescent may also meet the same fate now that the former SIT estate is undergoing redevelopment.

But it was the pelican playground, the last in Singapore, at Dover Road that had many Singaporeans lamenting its loss. Abandoned and dilapidated, it was eventually flattened in mid-2012.

For many, the merry-go-rounds were their favourite part of a typical old playground. Two of them had disappeared in the past decade – one at Upper Seletar Reservoir, and the other, an authentic merry-go-round that were commonly seen in the eighties and nineties, at Begonia Road.

The merry-go-round at Tiong Bahru’s train playground is the last existing piece in Singapore.


Numerous schools, active as well as former campuses, were demolished in the past decade. Braddell-Westlake Secondary School (merged in 2000, closed in 2005) at Braddell Road had been left vacant for many years and was eventually bulldozed in 2017. A new campus for Raffles Girls’ School has since being built at its former site.

First Toa Payoh Secondary School (1968-2016), Toa Payoh’s first ever secondary school, had several mergers after 2000. After its last merger, with Bartley Secondary School, it officially walked into history and was demolished in 2017.

The former school premises of Broadrick Secondary School and Maju Secondary School at Dakota Crescent (1968-2016) were briefly used by Northlight School between 2007 and 2015, when Broadrick and Maju Secondary Schools merged and relocated to another nearby campus. The old school buildings were demolished in 2016.

At other places, the school premises of former Ang Mo Kio North Primary School (1983-2019), used by Chaoyang School in recent years, and the former Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Bishan (1994-2013) (acted as the holding campus for Saint Joseph’s Institution between 2013 and 2019), located at the junction of Bishan Street 13 and 14, were both torn down in 2019.

The former Outram Campus of Nanyang Polytechnic (1992-1998) along Jalan Bukit Merah was left abandoned for more than a decade, before it was leveled in 2016 with its site becoming part of the expanded Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

In 2017, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that a number of schools would be subjected to mergers, including the junior colleges (JC). It was the first time in history that JCs were merged and several names had since walked into the history books.

In 2019, Jurong Junior College (1981-2019) was merged with Pioneer Junior College (2000-2019) to form Jurong Pioneer Junior College, located at Teck Whye Walk. Serangoon Junior College (1988-2019) was merged into Anderson Junior College, whereas Tampines Junior College (1986-2019) and Innova Junior College (2005-2019) combined with Meridian Junior College and Yishun Junior College respectively.


Changes also occurred in Singapore’s extensive road network. A new expressway – Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) – was opened in December 2013 as Singapore’s 10th expressway. The construction of a new North-South Corridor (NSC) is underway.

Tuas South Boulevard, built in the early 2010s, became Singapore’s westernmost road. Lornie Highway was completed in 2019, after the exhumation of thousands of graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

A 1.5km section of the old Punggol Road has been undergoing the pedestrianisation project to become part of Punggol’s heritage trail.

While there are new roads built, some old ones became defunct and were expunged. In end 2016 and mid-2017 respectively, the roads in Sentosa and Tanah Merah Coast Road became Singapore’s first public roads to have dedicated cycling lanes. The redevelopment of Tanah Merah Coast Road also meant that the long and straight Changi Coast Road, beside Changi Airport’s runway, would be closed after 2017.

In the early 2010s, due to the development of the Seletar Aerospace Park, a new road called Seletar Aerospace Drive appeared, replacing many old roads and becoming the main access road in the vicinity.

A section of Tanglin Halt Close was closed in 2018. The single lane-dual carriageway Old Upper Thomson Road, in 2019, became a part carriageway-part Park Connector Network (PCN) road. And the most recent was the closure of the decades-old Jurong Road to make way for the development of Tengah New Town.


In the past decade, the Downtown Line (DTL) became Singapore’s fifth Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line in operation. It was opened in 2013 and, till date, consists of 34 stations. The sixth line Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) has debuted in January 2020, and is expected to primarily completed by 2024.

Meanwhile, the East-West Line is upgraded with a Tuas West Extension (from Joo Koon to Tuas Link), completed in 2017.

For the Light Rail Transit (LRT), the Ten Mile Junction station (1999-2019) of the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) was closed in January 2019, becoming the first MRT/LRT operational station to close permanently. The underutilised LRT station has been converted into a testing ground for the replacement of LRT trains.

SAF Camps

The Ayer Rajah Camp (1940s-2010) at Portsdown Road was closed in 2010. The vicinity underwent huge changes, where new road networks were built and Fusionopolis, Biopolis and Mediapolis developed. Mediapolis, a MediaCorp campus, was officially opened in 2015 near the site of the former Ayer Rajah Camp.

Elsewhere in Singapore, old vacant army camps such as Haig Camp and Old Keat Hong Camp were also demolished in the 2010s. The site of Haig Camp is now vacant, but the Old Keat Hong Camp had been replaced by a new Choa Chu Kang HDB neighbourhood.

In 2012, the old barracks at the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI) were demolished. Seletar West Camp (1930s-2013) also gave way in 2013 to the development of Seletar Aerospace Park.

The Ordnance Supply Base along Kranji Road (1930s-2013), formerly part of the Kranji Heritage Trail, was torn down towards the mid of 2010s. The area is earmarked for further light industrial development.


Many new parks have been developed and opened in Singapore, such as the new Thomson Nature Park and the rejuvenated Sembawang Hot Spring Park.

The Kampong Java Park (1973-2018), on the other hand, walked into the history in 2018. Located near Kandang Kerbau (KK) Women’s and Children’s Hospital, it had to make way for the construction of the North-South Corridor tunnel.


Many small traditional businesses have struggled in Singapore. Today, there are not many shops selling music CDs, DVDs, comics, magazines and second hand books, largely due to the shift in technology or consumers’ behaviours. The Covid-19 pandemic and the economic recession have unfortunately led to more closure of businesses in Singapore.

For books, Borders exited Singapore in 2011 when its flagship bookstore at Wheelock Place and Parkway Parade were shut down in August and September that year. The good old second hand bookstore Sunny Bookshop, with outlets at Far East Plaza and Plaza Singapura, was closed in 2014.

The MPH Bookstores, hugely popular from the seventies to nineties, closed its Raffles City and Parkway Parade stores in July and September 2019, but did make a comeback at SingPost Centre a couple of months later. But earlier, in 2017, its longtime store (1976-2017) at Robinson Road had to shut down due to the redevelopment of its landlord Afro-Asia Building (1955-2017).

The year 2019 also saw a wave of closure in some iconic longtime bookstores, such as the Books Kinokuniya’s outlet at Liang Court (1983-2019) and Popular’s bookstore at Thomson Plaza (1988-2019).

77th Street (1988-2016), a local business in fashion and streetwear, used to have 16 stores in Singapore during its heydays. Its first outlet was a legendary one at Far East Plaza, where many teenagers would patronise it to buy the latest trendy apparel and accessories in the nineties.

Singapore’s longtime department store John Little (1845-2016) had been in business for 174 years, but their last store, at Plaza Singapura, was closed at the end of 2016.

Local hardware chain Home-Fix, established in 1993, was a familiar sight at many shopping malls. But in 2019, all its brick and mortar stores were closed as the company shifted its operations to the online platform.

There were more bad news in 2020, as familiar homegrown brands such as SportsLink (1983-2020) and Bakerzin (1998-2020) could not survive and had to close all their outlets.

Foreign brands like Forever 21 (fashion), Sasa (cosmetic), Fancl (cosmetic), Francfranc (lifestyle) were either closed down or exited the Singapore market in the 2010s. Topshop/Topman (fashion), in Singapore for 20 years since 2000, closed all its physical stores in 2020, and shifted to the online mode.

Carrefour (1997-2012), which had a hypermart at Suntec City, pulled out in 2012 after 15 years of business in Singapore. HMV (1997-2015), once Singapore’s largest music retailer, shut down its last store at Marina Square in 2015.

For food and beverage (F&B) business, the fast food has always been a favourite for many Singaporeans. A&W was the first to enter the local market, in 1966. They exited in 2003, but made a much anticipated comeback in 2019, with their new outlets opened at Jewel Changi and Ang Mo Kio Hub.

McDonald’s and KFC were the latecomers, making their debuts in Singapore in the late seventies. But some of their longtime outlets went on to become a place of fond memories for many Singaporeans.

The McDonald’s at East Coast Park’s Marine Cove (1982-2012) and King Albert Park (1991-2014) had become a landmark of their own over the years. But both walked into the history in the early 2010s. They were later replaced by a brand new McDonald’s (opened in 2016) and KAP Residences respectively.

Meanwhile, the KFC outlet at Bedok Central (1980s-2020) was a familiar sight for many. After more than 30 years, it was closed for good in July 2020. A new food court has since occupied its space.

Wendy’s (1980s, 2009-2015) twice attempted the Singapore market but could not last. It made a comeback in Singapore in 2009, opening as many as 11 outlets, but had closed all by 2015.

And not forgetting other popular restaurants that had ceased their operations in the past decade, such as Sizzler (1992-2012), The Cafe Cartel (closed in 2014) and Billy Bombers (closed in 2017).

For local ones, Singapore’s largest halal foodcourt operator Banquet (1999-2014) wound up its business in 2014 after falling into deep debts. During its peak, it had 46 food courts across Singapore.

The iconic Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant (1977-2020) at Keppel Road, impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, had decided to shutter its door in August 2020 after 43 years in business.

Nostalgic confectionery shop Chin Mee Chin, with its popular kopi, toast, puffs and egg tarts, ceased its business in early 2019 and has since been put up for sale.

Other old eateries with nostalgic settings were South Buona Vista Road’s Lim Seng Lee Duck Rice Eating House (1968-2013) and Clementi Road’s Union Farm Eating House (1953-2017).

Lim Seng Lee Duck Rice Eating House, with its signature boneless braised duck, closed in 2013 following the retirement of its owner. But the owner’s brother-in-law managed to revive the brand with a new store at Sam Leong Road.

Meanwhile, Union Farm Eating House started as a chicken farm in the fifties, and came to prominence with its paper-wrapped chicken. The kampong-styled eating house was no more by 2017, but the owner has reopened his business at a kopitiam at Jurong East.

Tong Ah Eating House (1939-2013), housed in the iconic pre-war shophouse at the junction of Keong Saik Road and Teck Lim Road, was a familiar traditional eatery for many Singaporeans for over half a century. It was closed in 2013, but has reopened in one of the nearby shophouses along Keong Saik Road.

The building continues to live on as an iconic landmark in the vicinity after the departure of its longtime tenant, and is now home to Potato Head, a burger and cocktail joint with an open-air rooftop bar.

Another old school coffeeshop Hup Lee (1950s-2017), located at Jalan Besar, was closed for good due to dwindling business and the retirement of its owner.

Near the Hup Lee kopitiam was Sungei Road, where the flea market (1930s-2017), after almost 80 years, was ordered to close for good in 2017. In the past few decades, the makeshift market was cleared several times, but had always made a comeback. But this time round, it was gone forever.


Before the impact of Covid-19 in 2020, several hotels had already ceased their operations in the previous 10 years. Copthorne Orchid Hotel (1969-2011), at Dunearn Road, was closed and demolished in 2011, replaced by new condominium The Glyndebourne.

Tanjong Katong’s Lion City Hotel (1968-2011) was taken over for $313 million by UOL Group in the early 2010s; OneKM Mall is now standing at its former site.

The Sloane Court Hotel (1962-2018), famous for its cottage-style appearance and Western food restaurant, was closed in 2018. Sloane Residences is currently being built in its place.


Geylang Serai Malay Village (1989-2011), along Geylang Road, was shut down and demolished in 2011 after years of losses. In its place is Wisma Geylang Serai, housing the Geylang Serai Community Centre and Malay Heritage Gallery.

When the railway lands were returned to Singapore in 2011, the plans were to convert them into a Green Corridor. Hence, by the mid-2010s, most of the former railway tracks and facilities were dismantled, including the iconic railway traffic light system at Bukit Panjang and the overhead railway bridge at Hillview.

The former Bukit Merah SAFRA (Singapore Armed Forces Reservist Association) Clubhouse (1982-2011), situated at the junction of Jalan Bukit Merah and Alexandra Road, was knocked down in 2011 for the construction of Alexandra Central Mall and Park Hotel.

The peace of Jalan Kayu and Seletar West Farmway areas were disrupted when a new Seletar West Road, leading to the new Seletar Aerospace Park, was constructed in 2012.

During the construction of the new road and the realignment of Jalan Kayu, the former Jalan Kayu Post Office building (1950s-2012), used as a rehabilitation centre and kindergarten in its last few years, was demolished.

The neighbouring florist and fish farms were also affected; they were either relocated to other places, or closed for good.

For example, Summer Koi Farm and Sea View Aquarium were closed in 2012 and 2018 respectively and have relocated to Chencharu Link. Others chose to cease their operations followed by the retirement of their old owners.

The hauntingly beautiful yet mysterious bungalow Matilda House (1902-2012) had been standing in the wilderness of Punggol for decades, before it was turned into a clubhouse for new condominium A Treasure Trove after 2012.

The exotic Tan Moh Hong Reptile Skin and Crocodile Farm (1945-2012) along Upper Serangoon Road ended their trade in 2012, with its land sold to be redeveloped into freehold terrace houses called Surin Villas.

The MacAlister Terrace and MacAlister Flats at the compounds of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) were demolished in 2013. A large carpark has been built in the vicinity after that.

Singapore’s second driving test centre, Queenstown Driving Test Centre (1968-2011), was torn down in 2016 for the development of a new condominium called Queens Peak Condo. After the closure of the driving centre in 1995, the building was used as the Queenstown Neighbourhood Police Centre.

The buildings of the former Paya Lebar Police Station (1930s-2016) and the nearby Lorong Lew Lian shophouses were leveled in 2016. A new condominium called Forest Wood Residences will be occupying the site by 2021.

The Transit Road shophouses, with popular tattoo parlours and shops selling army stuff, was a familiar sight for many National Service (NS) personnel booking in and out of the Nee Soon Camp. Most of the shops had closed in 2015, and the shophouses demolished two years later. The area is now occupied by Forest Hills Condominium and Roots @Transit Condo.

Several other old shophouses also made way for redevelopment, such as the ones along Upper Serangoon Road (opposite Potong Pasir), where the stretch is now occupied by Sennett Residence and Sant Ritz. 

The row of shophouses near the junction of Alexandra Road and Commonwealth Avenue – it had a popular eatery selling wanton mee – made way for Alexis, a condominium completed in 2014.

As part of the redevelopment plans for East Coast Park, the Island Park Resort chalets, or fondly known as the East Coast Park chalets (1980s-2017), were demolished in 2017. A new bicycle park with trails and circuits will be built.

Half of Sin Ming Industrial Estate was flattened in 2017. Many motor workshops at Sin Ming Industrial Estate Sector A and B were relocated to the nearby Sin Ming AutoCity complex. The vacant land is now reserved for future residential redevelopment by HDB.

Part of Bestway Building (1956-2018), also the former Singapore Polytechnic campus, made way in 2018 for the construction of Shenton Way Bus Terminal.

The Toa Payoh Rise apartments (1960s-2018), originally used as the housing quarters for the medical staff of Toa Payoh Hospital, were demolished in 2018 as they stood in the way of the new North-South Corridor (NSC).

At Silat Avenue, the low-rise SIT flats (1950s-2018) were integrated into the new Avenue South Residence project. Eight flats were demolished in 2018, while five were conserved and refurbished into heritage units for the new condominium. The new private residence will also consist of two 56-storey towers expected to be completed in 2023.

Mount Vernon Sanctuary and Columbarium (1970s-2018) was closed in 2018 and make way for the development of the new Bidadari housing estate.

The iconic former National Aerated Water Company building (1954-1990s) along Serangoon Road was sold in 2016. Like the Matilda House, its façade would be conserved and integrated into a new condominium named Jui Residences, whose name refers to water in Hokkien – a commemoration to the former company and building. The redevelopment works had kicked off in 2018.

Further down Serangoon Road was Singapore’s oldest pedestrian overhead bridge, built in 1967. However, it was dismantled in 2019.

The list ends with Pearl Bank Apartments (1976-2019), an iconic landmark with a unique architectural design standing at the Outram vicinity for four decades. It was demolished in 2019, and in a few years’ time, a new One Pearl Bank will be standing in its place as the new landmark.

What else in Singapore that you are most familiar of had changed or vanished in the past 10 years?

Published: 23 October 2020

Updated: 8 November 2020

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Coming to the End of Jurong Road

Built in the 19th century, Jurong Road was the oldest road in the western part of Singapore. According to the Monthly Progress Report by the Municipal Engineer in 1886, Jurong Road was largely a rural road with only sections of it covered with proper gravelling.

Stretching over 10 miles (16km) long, Jurong Road was home to many former kampongs, including the westernmost Tuas Village. For over a century, it remained as the main route to Singapore’s undeveloped western side.

In the sixties, Jurong underwent massive industrialisation. Factories and roads were constructed, but Jurong Road continued to play a role until it was replaced in the early eighties by the Pan-Island Expressway’s (PIE) new extension opened between Jalan Anak Bukit and Corporation Road.

The westernmost section of Jurong Road was renamed Upper Jurong Road in 1960. Its continuous route eventually came to an end in the eighties and nineties due to the extension of PIE and the development of Housing and Development Board (HDB) new towns in Bukit Batok, Jurong East and Jurong West. The long Jurong Road was broken up and certain sections of it were expunged for new road networks within the new towns.

At its eastern end, a short section of Jurong Road between Upper Bukit Timah Road and Jalan Jurong Kechil was realigned in the late sixties. The original stretch, renamed Old Jurong Road, managed to survive till this day.

The Jurong Road between Corporation Road and Jurong Town Hall Road was another stretch that had escaped redevelopment for decades, but its existence finally came to an end when it was officially closed to traffic on 27 September 2020.

This stretch of Jurong Road was formerly home to numerous villages such as Hong Kah Village, Kampong Ulu Jurong, Kampong Sungei Jurong, Kampong Ulu Pandan and Ong Lee Village. It also had a Chinese cemetery called Bulim Cemetery. Small roads and tracks, located along the road, led to the inner areas mostly occupied by farms, plantations and schools.

Most of the villages were demolished in the eighties and nineties, with its residents relocated to the newly built HDB towns. Bulim Cemetery was exhumed in the mid-nineties; its site is now redeveloped into a small industrial estate.

The entire area became a forested training ground for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), where public access was prohibited. The network of inner roads, including Lorong Pacheh, Kian Hong Road, Sing Nan Road, Hong Kah Drive, Lorong Putek, Jalan Dedali, Lorong Kerubut and many others, quietly vanished into the history.

As for this stretch of Jurong Road, over the years, it became a forgotten road that were only occasionally used by drivers to avoid the jam in PIE. Bus 174 was the only bus service plying this route.

In 2016, the government announced the development of Tengah New Town, which is expected to consist of five housing districts (Plantation, Park, Garden, Brickland and Forest Hill) with 42,000 homes.

After its closure, Jurong Road will be expunged in the near future to be replaced by the new town’s road network. In addition, a new road interchange will be built at the junction of PIE and Jurong Canal Drive by 2027, providing the Tengah residents a direct link to the expressway.

Published: 01 October 2020

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The Story of “The Cattle King” and his Karikal Mahal Palace

When wealthy Indian cattle merchant Moona Kadir (Kader) Sultan (1863-1937) built his mansion Karikal Mahal at East Coast Road in 1917, it was one of the grandest private residences in Singapore. It was named after his birthplace and native town Karikal (Karaikal) in South India, which was, at that time, a French colony.

An impoverished Kadir Sultan came to Singapore in 1879 as a 16-year-old teenager to seek his fortune. He worked hard at the wharves, earning only about $3 a month, before saving enough to start a small money changing business. Years later, Kadir Sultan managed to venture into cattle trading and established the Straits Cattle Trading Company. From there, his business grew rapidly as he monopolised the trade by buying out his competitors. Kadir Sultan became famously known as “The Cattle King” in Singapore.

30 years of hard work and astute business sense saw Kadir Sultan accumulated a vast fortune. At 54 years old, he built his $500,000 seaside palace Karikal Mahal, housing his many wives and children (six sons and five daughters). It was one of the most exquisite residences in Singapore, consisting of two double-storey Victorian-style buildings, designed with elaborated Corinthian columns, arches and facades, with a breathtaking unobstructed view of the sea.

The Municipal president once jokingly told Kadir Sultan that he should name his grand residence Kambing Mahal instead, due to the expensive meat he was selling. As a respected community leader among the local Indian Muslims, Kadir Sultan was conferred a Justice of Peace. In 1925, he was also awarded with the prestigious Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur by the French government for his charitable acts in Malaya and Karaikal.

Now one of the wealthiest men in Singapore, Kadir Sultan had achieved the “high society” status usually dominated by the Europeans. Prominent political and business figures were often invited to Kadir Sultan’s garden parties at Karikal Mahal, including the retirement and farewell party organised for Captain A. R. Chancellor, the Inspector-General of Police, in 1922.

In 1924, an extravagant wedding was held at Karikal Mahal for Kadir Sultan’s eldest son Mohamed Yusoff, attended by hundreds of distinguished guests from the European, Eurasian, Chinese, Muslim, Indian and Ceylonese communities. His other sons also had grand weddings at Karikal Mahal, but these extravagances began to drain Kadir Sultan’s fortune.

At the same time, his company was facing stiff competition from the Europeans, who had also entered the cattle and meat businesses. To make things worse, Kadir Sultan’s staff were implicated in a murder case in 1933. They had assaulted and killed Fazal Shah, an employee of the rivaling Malayan Live Stock Company, at Kandang Kerbau Market (present-day Tekka Market).

A family tragedy happened in 1936 when Kadir Sultan’s eldest son Mohamed Yusoff committed suicide. In the same year, Kadir Sultan himself landed in deep debts and was made a bankrupt. His prized Karikal Mahal was seized and put up for sale to offset his debts. A dejected Kadir Sultan fell into illness and returned to India, where he died as a poor man in his native Karaikal in 1937, at an age of 74.

In 1939, the former Karikal Mahal became the headquarters and clubhouse of the Malayan Magic Circle, formed in 1935 for performing magic shows to the British military and other organisations in Singapore and Johore. But as the war approached, the club had to give up the clubhouse, selling off its furniture and other fittings to raise funds.

During the Second World War, the premises of Karikal Mahal was one of the defensive stations used by the Volunteer Corp to defend the beaches stretching from Tanjong Rhu to Siglap. However, after the Fall of Singapore, the buildings were instead used by the Japanese to hold internees after they had rounded up the local European community. Under the detention, the internees produced newspapers to share information which later became known as the Karikal Chronicle.

After the war, the dilapidated buildings were renovated into a 20-room hotel called Grand Hotel. It opened in 1947, marketing itself as a high end seafront hotel with a short walking distance to the seaside. The ownership of the hotel was later taken over by the Lee Rubber Group.

In 1973, due to the land reclamation in the vicinity, Still Road was extended – the extension was named Still Road South. The nearby coastline was altered hundreds of metres southwards, which meant that Grand Hotel was no longer a seafront hotel.

Meanwhile, the hospitality business had not been a consistent profitable business for the Lee Rubber Group. Grand Hotel was eventually closed in 2000, and part of its premises was converted into a temporary storage place for unwanted furniture.

In early 2009, the former premises of Karikal Mahal were put on the conservation list by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) as part of the preservation efforts for the Katong area.

In 2016, the buildings were given a new lease of life when they were leased to Busy Bees, a British childcare provider founded in 1983. Busy Bees spent $5 million to renovate the buildings, and converted them into the Odyssey The Global Preschool and Pat’s Schoolhouse.

The legend of “The Cattle King” may be forgotten over the time, but his legacy lives on with the splendid buildings he had built a century ago.

Published: 21 September 2020

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Back Then When Jurong’s Drive-In Cinema Was All The Rage

Although it was eventually cancelled, the drive-in movie screening at Downtown East has gotten many movie lovers excited. The screening originally scheduled on 8 August 2020 was sold out. The news did, however, bring back fond memories of the good old Jurong Drive-In cinema to many Singaporeans of the older generations.

The seventies was a period of rapid industrialisation for Singapore. The standard of living was improving, and people were looking for better entertainment. Movies had always been one of the favourite leisure and entertainment means for the locals, with many big and small cinemas set up at the city, suburban and even the rural parts of the country. But a drive-in cinema was a novelty. Attending a movie in a car with friends or loved ones was a trendy idea among the younger crowds.

Cathay Organisation adopted the drive-in cinema idea from other countries such as the United States and Australia. In the early seventies, it leased a 5.6-hectare (56,000 square metres) site, located off Yuan Ching Road and near the Japanese Garden, from the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC). Construction of the cinema, estimated to be $3 million in cost, began in early 1971.

A giant screen of 30.5m by 14.3m was set up at the site, installed at a height of 7.6m and tilted at 6.5 degree for the best visual experience. At the carpark lots were mounted stands of 880 speakers to accommodate up to 900 cars, with a maximum of five passengers per car including the driver. In addition, the cinema also allowed 300 people for its walk-in open-air gallery, bringing its capacity to a maximum of 4,800.

Opened on 14 July 1971 by the former Minister for Culture Jek Yeun Thong (1930-2018), the first movie, a 1970 British comedy called “Doctor in Trouble”, was almost a sell-out with 880 cars and 300 walk-in audience packed into the premises.

The Big Boss, the popular Hong Kong martial art film starring Bruce Lee, was even a bigger hit. When it was screened at the end of 1971, Jurong Drive-In Cinema was full almost every night.

Subsequently, throughout the seventies, the cinema mostly put up popular English movies from the United States and Britain as well as the Hong Kong kungfu flicks and action-packed films. The tickets were priced at $2 and $1 for the adults and children respectively, and the movies were shown at the 7pm, 930pm and midnight slots.

Sitting inside the comfort of the cars, with the movies’ audio piped in from the speakers, and munching the kacang puteh and drinks from the mobile vendors was a treat to many movie lovers.

There were, however, problems in the drive-in cinema concept. First of all, Singapore’s tropical climate meant that it could be warm and humid at night, and even more stuffy and unbearable inside the cars. Not every cars of the seventies were equipped with aircon; even if they were, it would be a heavy strain on the cars’ compressors for their aircons to run for two hours while the vehicles remained stationary.

On the other head, during rainy nights, the splashes on the cars’ windscreens made it difficult to watch the movies. The switching on of the windscreen wipers might led to the overheating and burning out of the cars’ ignition systems.

For the popular films, there were often long queues of cars entering the premises, leading to the delays of the movie screenings. Sometimes, gatecrashers added to the disorderliness and chaos. Due to these issues, Cathay Organisation’s plans to open more drive-in cinemas in Singapore never really took off.

Jurong’s Drive-in Cinema enjoyed a decade of popularity and profitability. By the early eighties, however, the fortune started to decline for the cinema. Modern cinemas with affordable ticket prices sprung up in the new towns. Movie piracy and illegal video tapes were also rampant. Moreover, the audience were spoilt for choices with the better programs on TV. And to make things worse, the large drive-in cinema site was often illegally used for car and motorbike racing in the middle of the night after the shows ended.

by 1981, the novelty and popularity of the drive-in cinema had clearly faded, with only 50 to 200 cars at each movie screened, a far cry from its packed days during the seventies. Cathay Organisation tried all means to revive the cinema’s fortune, giving free gifts and offering cheaper ticket prices, but to no avail.

By the mid-eighties, the company decided not to renew the lease and return the site to JTC. Finally, on 30 September 1985, the movies were screened for the last time, and the one and only drive-in cinema in Singapore was closed for good.

After the closure of the cinema, the site was taken over by Fairway Country Club. There were proposals to convert the site into a golf course, but the plans did not materialise. Today, the area is home to the new Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats of Taman Jurong.

Published: 15 September 2020

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Jalan Benaan Kapal – A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Singapore’s Ship Repair Industry

Futsal enthusiasts would be familiar with Jalan Benaan Kapal. But for others, even those who frequently visit the Singapore Indoor Stadium, Leisure Park Kallang or Decathlon (Kallang), it is easy to miss this quiet stretch of road.

Jalan Benaan Kapal was constructed in the mid-sixties, located at the edge of the former premises of old Kallang Airport. On its opposite, separated by Sungei Geylang, were Kampong Kayu Road and Kampong Arang Road, an area well-known for  their charcoal/firewood businesses and twakows/tongkangs repair shops between the fifties and eighties.

In the early sixties, the Singapore government planned to expand the shipbuilding, ship repair and marine engineering industries. Sungei Geylang, with its suitable width and depth, was one of the choices for the upcoming industry. The former Kallang Airport had closed in 1955, and the vicinity had been converted into a recreation park reserved for future redevelopments.

In 1963, a section of the Kallang Park, along Sungei Geylang, was made available. Within a couple of years, some 22 shipyards and 19 workshops of various sizes set up their businesses here. A road called Jalan Benaan Kapal – its name means “ship building road” (kapal refers to ship and benaan (binaan) is construction in Malay) – was built to provide better accessibility to the firms and its workers. The area also became known as the Shipyard Row.

In 1967, local ship repair and engineering giant Eagle Engineering Co. Ltd invested in a new dry dock and slipway at Jalan Benaan Kapal. Designed and constructed by local engineers and technicians, the dock and slipway could accommodate ships of up to 200ft (61m) in length and 1,000 DWT (dead weight tonnage), and enable repair works to be carried out in dry conditions. Opened by former Finance Minister Lim Kim San, the new facilities were hailed as a major milestone in Singapore’s progress in the ship repair and marine industry.

Beside their $500,000 investment in the dry dock and slipway, and a further $1 million in new machinery, Eagle Engineering also built two $150,000 buildings at Jalan Benaan Kapal. This equipped their 300 workers to operate round the clock for the ship inspections, servicing and repair works. Just a month after the completion of the dry slipway, the company received their first customers for ship inspection and servicing. They were the Slamet Tiga, a 840 DWT Norwegian tanker, and La Ponda, a 667 DWT Indonesian cargo vessel.

The thriving industry and large number of workers meant that food would be in great demand. Hence, by the late sixties and early seventies, Jalan Benaan Kapal was lined by rows of street hawkers selling various kinds of local food and drinks. The increasing poor hygienic conditions and clogged drains at Jalan Benaan Kapal became a concern, prompting the Public Health Division to send officers there to educate the hawkers in proper food waste disposal.

A small canteen also emerged to cater for the daily needs of the shipyard workers. Built in 1968, it has 10 stalls offering drinks, noodles, nasi lemak, mee rebus and others. The small food venue, popularly known as Jalan Benaan Kapal Hawker Centre, continues to survive today. Seems to be forgotten in the passage of time, the food centre is among some of the remnants left behind after the industry in the vicinity had closed and relocated in the mid-eighties.

Besides concerns of poor hygienic conditions, safety and security were also issues for the companies at Jalan Benaan Kapal. Break-ins were not uncommon, and news of thefts often hit the headlines in the newspapers. In 1973, there was also a serious explosion incident at one of the warehouses, resulting in one death and a dozen injuries. The incident was investigated and later determined to be caused by illegal explosives brought in by one of the coppersmiths, ruling out a work-related safety lapse.

Jalan Benaan Kapal’s ship repair firms, in the early seventies, came under the management of the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) which was branched out from the Economic Development Board (EDB) in 1968 as a specialist agency for Singapore’s industralisation.

In the mid-seventies, however, the shipyards were concerned by the government’s plan to link Tanjong Rhu to the City, which would cut off Kallang Basin from the sea and turn it into a storage reservoir. The authority even went to the extend to study the feasibility of a drawbridge in order not to disrupt the maritime traffic at the basin and Kallang and Geylang Rivers.

But the uncertainty was enough to put many Jalan Benaan Kapal companies to shelf their expansion plans, as a low level bridge or link between Tanjong Rhu and the city area would block the larger vessels from entering the Kallang Basin and their facilities. Prior to the rumours, several shipyards at Jalan Benaan Kapal had planned to upgrade their docks to accommodate ships of up to 2,000 DWT.

The link did take place in 1981 in the shape of the tall majestic Benjamin Sheares Bridge, part of the East Coast Parkway (ECP), that connect Tanjong Rhu to the city. The once narrow strip of Tanjong Rhu was vastly expanded through land reclamation in the seventies, allowing the construction of the ECP. At the site of the former Kallang Airport runway, a new National Stadium was constructed and completed in 1973, making Kallang a major sporting venue in Singapore.

But it was not the bridge nor the nearby redevelopment projects that led to the downfall of the ship repair industry at Jalan Benaan Kapal. In the late seventies, the Singapore Government embarked on a massive project to clean up the polluted water passageways in the city area, including the Singapore River, Kallang Basin and Sungei Geylang.

The charcoal and firewood trading firms and bumboat repair workshops at Tanjong Rhu, which had flourished for more than two decades, were among the first to be affected. Due to their heavy pollution to the Geylang River, they had to be phased out and demolished.

The Jalan Benaan Kapal ship repair companies, on the other hand, were given the choice to merge into larger shipyards, so that they could pool the resources and reinvent themselves with cleaner and more efficient work systems that comply to the Ministry of Environment’s new set of stringent anti-pollution measures. Otherwise, they would have to be relocated to other sites at Jurong, Woodlands or Senoko.

The companies – many of them were family businesses – rejected the merger proposal in 1982. As their leases would be expiring in mid-1983, some agreed to relocate their trades to the new premises at Penjuru Lane, along Sungei Jurong. Others chose to cease their operations and shut down the businesses. By the mid-eighties, the glorious days of Jalan Benaan Kapal’s Shipyard Row were no more.

What were left behind are the little hawker centre, shophouses and the former buildings of warehouses and workshops. In the mid-2000s, the vacant buildings were given a new lease of life. Named The Cage, they were refurbished, painted with bright colours and converted into futsal courts.

Since then, many young futsal lovers have visited this place and utilised the facilities, but perhaps only a few will know that Jalan Benaan Kapal was once the pioneering ship repair and servicing hub of Singapore.

Published: 07 September 2020

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