Built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1977, Rochor Centre comprises a three-storey building of shops and offices, and four blocks of flats each painted in different shades of blue, green, red and yellow. For the past decades, the brightly coloured flats have become an iconic landmark at Rochor area, bounded by Sungei Rochor, Bugis Village and Sim Lim Square.
The flats at Rochor Centre began like any other flats elsewhere in Singapore, with the normal all-white appearances. It was not until 1994 when they became the iconic buildings of the Rochor area after given the painting of the four vibrant colours in an upgrading program.
The Rochor flats are designed in a podium and tower style, where its bottom three storeys are shops, and its fifth to 16th level are residential units. There is a playground at the fourth floor.
Out of the 180 shops at Rochor Centre, 15 are involved in the business of ceremonial goods, selling traditional religious materials such as joss sticks, kim zua (paper money) and candles. This provides convenience for the Taoist devotees that regularly visit the famous Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple at Waterloo Street, which is only 350m away. Others are provision shops, beauty salons, hardware shops, eateries and kopitiam, where the popular Song Fa Bak Kut Teh is located.
In the seventies and eighties, residents of the Rochor flats had to put up with a strong stench due to the night soil deposit centre opposite of the flats. The night soil system walked into history in 1987, and the site had been redeveloped into Albert Complex.
The residents also faced another awkward scene in the late eighties, when the transvestites from the old Bugis Street, shut down in 1985, began frequenting around the Rochor Centre to pose with tourists for photos.
Some of the shops and offices have been operating here since the first day of the opening of Rochor Centre, including the Hokkien association Sin Chew Hu Chi Sia. One of its honorary chairman was Ho Pao Jen 何葆仁 (1895-1978), a Chinese banker and principal of The Chinese High School between 1925 and 1928, who was actively involved in the anti-Japanese resistance during the Second World War.
Previously, there was also an old folks’ home at the Rochor Centre. Officially opened by Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Chin Chye in 1977, it was called the Rochore Kongsi Home for the Aged, and was set up to provide a clean shelter and a happy and healthy living for the destitute elderly in the Rochor area, when in the seventies many were found sleeping at the public staircases and corridors. Due to the pending closure of Rochor Centre, the last batch of elderly was relocated to other old folks’ home by mid-2015.
Others were former shopowners at Blanco Court. They had shifted to Rochor Centre when Blanco Court was acquired in 1997 to become the private general hospital Raffles Hospital.
In the eighties, Rochor Centre was popular with Malaysians, and the place became well-known as the Little Johor. There was a Ban Ban Street Taxi Kiosk nearby, where passengers could flag a Malaysian-registered cab to go to Malaysia.
At the ground floor of Rochor Centre, a fortune telling machine and a weighing machine have been standing there for years. These nostalgic old machines, however, fail to attract the attention of the passers-by these days.
In November 2011, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Singapore Land Authority (SLA) announce that the land where Rochor Centre is situated will be acquired to make way for the new North-South Expressway, which means the 34-year-old Rochor Centre and its trademark flats will be demolished by the end of 2016. The nearby Victoria Street Wholesale Centre will also be torn down.
Published: 18 November 2011
Updated: 15 September 2016