I loved passing through Stamford Road as a child. This was the road that started with the sight of a needle like structure that is the Civilian War Memorial, rising up where Nicoll Highway and Connaught Drive merged, close to where the Satay Club and that semi-circular hawker centre at the end of the Esplanade were located. The brilliant white needle like structure for me evoked a sense of mystery, looking as if it was a rocket destined for the moon, or perhaps, put there by visitors from another world to serve as an observation post. The structure actually comprises four pillars rising each representing the four main race groups is dedicated to civilians who perished during the Japanese occupation, and was unveiled on 15 February 1967, the 25th anniversary of the fall of Singapore.
Back then, the now undercover Stamford Canal, which runs parallel to Stamford Road, was open for all to see. On the canal side of the road, bridges over the canal could be found at the intersections of the roads that ran perpendicular to Stamford Road, with names such as Polglase Bridge (on North Bridge Road) and Malcolm Bridge (on Victoria Street). I remember an interesting story about Polglase Bridge sometime in the mid 1970s. An elderly lady sparked off a frantic dig for buried treasure on the bank of the canal underneath the bridge, after relating how while hiding under the bridge during the Japanese occupation, she had witnessed Japanese soldiers forcing some civilians to bury what she thought was gold there – I am not sure if anything was found.
The junction with Beach Road would have been the first intersection along Stamford Road heading north – this would be where the white-washed St. Andrew’s Cathedral would stare at me from the left, and, over the Stamford Canal, the buildings that housed Raffles Institution (RI) before it moved to Grange Road in 1972. For a while the disused buildings stood there looking somewhat tired and abandoned until it was demolished at the end of the 1970s to make way for the I.M. Pei designed Raffles City complex.
My favourite stretch of the road began at the junction with North Bridge Road. This was of course where Capitol Building stood, with its façade dominated by a colourful hand-painted canvas mural which brightly advertised what was being screened at the cinema theatre that stood hidden behind the building. The building itself was put up in 1933 and was designed in eclectically in a neo-Classical style. Capitol is in fact one of the five iconic cinema buildings that were featured in a stamp set “Cinema Theatres of Yesteryear” issued by Singpost in 2009, and would deserve more detailed mention in a post on its own.
This stretch that brings us past the junction with Victoria Street right up to the junction with Armenian Street and Queen Street also featured some wonderful examples of architecture on the left-hand side: Stamford House, Eu Court and the MPH Building. Stamford House, next to Capitol Building, stands at the junction of Stamford Road built in the Venetian Renaissance-style in the early 1900s, was originally the Oranjie Building, and for a while was the Oranjie Hotel in 1930s. The art deco styled Eu Court across Hill Street from Stamford House was built in the late 1920s as an apartment block. Sadly the beautiful building was demolished in 1992 to make way for the widening of Victoria and Hill Streets, being replaced by Stamford Court, a building that seems out of sync with the architecture of the area, sticking out like a sore thumb. MPH building, which was built in 1908 in an Edwardian commercial street style is one that I frequently visited and have fond memories of, housed the MPH bookstore until 2003.
Over the canal on the canal side of the street at the section between North Bridge Road and Victoria Streets was the walled compound of the Holy Infant Jesus Convent (CHIJ). A three storey building lined the canal behind the wall. This housed the convent’s secondary school. Looking up on the background of the area, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was built on the site of what were several bungalows which once were used by a Hotel van Wijk, established to serve Dutch travellers to Singapore in the early 1900s. The bungalows were taken over by the convent in 1933 when the hotel ceased operations, and were used to house St. Nicholas Girls School. The three storey building replaced the bungalows in the early 1950s. In the place of the building, the SMRT headquarters now stands, another building that seems to destroy the character of the area. Along the next stretch, another girls school – the Raffles Girls School was located over the canal between Victoria and Queen Streets. A building belonging to the Singapore Management University (SMU) now stands in its place.
Past the junction with Armenian Street and Queen Street, the was a row of shop houses on the left – one of the shops there dealt with crocodile skin products and had a glass display of bags, boots, shoes, wallets and a stuffed crocodile, one that I could not help but peer at every time I waited for a bus at the bus stop which was in front of the row of shops. This is the stretch that led up to the iconic red brick National Library building, which sadly, modern Singapore has no place for. The library which closed in 2004 and the stretch of road just that led up towards the end of Stamford Road where the National Museum is has since been swallowed up by the Fort Canning Tunnel. Stamford Road being realigned around the tunnel as a result of this, meeting up with a part of the original stretch in front of the National Museum to where the road ends at Bencoolen Street and Fort Canning Road.
On the canal side, there was of course the SJI school field between Queen Street and what was Waterloo Street. The basketball court was located at this end of the field and there was a story that circulated then that involved the ghost of a person who was said to have hanged himself at the posts of the basketball court there. I seem to remember that there was a car park on the canal side on the stretch from Waterloo Street to Bencoolen Street, filling the space between the former CYMA and the canal.
Looking up from the junction where Stamford Road merged into a disjointed section of Orchard Road then, there was a beautiful mansion like building that was the YMCA that would stare at you. The building had served as the headquarters of the Japanese Kempetai during the Second World War and we were told it held prisoners who were tortured by the Kempetai, the much feared Military Police. The old YMCA building which had the distinction of a being at No. 1, Orchard Road, sadly has had to make way for the newer, bigger and more modern premises of the YMCA, being demolished in 1981.