There is a lost world that lies where the Central Expressway (CTE) passes under Orchard Road cutting Clemenceau Avenue into two, what is now referred to as Clemenceau Avenue North and Clemenceau Avenue. This world was in the area just where the CTE passes in between the Istana and the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre, revolving around an approximately one kilometre stretch of Clemenceau Avenue that is now part of the CTE Chin Swee Tunnel (from where the Istana Park is) and the stretch that extends to part of the Kampong Java Tunnel. It was an area that included some pre-war houses, including a row of walk-up terrace houses that faced Clemenceau Avenue at the end of which was a unit that my best friend in kindergarten, Eddie, had lived in. What is probably left of the pre-war houses these days is perhaps only the Sian Teck Tng Temple at the end of Cuppage Road with the rest of the area altered by the modernisation of the Orchard Road area that began at the end of the 1970s and the construction of the CTE at the end of the 1980s.
Looking at what’s there today, it would be hard to imagine what the area had once been like. It had been the back door to the area of Orchard Road that my parents had frequently visited, coming through Cavenagh Road f to get to the likes of Cold Storage for supermarket shopping, and Glutton’s Square and Koek Lane which provided some of the best hawker fare around. My first impression of the lost stretch of Clemenceau Avenue and the area around it, however, was shaped very much by the rides home in the minibus that delivered me to my home in Toa Payoh from the kindergarten I attended in Cambridge Road. That involved a detour via Cavenagh Road to Clemenceau Avenue to drop Eddie off, before heading north towards Newton Circus and on to Toa Payoh via Thomson Road.
Clemenceau Avenue back then besides being the back door to Orchard Road, was also associated with the Scouting and Girl Guides movements in Singapore, Guide House, the home of the Singapore Girl Guide Association being at the stretch that is now Clemenceau Avenue North, and Sands House, the headquarters of the Singapore Scout Association, in the area that is now the CTE, just by where the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre is. Sands House was a two storey purpose built building standing at the corner of Cavenagh Road and Clemenceau Avenue that was opened in 1959, replacing the original Sands House (the former St. Andrew’s House) which was on Armenian Street. Sands House was a popular destination not just for Scouts, but for many shopping for camping and outdoor gear (camping being a relatively popular activity in those days) such as ponchos, ground sheets, tents, gas lamps and stoves, and even compasses and maps at the Scout Shop which was in a bright and airy room on the ground floor of the building. The headquarters of the Scout Association moved to a temporary premises in Tanglin Road, when Sands House was acquired in 1987.
Along with Sands House, quite a lot of property along Clemenceau Avenue was also acquired, including the Highway Inn, a hotel which I somehow imagined to be a popular nightspot. The construction work on the tunnels and the CTE began in 1988, and by the time this section of the CTE was completed in 1991, the area had completely been transformed, leaving no trace of the lost section of Clemenceau Avenue that had existed some years back. Along with Clemenceau Avenue, the area that had served as the back door to Orchard Road had itself been transofrmed. Gone were the pre-war shop units and houses, the old Cold Storage building, and also the former Orchard Market and the food stalls along Koek Road and Koek Lane (the lane itself has also disappeared), moving to Cuppage Centre which was a mixed use development at the end of the 1970s. Cuppage Centre included a wet market on the lower floors and a food centre on the upper floor, with offices above it. Then, there was such a stench from the wet market housed in the centre that many referred to it as “Garbage Centre”. The building has since been refurbished and is now Starhub Centre – the market and food stalls moving out in the late 1990s. Part of Cuppage Road is also now a pedestrian mall, and the portion of Koek Road that joined with the lost stretch of Clemenceau Avenue has also disappeared, buried under the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre, leaving very little to remind us of what had once been around the area.
Picture of Sands House from a pack of cards posted in Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore” on 9 October 2011 by David Donnelly:
A photograph of the Highway Inn from 1983 (from the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009).