The “bright” lights of Prince Edward Road and the Polytechnic by the sea

16 05 2010

There was a time when my parents used to take us, my sister and me, to Mount Faber on quite a regular basis. The excursions were almost always, done in the evenings when it was a lot more pleasant, and would more often than not, culminate in a drive down Keppel Road for  dinner. Then, there were plenty of choices of street food, that seemed to taste a lot better then than it somehow does in the food centres of today. For reasons that have escaped me, my parents avoided going to nearby Chinatown, and Keppel Road seemed an obvious choice, as it was well known for the two dimly lit car parks which would came to life each evening, illuminated by the relatively bright lights of hawker stalls, the bustle of a hungry crowd and the metallic sounds of noodles being violently tossed in the wok. One of these was the car park in front of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, one that we didn’t frequent as much as the one down by the east end of Keppel Road, at the large car park on Prince Edward Road.

Looking down Shenton Way and the former Quays towards Prince Edward Road in the early 1960s. The Singapore Polytechnic buildings can be seen at the top of the photograph (Source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The car park that hosted the hawker stalls of the early 1970s?

I only have vague memories of where it was exactly, unable perhaps to make very much of the visual picture presented, beyond the distraction provided by the mess of hawker stalls, tables and chairs, seen in the half light that was filtered by the greasy smoke that filled the air with its pungent lard laden aroma. The car park I suppose would be the one opposite the old Singapore Polytechnic campus that we see today, or perhaps not, but what I did remember were the rows of lighted pushcarts from which there would have been a choice of everything the Singaporean hawkers were known to conjure up. There was the tomato ketchup stained mee goreng that I so loved, the starch laden oyster omelette that was a favourite of my father, and the spicy piping hot sup kambing that was my favourite. That was a place that perhaps I took for granted, never for once imagining that it would disappear one day. It did eventually, I don’t quite remember when, and in going the way of the many other street food places, flavour somehow gets lost in the relocation to the sanitised premises of the new food centres which were built to get the hawkers off the streets. Perhaps it was with the sanitary conditions that made the difference, where dish washing would have been done in basins of water next to opened drains into which flowed not just the washing water, but the contents of that were on the plates and bowls on which the drain’s residents would have thought of as a feast.

The Singapore Polytechnic operated at its former premises on Prince Edward Road from 1958 to the mid 1970s (photo courtesy of Mr Ma Yoke Long).

Prince Edward Road then, was also home to the premises of Singapore’s first Polytechnic, the unimaginatively named Singapore Polytechnic. The Polytechnic was established in 1954 with the passing of the Singapore Polytechnic Ordinance and classes began with an initial enrollment of 2800 students when the building was completed in late 1958 (it was officially opened in early 1959). The Polytechnic initially offered 58 different courses to train a pool of technicians for the developing economy of the island and remained at Prince Edward Road until the mid 1970s when it moved in stages to its present campus at Dover Road. The building that housed the Polytechnic still stands today as the Bestway Building, offering us a glimpse of an architectural style that is very typical of the era during which it was built. It was designed by Swan and MacLaren, which has had a hand in designing much of Singapore’s magnificent colonial buildings and civil infrastructure, and remains somewhat forgotten in a little pocket of land that time seems to have forgotten, at odds with the skyscraper infested financial centre that has sprouted up next to it. Whether it and the area around it would stand the test of time that many of the older buildings in the area have yielded to, perhaps only time will tell.

The original Singapore Polytechnic building has a new lease of life as the Bestway Building.

Another view of the building that was once the Singapore Polytechnic.

The premises of the former Singapore Polytechnic is still used as an education centre.

The basketball court of the former premises of the Singapore Polytechnic.

A view of one of the buildings that housed the Singapore Polytechnic.

Another view of the façade.

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18 responses

17 05 2010
James Seah

The present Bestway Building located at Shenton Way (opposite the MAS Building) was the former Singapore Polytechnic as shown in the ‘then and now’ photos on your blog. Except for the internal renovation to the classrooms, the external building remains unchanged.

About 40 years ago, the public carpark was directly opposite the former SP beside the SBS bus terminal. After 6 pm onwards, the carpark was converted into rows of pushcart hawkers. My former secondary schoolmates used to chill-out the Shenton Way food stalls during our bachelor days. My favorite food there was ‘char kuay teow’, mutton soup and Indian rojak…thanks for the memories.

The Bestway Building stood a long time there at Shenton Way for almost 50 years ago but the carpark was constructed at a later stage as the night makan place.

17 05 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks James for your valuable input!

17 05 2010
Icemoon

Goodness, you mean to say the building inches away from the AYE viaduct was SP? It is a familiar landmark at the curve of the viaduct. When oldies mentioned the old SP at Shenton Way, I thought it has been demolished.

18 05 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, Icemoon, just by the Keppel Viaduct. I think most of us see the building as we pass without giving much thought to it, let alone associate it with the Singapore Polytechnic.

18 05 2010
Macaroni under the flyover « The Long and Winding Road

[…] under the flyover 18 05 2010 On the subject of some of our lost makan (food or eating) places, there would be many that we can collectively remember, which could be […]

19 05 2010
mamadondi

The other significant buildings close to S.Poly was the SATA hospital Framroz Breverage Company owned by Mr. Mistry who was a Parsi and a philorantist Who had a wing at the old General Hosp. named after him, The Mistry Wing. He also owned a lot of land adjacent to S.Poly and if anyone remembers the limestone hills which was where the Parsis left there departed.

19 05 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks Mamadondi! I remember the SATA clinic went there for chest X-Rays on two occasions and remember getting there by bus – but couldn’t quite recall where it actually was until another reader Peter Chan refreshed my memory and mentioned it was at the corner of Shenton Way and Parsi Road. I think the beverage company you mention was the Phoenix Aerated Water Works which Peter mentioned is on Anson Road. I understand that Mr Mistri was apparently a partner of Mr Framroz at Framroz Aerated Water and started Phoenix when he left Framroz. I am not sure if you meant Mount Palmer – there was apparently a Parsi burial ground (I understand they did not practice leaving their dead for the vultures here) – roughly close to where the former Chinese YMCA building is.

One more thing Mamadondi … a reader was asking about the history of an abandoned bungalow on Upper Wilkie Road next to the Sikh Temple – click here for a photo of it. Not sure if you can help to shed some light on it? Thanks.

20 05 2010
mamadondi

I wii be visiting Spore in early June and will meet up with a old timer who will most likely have some info,He worked for the Survey Dept. and retired about 25 yrs ago . He is familiar with this area. Coincidently my dads house was 2 or 3 houses away from the rear of the temple , The address was a 2digit #. Today its a 3 storey residance. Do not forget some houses in that area became enemy property after the war German Italian Japanese altough I dont know whwt the British considered the Catholic Church which owned alot of property They did work with the Germans but was all hush hush and also the Vatican was independent of Italy’ I know of 1 house in RAce Course RD 3 doors away from my dads house when after a lot of work the Govt. found a heir of the house in Saudi Arabia.

31 05 2010
Lam Chun See

Actually I am quite well-acquainted with this car park becos I studied at the Univ of Spore Engg Faculty which was housed at the SP in the early 70’s. I often had lunch in the stalls at the fringe of this car park becos the Poly canteen was often very crowded. But seldom ate here at night becos it was quite dark and since PE was quite far from my house by bus.

Not long ago, I put up an ‘Old Building Quiz’ in by blog here asking readers to guess what was the Bestway buidling before. Surprisingly many people did not know the answer.

I have been wanting to blog about this place for a long time, but never got around to it. And yes, it was just next to the sea at that time. From the back of Lecture Theatre 2. we could see the sea where the present AYE viaduct is.

Do check out my post about the Chinese nearby Chinese YMCA. Know where that used to be?

31 05 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, I guess many people would not have realised that the building once housed the Singapore Poly. I often mention it whenever I pass o the Keppel Viaduct in the car to others and most usually would say that they would never have thought that it would have. I’ll certainly check your post out Chun See – the Chinese Y would have been in what is the Palmer Building on Palmer Road if my memory serves me correctly.

15 02 2011
bizesion

WOW! Didn’t think that the building still stands today. I spend my first year in SP there : in fact we were all over : Prince Edward, Dover Road ( current campus) and then there was also one nearby Dover..can’t remember the name now..Ayer Rajah perhaps?? Thought it was gone…..must visit it when I am back next time. The hawker stalls had good food- nobody really mind the hygiene or stuff, it was good and convenient – especially when we had night classes.

6 06 2010
Philip Chew

Framroz building was at the junction of Anson Road and Palmer Road. The entrance was fronting Palmer Road diagonally opposite my office.
At the esplanade there was a hawker centre with lock-up stalls. The stalls were in a circular formation with the eating area in the center. Just outside the hawker centre and facing Connaught Drive was the Esplanade Satay Club. The hawker centre as well as the satay club operated only at night. Later all were resited to the carpark opposite the Singapore Polytechnic.

9 06 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for the information Philip!

11 11 2010
Jed Mitter

Hi
Great website.
My Dad was a lecturer in the Old Poly in 1967-Nautical Studies.

12 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks Jed … guess your Dad must have been a Master Mariner … 😀

15 02 2011
Philip Chew

Bizesion has just transported my memory back to 1959 when I was a student at the SP. I remember an article about the opening of the SP and my class photo appeared in the newspapers Tiger Standard. Hey, I am a pioneer of SP!

17 02 2011
The wondering wanderer

Really? Awesome Philip!

18 04 2014
Wee Toon Hee

Dear All, I’m so very glad to have stumbled onto this chatroom albeit much, much later than all the conversations that had taken place. Mr Lam said, “I often had lunch in the stalls at the fringe of this car park….” Did you say lunch?! I asked cos my dad sold chicken rice at the heart of the bus terminal and his stall was a very, very well-patroned one! He was famous, in other words.! Togther with my 7 siblings, we helped him & our mum day-in-day out for a good minimum 10 years i.e. when I was 10yrs old till 20! We were always in singlets & slippers, typical of boys’ attire in that era. I hope reading this would jolt up some of you folks’ memory! There were like 15 other stalls fronting the bus terminal where almost all buses in Singapore at that time converged. When my Hainanese dad & mum first set up their stall there in 1970, it was that sort of push-cart with 2 T-mast acting as support for green canvass roof. Later on SILO came in and started proper sheltering of the hawker stalls and even construct a big dining building with “proper” toilets and counters for bus-conductors to tally their takings with the bus-tickets issued to them earlier. Oh, SILO stood for Singapore Industrial & Labour Organisation. I remember vividly SILO management putting up small notices all over that big dining building i was talking about that said, “Terms On Cash” which i never understood what it meant until much later when i was more grown up. It was to remind all customers to pay up immediately when their hawkerfares are served. I hope some of you have got pictures of this place cos it was where i grew up since my siblings n i spent all our time there before or after school helpg our parents who never finished work till like 7pm from 5.30am, for my dad. Thanks, everybody.

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