The curved buildings at the end of Collyer Quay and the Straits Steamship Company

24 06 2010

Many of us these days would probably have forgotten about the Straits Steamship Company and the significant role that the company played in Singapore’s development as a maritime nation. The company, when it was incorporated in 1890, was perhaps a reflection of what Singapore had become – a mix of east and west, with both investors of European origin as well as several of Asian origin. The fleet of ships that the company operated, numbered as many as 53 at its height, linking ports in much of the Malayan Peninsula and British Borneo, facilitating the development of many of the more remote parts of the region. The company had its headquarters at the curve of Collyer Quay, where it meets Cecil Street, and for a while was housed in a beautiful five storey example of colonial architecture, not the original, but the second Ocean Building (the first was built on the site in 1864). The building, construction of which was started in 1919 and completed in 1923, was designed by a British architect, Somers H. Ellis.  It featured overhanging balconies on the second and fifth levels and verandahs on the third and fourth levels. The building was topped with a tower that rose some 49 metres above ground, making it the tallest building in Singapore back when it was built.

Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets).

That glorious Ocean Building stood for some 47 years until 1970, when it was demolished to make way for yet another Ocean Building – this time a 28 storey tower block which was built on an expanded site that included Prince Street which once linked Collyer Quay with Raffles Place and Prince Building across from the older Ocean Building. The new building was completed in 1974 and housed the offices of many shipping companies as well as that of the Straits Steamship Company. It also housed the Mercantile Bank, which had prior to that, operated from Raffles Place since 1861. During the time the third building stood, the Straits Steamship Company disappeared, a victim of the rapid growth in containerisation and the growing irrelevance of conventional regional shipping. The company was sold to Keppel in 1983 and a shift in focus to land development saw a change of name to Straits Steamship Land Ltd, before it became Keppel Land in 1997. The company finally withdrew totally from shipping in 2004.

The third Ocean Building (seen on the left of the picture) in 1974 (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan).

The third 28 storey Ocean Building is now gone as well, having stood for some 33 years. On its site and what was the neighbouring Ocean Towers, the new 43 storey Ocean Financial Towers which is scheduled for completion in 2011, is being built. With this, we would probably find it harder to remember that beautiful curved building that stood at the corner of Collyer Quay and the Straits Steamship Company which had a long association with the buildings of the name.

The fourth "Ocean Building", the Ocean Financial Tower is scheduled to be completed in 2011. It is being erected on the site of the 28 storey Ocean Building which was demolished in 2007.




12 responses

24 06 2010

It is so sad that most of the OLD + beautiful buildings around the Financial Ctr were demolished.. The buildings I really love are…Chartered Bank in Battery Rd, O’seas Union Bank ( Raffles Pl ) , Mercantile Bank, ABN Dutch Bank, the HK & Shanghai Bank.. These bldgs should be preserved ( at least the facades ).. Surely there are many other dilapidated areas they could modernised ??? thank God, they left Fullerton Bldg alone !! From memory, I think Co’s called Islay Kerr , Wm Jacks, Boeustead, etc were housed in the the old Ocean Bldg.. ??? anyone .. pl correct me…
History is RICHER than material wealth… the Developers are only interested in making a fast buck.. in the name of ‘ modernisation ‘
How very sad for future generations when the present generation is only chasing the $$$

28 06 2010
The wondering wanderer

I certainly agree with you Greg! There were some really lovely buildings that we have lost – all for the sake of “progress”, including those around the Raffles Place area and it’s a big shame that those have been demolished. Many went before we started realising that we were losing part of our rich heritage – and it probably is too little too late that we have started to look at conservation. What would be nice is if the buildings that are conserved are also made accessible to the public – some are turned over for the sake of profit, to businesses whose only interest is in commercial gain and that very often excludes the man on the street from having an appreciation of the buildings. The other day I was at Clifford Pier – which is now an exclusive restaurant – and I wasn’t allowed to take photographs of the beautiful arched trusses of the roof structure from the inside. That’s sad as I remember being able to run around the deck of the pier and watch the comings and goings on … as well as marvel at the magnificent roof structure. I am not sure of some of the actual companies that were housed in Ocean Building – perhaps my parents might remember.

25 06 2010

I agree with Greg,

Plenty of the old buildings are already being demolished with the reason to make way for a new one…etc x100.Good riddance that the TP Railway Station 60% still belongs to Malaysia…imagine if the Malaysian goverment sell it 100% to Singapore…one can see all the heavy equipments park outside the gate…once the signature has been placed on the dotted line…all hell break loose.

By the time my 2 kids growup there are pratically nothing to show them of the old Singapore…besides pictures & museum visits…

Sad its a sad sad thing…

28 06 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, Riz – certainly agree as well! We have lost what was truly and uniquely Singaporean for the sake of the modern world we know as “progress” …

25 06 2010
Daily SG: 25 Jun 2010 « The Singapore Daily

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26 06 2010
Lam Chun See

I used to travel along this stretch of road daily when I attended the Spore U Engg Campus at Prince Edward. I literally saw some of the early sky scrapers take shape; e.g. UIC, DBS, IBM. Toward the end of my studies, Ocean Building was coming up. Hard to believe some of these have already disappeared. Recently I visited the WDA at NTUC Building. Shocked at the change that had taken place around here. Maybe I should blog about the Shenton Way that I knew.

28 06 2010
The wondering wanderer

That would be a great idea Chun See! Would be interesting to read about that – most of what I remember was the Conference Hall and Polytechnic that was already there when I came into the world and perhaps Robina House – now that’s been redeveloped as well … the whole area has become quite unrecognisable.

28 06 2010
Lam Chun See

Oh yes. Robina House. Thanks for that reminder.

1 07 2010
The wondering wanderer

You are welcome! And don’t forget Robina Department Store at Robina House!

22 07 2010
Adelene Tie

Gosh the old building is beautiful. Fell in love with it the moment I saw a picture of it at Peranakan Place.

Then tried to look for a picture of it at the national museum store but they only captured the a little bit of it. The store guy said the building is some unknown building located next to the post office.

Then tried googling it. Et voilà!any more pictures of the old building? It’s really really beautiful.

24 07 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, just so beautiful … it is certainly a shame that we have lost some of our wonderful architectural heritage. Glad to know that you appreciate the building, Adeline. There are a few more pictures here and there – will scan them when I find them. 🙂

18 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

There are some photos of the first and second Ocean Buildings at

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