The area around Toa Payoh Library 37 years ago

23 11 2010

Taking a walk back with the Toa Payoh Library to the beginnings of Toa Payoh as a planned satellite town, I was able to explore some of the “newer” additions in the early days of Toa Payoh as a HDB estate. Of these additions, we have of course the Library building itself, and the open space in front of the Library which had incidentally a significant part to play in the history of Toa Payoh as well as having some buildings of significance around it.

The Toa Payoh Library and the open area in front of it as seen today.

The library itself – although it wasn’t opened yet (it opened in early 1974), was the location of a momentous event in Singapore’s sporting history – it was where the Games Village built to house athletes from seven participating countries for the very first mass sporting event that Singapore held, the 7th South East Asian Peninsula Games (SEAP Games), was officially opened by the late Dr. Goh Keng Swee in a ceremony held on 30 August 1973. Looking at the picture of the library in the early days, one is able to count eight flag poles – one to fly each of the participating nations’ flags as well as the Games flag. To house the athletes, four 24 storey point blocks with 346 four room units were built in Toa Payoh Central, each unit housing six athletes in three bedrooms. These units were later sold to members of the public through a balloting exercise, fully renovated and furnished – the first ever HDB flats to be sold that way, at a cost of S$19,000 for the flat and another S$1,700 for the furnishings. One of the point blocks, Block 179, is just next to the library and was in fact also the second VIP block in Toa Payoh, taking over from Block 53 where I had lived in.

The library building soon after completion with the 8 flag poles in front of it. It was where the opening ceremony of the 7th SEAP Games Village was held on 30 Aug 1973 (photo courtesy of the NLB).

Dr. Goh Keng Swee cutting a cake during the opening ceremony for the Games Village (source: The Straits Times, 31 Aug 1973).

Block 179, one of the four 24 storey four room point blocks built to house athletes during the 7th SEAP Games in 1973 and was also the second VIP block in Toa Payoh.

Toa Payoh besides hosting the 7th SEAP Games Village, was also a town of many firsts, as I had mentioned in a previous post. Among the ‘firsts’ was also the first ever fully air-conditioned POSB Bank branch – located at the corner of Block 178 – again just by where the library is (a Bata shoe store now occupies the units which the bank occupied).

The Bata store now at the corner of Block 178 occupies the units which housed the first ever POSB Bank branch to be fully air-conditioned.

In the same area across the open space from Block 179 is another building which is significant in Toa Payoh’s history – the building that housed Kong Chian Cinema – Toa Payoh’s first ever cinema, which opened on 11 May 1972 with the screening of a Charity Premier ‘The Loner’ for the nearby Chung Hwa Free Hospital. Now called 600@Toa Payoh, the building housed a single screen cinema with two classes of seating, which was very typical of the day – where tickets were printed on coloured pieces of paper on which seat numbers were scribbled onto by a box office clerk with Chinagraph. The cinema screened mainly Chinese films for close to fifteen years until it screened its last movie, ‘The Legend of Wisely’ on 31 January 1987 after which the building was sold to McDonalds.

Now 600@Toa Payoh, the building was where Toa Payoh's first cinema, Kong Chian, was housed from 1972 to 1987.

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6 responses

23 11 2010
Frankie Koh

There was a time when Blk 179 was well known for the many suicides, people jumping off the block. : (

23 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

So was Block 53 where I was … every now and again we would hear a sickening thud. I still have some rather graphic memories connected with some of what I saw …

23 11 2010
Daily SG: 23 Nov 2010 « The Singapore Daily

[…] – The Useless Tree: The Impossibility of a Confucian Society – The Long and Winding Road: The area around Toa Payoh Library 37 years ago – The boy who knew too much: Universal Studios, Singapore. – deadpris: H&M Coming to Singapore […]

17 12 2011
Nick

I used to stay at blk 172, then 86. Next to 86 is the Heng Ah Kee Bong primary. I personally thought it had a wierd name….

BTW did any of u guys stay at 86 and notice any paintings down on top, yes, on top of the ‘dustbin centre’?

Yep done by me and frns when we were young 🙂

17 12 2011
Nick

For the hawker centre near the Kong Chian cinema…. I remember the Chao Guo Tio….. Always wanted to find out where the hawker with the curly hair went……..Many years later saw him in Tampines taking a bus….. should have approached him….

26 03 2016
Serene

I stayed in block 172 near Siong Hoe biscuit factory from 1972 till 1984. It is a no bedroom flat with dark common corridors. I remembered playing catching with the children in my block at the hallway. Occasionally there were free movie screenings at the field downstairs. As a kid I played at the playground with the swings, merry go round, see saw and the pelican shape structure. I liked the chicken rice which my mum bought from a “金星” coffee shop. It was a rare treat to eat chicken rice. A ghastly memory was a person jumped down from block 173. My mother brought us to Toa Payoh garden frequently. I remembered the brick- tiled pavement, the hexagonal block bridges and stone arched bridge with the beautiful big pond and the pretty weeping willows. We released our tortoise in the pond there. I liked the huge circular fountain in front of the library. There were white circular “pots” with soil holding a tree cum seats around the fountain. My family used to sit there while waiting to catch a movie at Kong Chian cinema. I was in Lee Kuo Chuan primary school which now is a old folks home. I used to walk back from school to my home with my classmates via a sandy path behind the school. Now the area is a condominium. I like Toa Payoh. Even though I am not staying there, I still went back every now and then.

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