127 years old, but not over the hill

20 04 2019

A last look at a 127 year old former “House on the Hill” a.k.a. “Tower House”, before it becomes part of a residential development known as “Haus on Handy”:


Perched on the brow of the hill we know as Mount Sophia is a last of a hilltop once devoted to the large and airy residences of the mid to late 19th century, a two-storey house known as “Tower House”. Used in more recent years as a playschool “House on the Hill”, the conservation house was included in a land sales exercise last year as part of a larger plot.

An early photo of Tower House (source: Memories, gems and sentiments : 100 years of Methodist Girls’ School).

Built in 1892 for the Singapore Land Company, the house was laid out – unusually for the houses of Singapore in the day – on an asymmetrical plan. It featured a carriage porch and a dining room on the ground level and living and sleeping spaces on the upper level. As with the houses of the day, ample openings and generously proportioned verandahs are provided for a maximum of light and ventilation.

More on the house, which I had an opportunity to visit and learn more about some 7 years back, can be found in this November 2011 post:  Windows to Heaven.

The former House on the Hill on its perch at the top of Mount Sophia.


The ground floor

A plaque commemorating the repurposing of the house as the Women’s Society of Christian Service Centre in Dec 1989.

 

Wrought-iron grilles.

 

What would have been the dining room.

 

Evidence of the house’s last occupants.

 

A doorway into the service area.

A door way to the verandah area surrounding the former dining room.

A view of the ground floor verandah.

 

Another view from the verandah.


The second level

The Drawing Room.

 

Views around the verandah.


The starirway to heaven (the tower)


Views from the Tower


Miscellaneous Views


 

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The Quadrant, built as a temporary Oversea Chinese Bank HQ

2 12 2018

There has been much mystery over the origins of The Quadrant at 19 Cecil Street. Identified in Gretchen Liu’s wonderful compilation of images charting Singapore’s progress over the year’s, Singapore: A Pictorial History 1819-2000, as having been built for the Kwangtung Provincial Bank, it turns out that it was for another Chinese bank – the Oversea Chinese Bank – for which it was erected for.

The Quadrant

Built in 1928/29 and designed by Keys and Dowdeswell, the motivation for the construction of the quadrant shaped Art Deco building – in an area that wasn’t considered by the directors of the bank to have been in a “not quite central” location – was the need to search for temporary premises. The bank’s HQ at 62-63 Chulia Street was affected by the implementation of the 1909 amendment to the Municipal Ordinance known as the “Back Lane Scheme” (more on the scheme: Off a little street in Singapore), which effectively cut its premises into half.

As the Kwangtung Provincial Bank, 1939 to 1979.

Rather than invest time and effort to seek new premises, the bank decided instead to erect a new building on a site at the corner of Cecil and Market Streets occupied by 6 three-storey shophouses they had acquired. The bank felt that the building – even if there were no plans to use it once a more central location (closer to the hub of commercial activity by the Singapore River) was found – was a “good investment”. The bank moved out once its permanent premises at China Building in Chulia Street (current site of OCBC Centre), which was co-developed and shared with Chinese Commercial Bank, was completed in late 1931. The two banks together with Ho Hong Bank merged in 1932 in the face of the Great Depression under the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) banner and China Building became OCBC’s HQ.

China Building, completed in 1931.

The temporary HQ was occupied by wine merchants, Eastern Agencies from 1933 to 1938, the Kwangtung Provincial Bank from 1939 to 1979 and Four Seas Communications Bank from 1982 to 1990 (which was already part of the OCBC group by that time). Pacific Can, when the building was renamed Pacific Can Building, occupied it from around the early 1990s to the 2000s, by which time I have been advised it had come into the hands of the State. Other occupants were Cherie Hearts – a childcare group, and then the Homestead Group, , which has a lease on it until 2021. The group had planned to lease the premises out to a bank, but despite much interest, the economic put paid to the idea and instead has sub-let out the lower level of the building to The Black Swan. The grand banking hall the building was given is still very much in evidence in the gorgeously decorated bar and bistro – almost three decades since it was last used as a bank.

The Black Swan.

Stairway to the gallery (mezzanine).

Also in evidence at the rear section of the 20 feet high banking hall is an upper level “gallery” from which the bank’s managers could have a view of what went on below, which the bistro uses as a cocktail bar, The Powder Room. There is also a private dining area located in the former vault.

The former banking hall – seen during yesterday’s Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets.

The Powder Room.

The former bank vault.

The upper levels of the building – access to which is through a beautifully built stairwell where a rebuilt 1929 vintage Marryat and Scott elevator is installed – is occupied by a co-working space run by WOTSO.

The stairwell.

Some of the lift’s original mechanism.

WOTSO’s co-working spaces on the upper levels.

 

Another view of the Powder Room.


The visit to The Quadrant was organised on 1 December 2018 as part of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property Visits, supported by the Singapore Land Authority, the Homestead Group, The Black Swan and WOTSO.


 





Inside the new star of MacTaggart

29 11 2018

Uniquely shaped, the former Khong Guan factory stands out at the corner of MacTaggart and Burn Roads – especially so with a recent 8-storey extension that certainly added to the presence that its conserved façade has long commanded.

Having won an award for Restoration & Innovation at AHA 2018, its doors were recently opened for tours conducted by the URA, which provided an opportunity to have that much desired peek inside.

More on the factory and the restoration effort can be found at the following links:

2 MacTaggart Road : Stellar Landmark (URA)

The new star rising at MacTaggart Road

The fallen star of MacTaggart Road


Photographs of the interior and also of the restored exterior: 

The attention grabbing mosaic and iron grille work on the ground level of the triangular shaped building’s apex. The star is apparently a trademark of the maker of the iron grilles, Lea Hin Company (at the corner of Alexandra and Leng Kee Roads).

Inside what used to be a retail outlet that students from neighbouring Playfair School (across Burn Road) would frequent.

Iron grilles – very much a reminder of the days when the building came up in the 1950s. This one – a gate which the family used to gain access to their accommodation in the old building.

A view of the actual gate.

The reception – lit by a glass covered skylight.

The conjurer and his apprentice: Lee Yan Chang of URA showing the workings of the skylight’s blinds.

The skylight as seen from the terrace above.

Stairway to a new heaven.

The stairway, which leads from the lobby to the corporate offices of Khong Guan’s HQ.

The view from above.

A terrace on what used to be the roof deck of the old building.

A view of the extension from the terrace. Lightweight cladding, with aluminium honeycomb backing, is used on the exterior.

The former entrance to the building’s offices. What it looked like previously: please click.

A display window. What it looked like previously: please click.

 


 





The “attractive” 1940 built public-housing block in Little India

23 11 2018

I have long admired the building that houses The Great Madras, a boutique hotel on Madras Street. The edifice in its incarnations as a hotel has brought a touch of Miami to the shophouse lined streets of a busy corner of Serangoon. The opportunity to have a look beyond the building’s gorgeous Streamline-Moderne façade came this Architectural Heritage Season with tours organised by the URA. The hotel won an Architectural Heritage Award for the efforts made in the restoration of the building,

Deliciously decorated, the hotel’s common areas on the ground floor provide a great introduction to its well thought of interiors. The lobby and a restaurant and bar, which opens up to the outside is what first greets visitors. There is also a barber shop and a utility area at the building’s rear. A sliding privacy door hides the hostel-like accommodation on the same floor. Here, its private sleeping spaces carry the names of established travel influencers.

The reception area.

The hotel’s rooms are laid out across the building’s two upper floors. Corridors decorated with quirky neon signs and ventilated through the steel-framed glass windows of a forgotten era, provide correspondence to the rooms. It is along a corridor on the second floor that a pleasant surprise awaits. This takes the form of an especially delightful and photograph-able view of the hotel’s retrofitted swimming pool, framed by a circular opening in the pastel pink party wall that separates the pool from its sun deck.

A corridor on the upper levels.

The alterations made in the building’s interiors does make it hard to think of the building having been put to any other use other than the current, and quite certainly not as a public-housing block of flats it was built as in early 1940, There is of course that Tiong Bahru-esque appearance and quality that may give the fact away but the standalone nature of the block will mask the fact that it was the Singapore Improvement Trust or SIT that built it. The SIT – the predecessor to the HDB – besides having had the task of addressing the demand for public housing, also took on the role of town planner. The public housing projects that it embarked on tended to be built in clusters, such as in the case of Tiong Bahru.

The rear courtyard.

The swimming pool.

There is however a good reason for the Madras Street block’s isolation. A 1940 report made by the SIT holds the clue to this. It turns out that the block – erected to take in the area’s residents displaced by the demolition of older buildings – was meant to have been part of a larger improvement scheme that the SIT had planned for the area. The scheme was to have seen the demolition of a dozen “old and unsanitary” buildings in the months that would follow  to provide for a southeasterly extension of Campbell Lane past Madras Street. There was also to have been the metalling of the area’s roads and the construction of much-needed drains. The orientation and alignment of the 70 by 60 feet block does suggest that it was laid out with the extension of Campbell Lane in mind.

A view of the surroundings through steel framed windows.

The scheme’s overall aim was to provide accommodation in greater numbers, make an improvement in (transport) communication and the layout of of the very congested area. There was also a need to address the area’s poor sanitary conditions. It is quite evident from what we see around that the scheme did not go much further. Perhaps it may have been a lack of funds, as it was with many public schemes in those days. There was also the intervention of the war, which was already being fought in Europe by the time of the block was completed.

Another view of the hotel’s windows.

From the report, we also get a sense of the “attractive” building’s original layout. Three flats were found on each floor, hence the three addresses 28, 30 and 32, giving the building a total of nine flats. Each flat contained three rooms, one of which would have been a living room that opened to the balcony. A kitchen cum dining room was provided in each flat, as well as a bathroom and a toilet – “in accordance with Municipal Commissioners’ requirements”.

A spiral staircase in the rear courtyard.

The report also tells us of how much the flats, which were fully booked before the building’s completion, were rented out for: $23 per month for ground floor units and $26 per month for the units on the upper floors.

More on the restoration efforts that won the Great Madras Hotel the award: 28, 30 & 32 Madras Street Charming Revival.

Restored granolithic (Shanghai Plaster) finishing on the column bases.


More photographs:

 


 

 

 

 

 

 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets : Healing in the Garrison

19 10 2018

November’s #SLASecretSpaces guided visit takes participants to the former Tanglin Barracks. There an introduction would be made to two of the barracks’ institutions of healing: physical healing in the form of the former military hospital, and spiritual, in the form of a beautiful garrison church.

The barracks traces its history to the early 1860s, when it was among the earliest that were purpose-built in Singapore. The design of the original barracks is attributed to Captain George Collyer (after whom Collyer Quay is named). Many of the structures that we see today are the interventions of the early 20th century when the current church building as well as what we see today of former military hospital were put up.

Singapore’s main military hospital before the completion of the modern hospital at Alexandra in 1940, the complex featured three main buildings. The larger two were where large and airy wards were laid out. The visit will end in St. George’s Church, which although is no longer a garrison church, is still very much in use. Completed in 1913, the history of the church actually dates back to the early days of the barracks. The church was gazetted as a National Monument on 10 November 1978.

More on the history of both institutions will be shared during the visit.


Visit Details & Registration

When : 3 November 2018, 9 to 11 am

Where : Loewen Cluster, Dempsey Hill (the visit will end inside St. George’s Church)

Participants should be of ages 18 and above.

A unique registration will be required for each participant and each registration admits only one (1) person.
(Duplicate registrations in the same name shall count as one registration).

Please register only if you are sure that you will be able to make the visit.

To register, please visit this link: https://goo.gl/forms/B8g3tDo5eGWfpTVl1 [Please note that all spaces for the visit have been taken up]


Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets #SLASecretSpaces is organised with the support and collaboration of the Singapore Land Authority.

Both St. George’s Church and Country City Investment (CCI), which manages Dempsey Hill, have also lent their support to this visit.


More photos of St. George’s Church


News on the series:


 





The best views of the western Singapore Strait

24 08 2018

From its perch by the sea, the block of flats that sits on an elevation next to the former Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station provides what has to be the best views of the western Singapore Strait. Completed in late 1953, the block was followed on the development of the power station and was built to house expatriate senior officers of new station. 12-storeys high, the block contains a total of 42 housing units, It would have been among the colony’s tallest buildings at the point of its completion and was quite certainly the tallest residential building then to have been built with public funds.

 

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Flats, built for Electricity Board employees, with a view one would pay a premium for these days.

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The block of flats, or ‘housing units’, as they were referred to, on its perch. the elevation its stands on was cut and cemented before the block was built as that the power station could be constructed.

It is interesting to observe the progression that the development shows. The building of the flats to house senior staff represented a move away from from previous practice (a newspaper report described the housing units to be to “better than flats”). The most senior of officers would have been accommodated in the block’s two penthouses, the terraces of which provide a most stunning of views of the sea and the area around. Annexes to the block housed a clubhouse and six air-conditioned rooms that provided staff on night shift a place in the daytime to sleep in comfort. A void deck,  unusual in flats built in Singapore in the time, occupies most of the main block’s ground level.

The power station, and the apartment block (with the clubhouse on its left) as viewed from the sea, soon after their completion (online at https://roots.sg/).

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The development, which cost the City Council over $2 million, also included a 2-storey block to house the station’s workmen. Additional quarters were also to added east of the station through the 1950s and 1960s.

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A view inside the former workmen’s quarters.

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The workmen’s quarters can be seen at the bottom of the photograph.

The housing units appear likely to go once detailed planning for the Greater Southern Waterfront takes place. They were as quarters until the 1980s and subsequently rented out, first by the Public Utilities Board and then by the State before being vacated at the end of 2013. A tender exercise, carried out this year for interim use of the property as serviced apartments, attracted several bids. Based on information on the Singapore Land Authority’s website, an award was made to TS Home, who submitted a winning bid of S$48,800.00 per month.

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A view of the block from its grounds.

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More Photographs:

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A Dutch flavoured corner in the former Chasseriau Estate

5 06 2018

With what could be described as Dutch gables prominently displayed, the pair of houses right at end of Watten Estate Road gives the area a distinct feel. The houses are what remain of a cluster of six. Erected from the late 1920s (when four were constructed) and into the mid-1930s (when another two were added), the houses occupied a plot of land that had once been part of the vast Chasseriau Estate1. All similar in design, the houses were each given a uniquely shaped gable Dutch gable. Perched on a small hill and with its verdant surroundings, the setting for the cluster of houses could quite easily have resembled a Dutch or Flemish country village.

One of two Dutch-gable topped houses at Watten Estate Road.

The architect behind the designs for the houses, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, was the preeminent Major Percy Hubert Keys. Major P. H. Keys is best known for efforts that were quite significantly larger in scale and included the likes of the Fullerton Building, the Bowyer Block of Singapore General Hospital and the (King Edward VII) College of Medicine, all of which stand today as National Monuments. While the designs of the three were carried out in Keys’ capacity as a Government Architect, the work that he carried out through his private architectural practice, Keys and Dowdeswell, is also well thought of. Examples of these are the 1929 Oversea Chinese Bank at Cecil Street (now the Quadrant) and the 1930 Namazie Mansions (now the Capitol Building) and Capitol Theatre.

Once the home of Major P. H. Keys. An architect best known for the Fullerton Building and the College of Medicine, Major Keys also designed this house.

One of Keys’ first undertakings with Keys and Dowdeswell, which he founded in partnership with Frank Dowdeswell in June 1927, would have been the design of the Watten Estate2 cluster. One of the houses, No. 130 (as it was renumbered in the late 1960s), was to serve as Keys’ home; a move that was necessary as he would have had to vacate the government residence he occupied in the Labrador area. Art-deco influences can be seen in the design of the houses. The influence can also be seen in much of Keys’ later work in Singapore, such as in the post 1927 buildings identified above.

A peek inside one of the houses.

The “Wheatley”, as Keys’ had named his home, was described as a “European Compound house” with “modern sanitation, four bedrooms, servants quarters, a garage for two cars, two tennis courts”.  The house, comfortable and with a design well adapted for the hot and humid tropics, would however serve as his residence for only a matter of  five years from its completion possibly in 1928 or 1929 until 1934 – when Keys moved both home and practice to Shanghai.

Inside one of the four bedrooms.

The house was put up for rent soon after Keys’ move. Together with No. 1263, the other surviving house, it came into the hands of the government after the war. Among No. 130’s post-war occupants was Mr. H. W. Nightingale. Mr. Nightingale, a government official, served as an Acting Secretary for Economic Affairs in the 1950s. A well-known postwar occupant of No. 126 was Justice T. A. Brown. Justice Brown was a High Court judge who held the position of Acting Chief Justice when the Chief Justice went on leave in 1951. He also played a prominent role in the chain of events that would lead to the Maria Hertogh riots in December 1950, delivering the verdict that declared her marriage illegal and restored custody of Maria to her birth parents.

See also: Story of a lift nearing 90 (Sunday Times, 27 May 2018)


Notes:

1Frenchman Leopold Chasseriau established the estate in 1872 for the planting of tapioca. This would eventually be sold to the founding interests of the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate in 1895 following which it would be split-up. The Municipality purchased a portion – the catchment for the (MacRitchie) reservoir, soon after, followed by the Bukit Tinggi area being purchased by the Swiss (Rifle Shooting) Club. A significant portion of the estate was also sold to the Turf Club in the late 1920s.

While the cluster of houses may have occupied a corner of the former Chasseriau Estate, they acquired addresses connected with the unrelated Watten Estate from the road through it, which was extended to the corner of the former Chasseriau. Watten Estate was a 47-acre estate on which Alexander James Gunn, a one time Secretary for the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, had his residence. Gunn named his residence and estate Watten after his Scottish home village.

The grounds of No. 126 was the subject of an archeological dig conducted by Jon Cooper as part of the Adam Park (battlefield archaeology) Project. It is believed that the cluster of houses housed British POWs as an extension to Adam Park POW Camp (which housed POWs put to work on the construction of the Syonan Jinja) in the early part of the Japanese Occupation.


More photographs: