The Chinese-styled building on Cairnhill

21 02 2018

I love old and forgotten buildings. There are often lots of stories that can be told about them – as is the case of the former Anglo Chinese Secondary School at 126 Cairnhill Road. That had its story told in an article in Monday’s edition of the Straits Times that spoke of the desire among its current tenants to have the building conserved. Now used by the Cairnhill Arts Centre, it has a history of use in the promotion of learning. Unlikely as it may seem, the building was also where the National Institute of Education (NIE) had its beginnings in as the Teachers’ Training College (TTC) way back in 1950.

The Cairnhill Arts Centre at the summit of Cairnhill was completed in 1928 for Anglo Chinese Secondary School.

The setting up of TTC had come as part of a wider effort, the ten-year Education Plan that was initiated by the postwar Colonial administration’s Director of Education Mr J. Neilson. Its aim was to raise the standard of teaching and to provide (free) universal primary schooling in Singapore to stem the problem of juvenile hawking amongst the children of the fast growing urban population. A lack of funds had hampered the adoption of the plan and it would only be in late 1947 that the plan was adopted. Implementation of the plan began in 1948. An immediate task was to set up the TTC and its would be principal was quickly identified. With ACSS moving to new premises at Barker Road at the end of 1949, its Cairnhill school building became available and was made TTC’s first home. Operations began in 1950 and TTC was officially opened by the Governor of Singapore Franklin Gimson the following year on 8 June 1951.

The building, which was originally to have been erected at Oldham Lane, was designed and also adapted for its new location by Swan and MacLaren.

Described as the “most momentous in the history of education in this colony” in a Straits Times article on 9 August 1950 on the new TTC, 1950 also saw education receive a much needed boost with the adoption and implementation of a five-year Supplementary Education Plan. This plan, initiated by Mr. Neilson’s successor Mr. A W. Frisby, was put in place to accelerate the building of schools as well as the training of teachers. This was much needed in light of the postwar baby boom. The “emergency”  teachers’ training programme was one of the first tasks the new TTC’s was put up to. The supplementary plan would also see several “Emergency Schools” built and completed the same year. TTC’s use of the Cairnhill Road premises continued for a while even after it found a permanent home on Paterson Road. The purpose built new TTC campus at Paterson Road would begin operations in 1956 and was fully completed in 1957. Trainee teachers were known to have to shuttle between the two campuses during this period.

The former TTC at Paterson Road.

The use of the building by Monk’s Hill Primary School just after the war tells another interesting story. A quick return to normalcy was high on the agenda of the British Military Administration (BMA) and this included the reopening of schools. That would however prove to be rather challenging. Many schools buildings had either been damaged and required repair or were destroyed. Some were also being utilised by the military services and could not be returned immediately to civilian use. In the first three months following the return to British rule, less than half of the schools operating prior to the occupation could be restarted. The situation was compounded by the accumulation – over four schooling years of the occupation – of would be enrollees. With places in short supply – especially for those at entry level, many turned to private schools in the interim. The sharing of school buildings helped ease this crunch. Monk’s Hill School was one that would resort to this arrangement, having to hold its classes (briefly in early 1946) in the afternoons at ACSS. ACSS, which was able to reopen in October 1945, held its classes in the mornings. Promotions of students across one or two levels was also introduced to permit those who had their education disrupted to have their progress accelerated.

A view into the building’s courtyard.


126 Cairnhill Road through the years

A sketch of the building to have been put up at Oldham Lane – the plans were later modified for the new site at Cairnhill.

It would seem that the site of ACSS, on the summit of Cairnhill, was in keeping with the Methodist Mission’s penchant for having its schools constructed on elevated positions, it was however not actually the case. The building – initially for a primary school – was to have been built on another site at (old) Oldham Lane off Orchard Road. Developments in the area around Oldham Lane – which was fast turning it into motoring hub – forced a rethink. The Cairnhill site, purchased by the mission in 1920, was then made available for the new school building. The site, some “30 feet above street level”, was thought to give a “more desirable outlook” and also be “free from interruption from street noises”.

ACSS 1928

The building in 1928.

The building, completed in 1928 and opened by Sir Hayes Marriot – the Officer Administering the Government on 17 November of the same year – features quite a unique design with its somewhat Chinese-styled roof. Its plans were based on ones that were drawn up for the Oldham Lane site in 1924 and was adapted in 1926 for the new site. Built with 13 classrooms to accommodate 480 pupils from Standard VI to Cambridge (what would be known as “O” Levels today) level, the main building was supplemented by a science laboratory and a school hall (Tan Kah Kee Hall) cum tiffin shed (canteen), each housed separately. Access to the main building was via a flight of stairs from Cairnhill Road (the road access it now has is more recent). Half the cost of construction for the building was borne by the Straits Settlements Government.

Plans for the Building (modified for the Cairnhill Road site) in the National Archives of Singapore.

Besides its use by the Cairnhill Arts Centre (which opened on 24 April 1993), the two schools and TTC, the building has also been used by the Adult Education Board from 1968 until its merger with the Industrial Training Board in 1978 to become the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB). VITB – the predecessor of the Institute of Technical Education then used the premises as an Instructor Training Centre until 1984 when a new training centre was established in Ayer Rajah. A building found at the bottom of the flight of stairs at Cairnhill Road – the school hall and canteen – has been occupied by a theatre company ACT 3 since 1987.

Plans for the Building (modified for the Cairnhill Road site) in the National Archives of Singapore.


More Photographs

An auxiliary building on the lower terrace – perhaps where the science labs were housed.

Decorative pieces can be seen at the eave ridge ends of the main as well as the auxiliary building.

What would have been the school hall (Tan Kah Kee Hall) cum canteen.

The building is now surrounded on three sides by highrise residential apartment blocks.


 

 

 

 

Advertisements




The new star rising at MacTaggart Road

15 02 2018

What’s become of the “conserved” former Khong Guan Biscuit Factory at MacTaggart Road since my last post on it (see: The fallen star of MacTaggart Road) in September 2016:

The former factory – which also served as a warehouse for flour and a residence for the family that owns it, has seen a refreshing transformation with the addition of an eight-storey industrial building behind its distinctive three-storey conserved façade. The design of the quite un-industrial looking new extension seems to have been undertaken by Meta Studio (see: http://meta-current.strikingly.com/#khong-guan-flour-milling-ltd and https://www.facebook.com/meta.architecture/posts/777289939043015).


Photographs of the building before the addition of the new extension:

https://www.facebook.com/thelongnwindingroad/posts/2045557402136053


 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Beach Road Police Station and Barracks

22 09 2017

Update 22 September 2017

Registrations have close as all available slots have been taken up as of 10.05 am. Do look out for the next visit in the series (location to be advised) on 21 October 2017.

More on the series:


The sixth in the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) supported series of guided State Property visits, “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets“, takes us to the former Beach Road Police Station.

The details of the visit are as follows:
Date : 7 October 2017
Time : 10 am to 12 noon
Address: 99 Beach Road Singapore 189701

The size of the group for the visit is limited to 30 and registrations will be required. To register, kindly fill this form in: https://goo.gl/forms/kDn5piD8NglKGH1W2


Background to the station and barracks:

The station and two barrack buildings were completed in 1934 at the tail end of a decade of reorganisation for the police force. The efforts also saw the establishment of a Police Training School at Thomson – the old Police Academy, as well as the construction of new stations and living quarters across Singapore, in the face of a relative state of disorder that had prompted comparisons between the “cesspool of iniquity” that was Singapore, a.k.a. Sin-galore, and Chicago.

The complex was a replacement for an earlier station, which had been located further east along Beach Road at Clyde Terrace and was built at a cost of $319,743. The barracks provided quarters for 64 married man in one of its three storey blocks. 80 single men and NCOs were also accommodated in another three storey singlemen’s block in which a mess and recreation room was also arranged on the ground floor. The three storey main station building, described at the point of its construction as being of a “pretentious type”, also had quarters  – for two European and two “Asiatic” Inspectors – on its second and third levels. Its ground floor contained offices, a guard room, an armoury and a number of stores. A cell block – the lock-up – was also arranged “behind the guardroom”, “approached from it by a covered way”.

The station would play a part in a series of tumultuous events that followed its completion. A hundred or so Japanese “aliens” were held in it at the outbreak of war on 8 December, before they were moved to Changi Prison. This was a scene would repeat itself after Singapore’s fall. The station was used as a holding facility for different ethnic groups of civilians including Jews, individuals of various European backgrounds and nationalities, and also members of the Chinese and Indian community, before internment in Changi.

Beach Road Police Station also found itself in the thick of action during the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950, when policemen from the station were sent to quell disturbances in nearby Kampong Glam – only to have the men involved retreat into the station, along with scores of civilians, for safety.

The station served as the Police ‘C’ Division headquarters until May 1988, when that moved into new premises at Geylang Police Station on Paya Lebar Road. The Central Police Division headquarters moved in to the station in November 1992 and used it until 2001 when that moved into the newly completed Cantonment Police Complex. The decommissioned former station was also used by the Raffles Design Institute for some six years. Two sets of quarters, added on an adjoining piece of land – two four storey blocks in the 1950s and a 12 storey block in 1970 – have since been demolished.

The station complex sits on a 2 hectare reserve site that is now the subject of a Government land sales tender exercise and as the successful developer will have the option of demolishing the two barrack blocks as part of the redevelopment, this may be a last opportunity to see the complex as it is. The main station building itself has been conserved since 2002 and will be retained.


 





The real story behind Old Changi Hospital

11 09 2017

The real story behind Old Changi Hospital, isn’t about what the place seems to have got an unfortunate reputation more recently for.  The former hospital, which has its roots in the RAF Hospital set up after the war in 1947, is a place that many who were warded or who worked there remember with fondness.

The hospital, with a reputation of being one of the best military medical facilities in the Far East, is also well remembered for the wonderful views its wards provided of the sea and that it was felt aided in rest and recovery.

Members of the public got to learn about the background to the hospital and how some of the basis for the more recently circulated myths are quite clearly false during a visit to the site as part of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property Visits organised with the support of the Singapore Land Authority. More on the visit and the series can also be found at the links below.

More on the visit:

More on Old Changi Hospital / Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets:

Also of interest:





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit Old Kallang Airport

11 08 2017

Update
11 August 2017 9.15 am

Registration for the event has closed as of 0906 hours, 11 August 2017, as all slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to a surprise location being scheduled for 9 September 2017 at 10 am to 12 pm. More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


Old Kallang Airport needs no introduction. Decommissioned since 1955, what remains of Singapore’s very first civil airport has for what seems the longest of time looked out of place right next to Singapore’s very first highway. There is little in what’s left of it that tells us of the part it played in several historical moments including the arrival of a suitably impressed Amelia Earhart in the weeks after it was opened – just weeks before her mysterious disappearance, and also the dawn of the jet age in the few years before it closed. There is a chance to find out a little more of the part the airport – touted as the most modern aerodrome at its opening in June 1937, the part it played in Singapore’s aviation history, and discover some of the lovely spaces that lie within its buildings on 26 August 2017 as part of the third in the series of “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets” State Property Visits supported by the Singapore Land Authority.

The details of the visit are as follows:

Date : 26 August 2017
Time : 4 pm to 6 pm
Address: 9 Stadium Link Singapore 397750 (Access via Kallang Airport Way)

(Participants should be of age 18 and above)

Registration will close on 19 August at 11:59 pm, or when the limit for participants has been reached. Do also keep a lookout for visits being organised to other State Property in the weeks and months ahead.


Further information / previous visits in the series:


 





The Italian captain who bought Pulau Bukom …

10 06 2017

Except perhaps for sculptor Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli, whose magnificent work adorns the old Supreme Court, little is known of Singapore’s many connections with the Italian community – except perhaps of the community’s many culinary offerings we are now able to find. It may therefore come as a surprise that the connections do go well back –  even before Italy as an entity existed and that Singapore’s Pulau Bukom was once owned by an Italian man.

Explore Singapore’s surprising Italian connections at The Italian Connection at the Fullerton Hotel.

Pulau Bukom is perhaps better known to us as the island on which Singapore’s successful journey into the oil refining trade, had its beginnings. Shell, who built and operate the refinery, has long been associated with the island. 20 acres of it was bought by the company in 1891 for the purpose of kerosene storage. The transaction netted the island’s owner,  Capitano Giovanni Gaggino a tidy profit. Gaggino, an Italian master mariner, shipowner and adventurer, purchased the island for $500 in 1884 with the intention to supply freshwater to shipping. His purchase of “Freshwater Island” as it was informally known as, was one of many of Gaggino’s ventures here. He would spend 42 of his 72 years in Singapore from 1876 and passed on in 1918, whilst on a trip to Batavia. Capitano Gaggino was also known to have authored several books, one of which was the very first Malay-Italian dictionary.

Capitano Giovanni Gaggino, who once owned Pulau Bukom (source: Reproduction of “La Vallata del Yang-Tse-Kiang” by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Open source).

Even before Gaggino, Italians – many of whom were involved in shipping and trade, made landfall. One rather famous Italian, the renowned botanist and contemporary of Charles Darwin, Odoardo Beccari, used Singapore as a stepping stone to his well documented explorations of the region’s forests. Credited with the discovery of the giant corpse flower, Beccari also documented a month he spent in March 1866 at the “wooden bungalow” of the Italian Consul, Signor Giovanni Leveson (a.k.a. Edward John Leveson) on the Johor Strait. The bungalow is thought to be where Woodlands in Singapore’s north got its name from.

Odoardo Beccari (source: Sailko, Creative Commons License 3.0).

Like Capitano Gaggino, Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli spent a substantial part of his life in Singapore. He arrived from Bangkok in 1921 and remained – except for a period of internment during the Second World War (as a citizen of Italy, one of the Axis states, he was interned in Australia from 1941 to 1945), until his retirement in 1956 . He worked tirelessly and amassed a huge portfolio of work that began with the second Ocean Building on which he provided the decorative artificial stone facings.

Composite image of Rodolfo Nolli and the main (south) entrance of the GPO. Two sets of works – the coat of arms and a pair of flambeau compositions, went missing during the Japanese Occupation (source of images: National Archives of Singapore).

The majestic Ocean Building did not only launch Nolli’s career in Singapore, it also spelled a new era for the bund along Collyer Quay. Before the end of a decade, three even grander edifices would be added: the Union Building, a second generation Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers, and the grandest of them all, the Fullerton Building. The additions, all of which Nolli had work done on, provided the bund with an appearance that could be compared to Shanghai’s more famous embankment.

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

Built to house the General Post Office, several municipal offices as well as the exclusive Singapore Club, the Fullerton was decorated with some of Nolli’s more exquisite pieces of the era. Two precast sculptural works: a pair of flambeau compositions and a royal coat of arms – symbols of enlightenment and empire – adorned the main entrance to the GPO. Sadly, these disappeared during the Japanese Occupation and all that can now be seen of Nolli’s contributions in the building is the magnificent plasterwork of the barrel vaulted ceiling of the Singapore Club’s Billiard Hall. The hall is now the Straits Room of The Fullerton Hotel. The hotel has occupied the Fullerton Building since 2001.

The Straits Room is now where the only works of Rodolfo Nolli’s in the Fullerton Building to have survived can be found.

The historic waterfront, 1932, to which Nolli added decorative finishing touches, and the waterfront today (source: top image, Singapore Philatelic Museum; lower image, Jerome Lim).

Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli, whose works are also found in Bangkok – where he spent 7 years of his life, in parts of Malaysia and also in Brunei, was bestowed with a knighthood by the Italian Crown in 1925. This is an honour that another Italian gentleman connected with the Fullerton Building, Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, has also received. Cavaliere Viterale, the GM of Fullerton Heritage, is a well respected member of the hospitality industry and it was for his contributions to it that he received the honour. The building, which was opened in June 1928, celebrates its 89th anniversary this month.

Nuns of the Canossian order speaking to Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale at the exhibition opening. The order, which has origins in Italy, first arrived in Singapore in 1894 (source: The Fullerton Heritage).

More on the Italian Community, including on an Italian order of missionaries whose work in tending to those in need continues to this very day, the Canossian Daughters of Charity, can be discovered at an exhibition that I curated with Zinke Aw, “The Italian Connection”. The exhibition, The Fullerton Hotel’s East Garden Foyer, runs until 18 July 2017. Information on the exhibition can also be found at The Fullerton Heritage’s website and through the official press release.

 

 

 





Making the cut (rubber and the forgotten art of rubber tapping)

6 06 2017

The cultivation of rubber, once the mainstay of the Malayan economy, has left a mark not just on our northern neignbours, Malaysia, but also here in Singapore. Clusters of aging rubber trees or even individual trees in Singapore’s less developed parts mark former rubber plantations, the largest of which are found on Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. In the northwest, a pier turned sea pavilion, built to move rubber out of a long isolated area of Singapore in the 1920s, also recalls a business on which many fortunes were made (and lost) and in the west, two surviving dragon kilns speak of the pottery making trade fed by the demand for clay latex cups from the many plantations. There is also a little corner of a former rubber plantation in the northeast in which its past is commemorated by five old rubber trees found in a corner. The five are all that remain of hundreds that a Japanese monk had planted to acknowledge the donation of the plot by the plantation’s owners – to be used as a burial place for hundreds of karayuki-san who died penniless.

Latex being collected in a clay latex cup – many kilns were established across Singapore, including the two surviving dragon kilns at Jalan Bahar, to produce these cups.

One of the things I found fascinating as a child was the sight of rubber tappers moving from tree to tree that I would catch on the many drives to Malaysia. From comfort breaks taken in and around rubber estates – due to their isolation – I could see the results of the tappers’ actions. The cuts made on the trees’ bark were quite visible as were the cups of latex. What I was not able to see close up however was how the tapper actually made the cut; that is, until just a few days ago when I was able to catch a demonstration of the art. The live demo (see video below) was performed by a retired rubber tapper, Uncle Ah Ha, as part of an Outward Bound School (OBS) UBiNavigate 2017 trail organised for Pesta Ubin 2017.

An old rubber press in the OBS area of Pulau Ubin – in surprisingly good condition.

UBiNavigate also gave its participants the opportunity to explore the western part of Pulau Ubin. An area in which OBS operates, the area is normally off-limits to the general public. Once where Ong Seng Chew owned a rubber estate, this corner of the island is still filled with many reminders of that past such as an old rubber press lying in a bed of tree fall, broken bottles that once held the enzymes required for the rubber production process, and rubber trees that have long been abandoned.

Part of the UBiNavigate trail taking participants through the relatively unexplored western side of Ubin.

Several aspects of Ubin’s much storied past were also in evidence, some of which were related to the quarrying activities that provided much of the granite used to build modern Singapore. Besides the sight of a former quarry – just beyond the fence of OBS Camp 1, two concrete storage rooms could be seen, fitted with heavy steel doors. These storerooms were apparently used for the storage of dynamite that the nearby quarry used for blasting.

A dynamite store that used by a nearby quarry.

Several other interesting “discoveries” tell us of the the island’s previous inhabitants: a solitary tomb of a Madam Goh that is still tended to by her descendants, a disused well, a concrete communal stove, and the concrete base of a Chinese village-style dwelling. More on UBiNavigate, which was held on 3 June 2017, can be found at https://ubinavigate.wixsite.com/2017.

Latex dripping into a clay latex cup.

Remains of narrow necked enzyme bottles used in rubber processing.


Other rubbery posts:


More views around the western end of Pulau Ubin

An abandoned well.

Coconut shells were also utilised as latex cups.

The OBS Reservoir.

A beach on the southwestern shoreline of Ubin.

A solitary tomb of a Madam Goh.

Remains of an old communal stove.

A shrine built in 1979.

Another of the shrine.









%d bloggers like this: