The north-south trail of destruction

4 01 2017

We seemed to have said too many goodbyes in the year we have just left behind; goodbyes to those who coloured the world, goodbyes to political certainty, and in Singapore, goodbyes- once again – to too many bits of what makes our city-state unique. The year we have just welcomed, brings the end for many of the places we have said goodbye to, either through their complete erasure or through alteration. Two, Rochor Centre and the Ellison Building, both of which are affected by the construction of the North-South expressway due to commence this year, have received more than a fair share of attention.  The former will  be completely demolished as it stands in the way of exit and entry points of the southern end of the expressway, while the latter, a conserved structure, will lose some of its original façade. While there is an intention to have its lost face rebuilt, the news was met with quite a fair bit of displeasure, prompting an effort to have the extent of the façade affected minimised.

The

The “Rainbow Flats”, or Rochor Centre, will be demolished this year for the construction of the North-South expressway.

The expressway will be built overground at its northern end. The impact this will have may not in the loss of buildings or parts of them, but the much altered vistas the parts the viaduct is being built over would have. One area in which this would be painfully obvious will be in Sembawang Road between Mandai Avenue and Khatib Camp. Taking a path through a landscape recalling a countryside we have largely discarded, the road and the pleasing vistas it has long provided, will surely be missed once the expressway is built. My acquaintance with the road goes back to the early 1970s when as a schoolboy, I would find myself bused down the road, to support my school’s football team playing in the north zone primary schools finals at Sembawang School. The road’s charm hasn’t changed very much since its more rural days, despite its subsequent widening and the building of Yishun New Town and Khatib Camp just down the road.

A beautiful stretch of Sembawang Road near its 11th milestone that recalls a rural past will soon have a very different and much more urban feel to it.

A beautiful stretch of Sembawang Road – near its 11th milestone, recalls a rural past. A viaduct for the North-South expressway, will give it a very different and a much more urban feel.

The road is set against a landscape that recalls a huge rubber and pineapple plantation. The former plantation's Assistant Manager's residence - is still seen atop one of the landscape's high points.

The road is set against a charming landscape that recalls its days as part of the huge Nee Soon plantation. The former plantation’s Assistant Manager’s residence – still stands prominently atop one of the areas’s high points.

An area affected by the expressway that has already lost its charm is Toa Payoh Rise. I often enjoyed walks along the quiet and well shaded tree-lined road in more youthful days when the air of calm it provided was supplemented by the chorus of its tree lizards. The then much narrower road, an access point to Toa Payoh Hospital, has seen much of its magic taken away. Associated also with institutions for the visually handicapped, it has since been given a completely different feel with its upgrade into a main access path in and out of Toa Payoh and the building of a Circle Line MRT station, Caldecott. Several structures of the past can still be found such as the former Marymount Convent complex and four low-rise blocks of flats that served as quarters for hospital staff. The former convent buildings and two of the four blocks of flats are  however set to disappear just so our world could be kept moving.

Flats at Toa Payoh Rise - two will be demolished for the North-South expressway to be built.

Flats at Toa Payoh Rise – two will be demolished for the North-South expressway to be built.

The Marymount Convent complex.

The Marymount Convent complex.

At the other end of Thomson Road, there are also two reminders of more youthful times that are also set to make a partial disappearance. Here, the expressway’s tunnel will burrow through soil once intended to provide eternal rest – that of the former New or Bukit Timah Cemetery – already disturbed by the exhumation of the cemetery in the 1970s. The tunnel will also swallow up several units from a delightful collection of old houses at Kampong Java and Halifax Roads. Built around the 1930s as municipal quarters, these are of two designs and have very much been a feature of the area. The area was where I attended kindergarten (at Cambridge Road) and also primary school (at Essex Road). While the demolition would involve a few units close to the side of the Central Expressway, it will have the impact of further reducing the area’s already eroded charm.

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Former municipal quarters at Kampong Java Road that will make way for the expressway.

Former Municipal Quarters at Halifax Road, several of which will also fall victim to the North South expressway.

Former municipal quarters at Halifax Road, several of which will also fall victim to the North South expressway.

Two other major road transport projects – involving the MRT – also adds to the destruction brought on by the need to keep our world moving. One, the final phase of the Circle Line, has seen part of the Singapore Polytechnic first campus demolished and the levelling of what had been left of the very historic Mount Palmer. Another big change the project will bring is to the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. The line will run under the former station with an MRT station, Cantonment, built under its platforms. This will see the well-loved National Monument closed to the public for a period of nine years during which time it will acquire an entirely different feel. One of the MRT station exits will bring commuters up to the former station’s platforms and into the former station building, which will by the time it reopens, may feature a mix of retail and food and beverage outlets.

A last Christmas at Tanjong Pagar, before a lengthy closure during which it will be changed forever.

A last Christmas at Tanjong Pagar, before a lengthy closure during which it will be changed forever.

Not everything however, is going due to the need to keep us mobile, as is the case for what is left of Old Kallang Airport Estate or Dakota Crescent – as it is now commonly referred to. The well-loved neighbourhood is a a last remnant of an estate built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) – the predecessor to the HDB, that features the first attempts at high-rise public housing blocks. Built at the end of the 1950s, parts of the estate has already been lost to redevelopment. The part of it that is still left features four block designs arranged around two spacious courtyards and a playground introduced in the 1970s. Some of the blocks were designed to also include units intended for commercial and artisanal use – a feature of the SIT estates of the era. A group is currently seeking to have parts of the estate, which offers an insight into the public housing programme of the pre-HDB era, conserved, supported by the Member of Parliament for the area.

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Dakota at the crossroads.

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Will the estate and the last of the dove (playgrounds), like many of the SIT estates of the past, be discarded?


See also:

Some places that will be affected by the North-South Expressway

Some places that are affected by the Circle Line’s Final Phase

More Winds of Change:


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The final mile

12 05 2014

A last reminder perhaps that’s left of an age when distance markers played an important role in Singapore is a milestone marker that was uncovered quite recently, having long been hidden behind a tree. Discovered by Akai Chew, who recently posted his findings ‘On a Little Street in Singapore‘, the granite marker lies half buried, it’s top half carved with the number ‘3’ – which does, in the position it is found in, correspond to the 3rd Milestone of what would have been a main thoroughfare taking one out of the city towards rural Singapore.

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The use of ‘milestones’ as markers of a location, had by the time I came into the world, become a widespread practice in Singapore. This was possibly somewhat of a necessity, given the absence of recognisable landmarks and a clear system for addresses in many of the rural areas. It was common to hear places referred to by where they were distance-wise along a particular thoroughfare, a practice that for many who developed a habit of doing it, is being carried to this very day (examples: 9th Milestone Bukit Timah, 6th Milestone Serangoon) long after the introduction of the metric system got us thinking in kilometres.

A photograph with the 13 1/2 milestone marker outside Sembawang Gate – where Admiralty Road East meets Sembawang Road today (photograph: Andrew Sticklee on Flickr).

Milestones markers, when I did became aware of them from the many drives my father made across the causeway, were not quite as noticeable in Singapore as they were along the Malaysian trunk roads. There, the markers provided a measure of the distances along points along the road to the next main town or towns. This did help in estimating the time it would take to arrive at a destination, and making those seemingly endless drives a little less monotonous.

One thing that I did remember from those days, was that ‘Singapore’ was a distance of 17 miles by road from Johor Bahru – the distance being measured to the General Post Office or G.P.O. (what is today more commonly referred to as the Fullerton Building). For an interesting insight into how this did come about, please visit James Tann’s blog, which does have a post on the subject of ‘mile zero’: The geographic centre of Singapore.

See also:

“Milelages along Roads” (National Library Singapore’s Facebook post dated 30 Mar 2015)

Mileages along roads, posted by National Library Singapore on their Facebook Page.

Mileages along roads, posted by National Library Singapore on their Facebook Page.


Status of the Milestone Marker as of 21 June 2015:

The marker has since been extracted by the National Heritage Board and is not longer in its place along Geylang Road (see video):






Where Pepsi was once bottled on Woodlands Road

17 06 2012

Not far from where a well-remembered landmark is soon about to vanish, I was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar building that served as another landmark for me in a time that is now forgotten. It was in early days of my youth when that long and slow drive along Woodlands Road was to be tolerated in order to complete the journey to the Causeway. Then, buildings that caught my attention had served as landmarks that broke the monotony of the long journey. The building, an industrial building, was one that was unremarkable on its own. It stood out only because of what was manufactured in it – the obvious signs of which had stood out on the building’s façade. It was then, the premises of a certain Union Pte. Ltd. – the bottlers of Pepsi Cola, Mirinda and Schweppes soft drinks in Singapore and with the building placed prominently on a small hill was one that couldn’t at all be missed.

The premises on which Pepsi Cola was once bottled seen along Woodlands Road.

The bottling plant was opened in July 1969 – Union having invested a tidy sum of some three million dollars to take production and bottling of the popular brands of soft drinks to another level, prompting a move from their original premises in Havelock Road which dated back to their establishment in 1950. The move was to prove to be an ill-conceived one, as pressure from (somewhat ironically given the company’s name) the unions that represented their workers that was in part due to the move, was responsible for the company closing in 1974 following which the rights to bottling of the brands of soft drinks was won by Yeo Hiap Seng. The company and its premises in Woodlands was also involved in malicious rumours some two years before its closure when news spread that a dead body had been found in one of the vats used for production of Pepsi Cola and that bottles containing contaminated Pepsi had found their way into the market.

The factory building seen at its opening in July 1969 (source: National Archives).

The building today seems to have found a new lease of life, and seems to have been given a fresh coat of paint. Unremarkable as it is from an architectural viewpoint, I am grateful that I am still able to recognise it as one that lighted up those many journeys of a long time ago, journeys that coloured the days of an eventful childhood … and journeys that memories of, continue to bring colour to my life.





A landmark soon to vanish

16 06 2012

Long abandoned by an old world that it had once been a part of, the Shell service station at the end of Mandai Road had for many years now looked out of place in the emptiness of its surroundings. It would have once held a strategic position, being placed right at the end of one of the main routes that took vehicular traffic from the east over the top of the catchment reserve to Woodlands Road which connected with the West of the island, as well as to the North where the Causeway brought traffic across to Malaysia.

The end is here for a service station which has been a landmark at the end of Mandai Road at its junction with Woodlands Road for as long as I know.

The station has for me, also long been a marker. It marked not just the point where the then narrow and rural Mandai Road joined the long and equally narrow Woodlands Road, but also when the zoo came to Mandai, as the point where we would see signs showing the way to the zoo. I had on many occasions passed by the station – on the long journeys to and from the Causeway of my childhood and also later when it was along the route of bus service number 171 which I would take from camp while doing my National Service to Sembawang Road where I could connect with a 169 that took me to my home in Ang Mo Kio. The station had then and for long, worn the look of one of the old world it was a part of. Even with the more recent makeovers, it did, when it was still operating, seem set in that old world – the washroom was an ‘outhouse’ – in every sense of the word.

The outhouse see from behind a fence.

It has been a while since I’ve driven by an area that one doesn’t really need to drive through anymore with the new expressways that has taken traffic from both Woodlands and Mandai Roads. I did earlier today and saw what for long I had suspected would happen – the station, already abandoned, was being hoarded up for demolition. Having already driven past it, I decided to turn back to bid an old acquaintance farewell. As I took a final look at what had for so long been a familiar face, it is with sadness that I realise that the last marker of a world that has been all but forgotten will soon itself be erased.

The hoardings coming up around the landmark.

A soon to vanish sight.

Another soon to vanish sight.

Maybe the last remnant of an old world – a shed that seems to be beyond the area enclosed by the hoardings that have come up.


Update:

Good news! It seems that the station will be with us for some time to come … thanks to a reader, Mr Francis Ang, an update on what is happening at the station and also a few photographs (one of which I have posted below) have been provided which show that the station is apparently being upgraded. While it will perhaps lose some of that old world appeal it has had – it will still be right there where it seems to always have been!

The station as seen on 18 June 2012 (photo courtesy of Mr Francis Ang).






That plain looking building that got us to stop …

24 03 2011

(at two that is!)

Passing by Dunearn Road the other day, I noticed a building that had I had forgotten about that once stood prominently close to the junction with Newton Circus. It was a building that stood out not so much as a great piece of architectural work, but one that was built on simple lines that reflected the frugality of the uncertain times during the era in which it was built. I was pleasantly surprised to find it still there, as many of its fellow buildings of the era had since made way for the wave of modernisation that has swept through Singapore.

The plain white building at the corner of Dunearn Road and Gilstead Road.

The building was when I was growing up, occupied by the Singapore Family Planning Board, serving as the board’s headquarters, right up until 1985, when the Board was closed and its work passed on to the Ministry of Health. The Board itself was formed in 1966, taking over the work of a voluntary organisation, the Singapore Family Planning Association (formed in 1949), which the building was originally built for, having been allocated the plot of land at the corner of Duneran and Gilstead Roads in 1963. The building was completed in 1968 by which time the Board had taken over from the Family Planning Association.

The building which now houses several health support groups including the Breast Cancer Foundation and the National Stroke Association, started its life as the headquarters of the Singapore Family Planning Board in 1968.

A side view of the building.

I suppose that most of my generation would remember the Board’s efforts in the 1970s more than the building, with its distinctive logo and its slew of posters and slogans which one really couldn’t miss, which sought to remind us with what was usually a picture of two girls, that, “Girl or Boy, Two is Enough”. This was everywhere, and with the powers of persuasion that most couldn’t really afford to ignore, the programme was one of the more successful ones, which many now feel contributed to the current low birth rate amongst Singaporeans. The campaign had been part of the Board’s second (of three) five year plans, launched in 1971, the first being aimed at selling the idea of family planning to 60 percent of married women aged between 15 and 44, and the third being to persuade the young to delay marriage and have children later. Based on available statistics, the success of the policies initiated by the Board can be seen in the total fertility rate falling from 3.07 in 1970 to 1.82 at the start of the 1980s. The total fertility rate in 2010 was 1.16.

Posters produced by the Family Planning Board over the years (source: National Archives of Singapore).

The National Family Planning Programme was launched with the formation of the Board in 1966 (source: http://www.healthcare50.sg).

The building which today houses several health support groups that includes the Breast Cancer Foundation, the Singapore National Stroke Association and the Epilepsy Care Group Singapore, has for a while, faded into its surroundings despite having once had a prominent position close to Newton Circus, being in the shadow of the flyovers over Newton Circus that now dominate the area. Chances are, it will soon fade altogether, being in a prime residential area … to be replaced by a luxury apartment block that the area seems to have welcomed, and with it, some of the memories we have of a programme that went too well …

A signboard belonging to the National Stroke Association in front of the building.

The porch at the entrance to the building.





Crossroads in my journey

18 10 2010

Wandering around the Bukit Panjang area with a group of old friends and some new found ones … I was transported back to a time when I had somehow seen the Bukit Panjang area as a crossroads of sorts. It had in fact, always been one in the physical sense – the former Bukit Panjang roundabout – what is now the junction of Woodlands Road, Upper Bukit Timah Road, Choa Chu Kang Road and Bukit Panjang Road, serving as a major intersection where north or south bound traffic could make a turn towards the rural and industrial areas that lay to the west via the then long and narrow Choa Chu Kang Road. The area was I guess where I had once come to another crossroad in life – one in which seated at the back of a 3-ton truck, I was transported into a journey into the abyss that was Pulau Tekong, first stopping off at Keat Hong Camp off Choa Chu Kang Road to pick up the kit bag that was to accompany me for the next two years of my life.

The intersection of Choa Chu Kang, Woodlands and Upper Bukit Timah Roads had always been a major crosss road ... back when Bukit Panjang Roundabout served the junction. The area which one boasted of a Railway Station has seen a huge transformation and now sees a Light Rail Line running across the old railway.

I had first come to know the area in my childhood on the many journeys through the area on the way to the Causeway when life in the back seat of the car involved taking the scenes that flashed by the opened windows rather than that on the 3 inch screen of a hand held game console. There were also several journeys especially those taken during the lunar New Year holidays on which we would turn off to the west – towards the Teck Whye area where a friend of my mothers ran an orchid nursery on a little road that turned upwards from Choa Chu Kang Road – and it was on those journeys that I first became acquainted with the level crossing just a short distance up the road.

The level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road ... the last major rail level crossing in Singapore.

I am not quite sure how I had developed a fascination for trains –something that might have been fed through the many visits to the Robinson’s toy department which had a wonderful collection of model train sets that I often had my sights on and perhaps having had many encounters with the Hooterville Cannonball on black and white television, while being entertained by the then popular comedy, Petticoat Junction, but having had a fascination for trains – I also found anything else that had to do with trains fascinating – including many of the features seen along the tracks, particularly the few level crossings that I had come across, of which the first was the one on Choa Chu Kang Road.

Could my fascination with trains have been from the diet I had of black and white television in which I had become acquainted with the Hooterville Cannonball in Petticoat Junction? (Source: http://petticoat.topcities.com/hooterville_cannonball.htm)

I am not sure when I had first seen that particular crossing in operation, but it was something that I would look forward to seeing each time we were in the area. It always seemed surreal somehow how traffic would grind to a halt, as the man who manned the crossing, flag in hand, hurried about closing the wooden gates of the crossing, followed by the sight beyond the gate of a train zooming its way across the road …

I had always looked forward to seeing a train zooming past the level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road whenever I was in the area ...

The wonderful sight of a train crossing the road ...

Signal flag used at the level crossing.

The crossing had been one that in the later part of my youth, I had left behind me, as school going years intervened and visits to the orchid nursery became less frequent. It was only many years later when I was doing my National Service that I had become reacquainted with the crossing during the four months that I had spent at nearby Stagmont Camp. By that time, much of the area had become unrecognisable and the roundabout had taken a bow. Somehow it did not seem the same – with most of what was around had disappeared, only a few rows of old shop houses along Upper Bukit Timah Road and Woodlands Road had been left behind … one for some reason that I had remembered for a fruit shop that seem to have the juiciest lychees that I had ever seen. I guess with that and perhaps not having had to time to explore much of the area which I had previously been familiar with, I took less of an interest in what was arond – passing at most a cursory glance at the crossing that I once held a fascination for.

The area which I would have used as a shortcut coming down from Stagmont Camp to Woodlands Road ... I crossed the tracks here on many occasions, as well as having been involved in many exercises along this same set of tracks.

The area where Ten Mile Junction is today used to have a row of shop houses as well as the huts of villages behind them and Stagmont Camp.

The new railway is being built to replace the old ... the Downtown Line is being constructed parallel to the old railway line which will be disused after the shift of the KTM station to Woodlands. Bukit Panjang used to also be where a main Railway Station had once been located - now a new Bukit Panjang station for the DOwntown Line will erase any memories we may have of the old Bukit Panjang Station.

With the impending shift of the KTM station in Singapore to Woodlands – we would soon see the last of level crossings such as the one at Choa Chu Kang Road, the last major level crossing that remains in Singapore – there are two other smaller ones that are along the same stretch of the railway line, one at Kranji Road and another at Gombak Drive. There isn’t much time left for me I guess … to relive that childhood fascination I had for them …

Besides the crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road, there are also smaller level crossings at Gombak Drive and Kranji Road.


We will soon see the last of the railway level crossings that had once been a feature of the railway in Singapore.





When Sands wasn’t at Marina Bay

24 09 2010

There is a lost world that lies where the Central Expressway (CTE) passes under Orchard Road cutting Clemenceau Avenue into two, what is now referred to as Clemenceau Avenue North and Clemenceau Avenue. This world was in the area just where the CTE passes in between the Istana and the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre, revolving around an approximately one kilometre stretch of Clemenceau Avenue that is now part of the CTE Chin Swee Tunnel (from where the Istana Park is) and the stretch that extends to part of the Kampong Java Tunnel. It was an area that included some pre-war houses, including a row of walk-up terrace houses that faced Clemenceau Avenue at the end of which was a unit that my best friend in kindergarten, Eddie, had lived in. What is probably left of the pre-war houses these days is perhaps only the Sian Teck Tng Temple at the end of Cuppage Road with the rest of the area altered by the modernisation of the Orchard Road area that began at the end of the 1970s and the construction of the CTE at the end of the 1980s.

The area which has been altered by the construction of the CTE just by where the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre is.

Cuppage Road now ends at a new section of Cavenagh Road … further to the right of this on the CTE was the junction of Cuppage Road and Clemenceau Avenue.

The Sian Teck Tng Temple at the end of Cuppage Road is the only reminder of the past still left in the area.

The Sian Teck Tng Temple’s structure is very typical of the houses in the area before it was modernised.

Looking at what’s there today, it would be hard to imagine what the area had once been like. It had been the back door to the area of Orchard Road that my parents had frequently visited, coming through Cavenagh Road f to get to the likes of Cold Storage for supermarket shopping, and Glutton’s Square and Koek Lane which provided some of the best hawker fare around. My first impression of the lost stretch of Clemenceau Avenue and the area around it, however, was shaped very much by the rides home in the minibus that delivered me to my home in Toa Payoh from the kindergarten I attended in Cambridge Road. That involved a detour via Cavenagh Road to Clemenceau Avenue to drop Eddie off, before heading north towards Newton Circus and on to Toa Payoh via Thomson Road.

The lost Section of Clemenceau Avenue and the lost roads around what was the back door to Orchard Road.

The recessed part of the CTE between the Chin Swee and Kampong Java Tunnels and part of the tunnels runs below what had been Clemenceau Avenue. Looking north to the area where the Chao Yang Chinese School and the Highway Inn was towards Newton Circus.

Clemenceau Avenue back then besides being the back door to Orchard Road, was also associated with the Scouting and Girl Guides movements in Singapore, Guide House, the home of the Singapore Girl Guide Association being at the stretch that is now Clemenceau Avenue North, and Sands House, the headquarters of the Singapore Scout Association, in the area that is now the CTE, just by where the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre is. Sands House was a two storey purpose built building standing at the corner of Cavenagh Road and Clemenceau Avenue that was opened in 1959, replacing the original Sands House (the former St. Andrew’s House) which was on Armenian Street. Sands House was a popular destination not just for Scouts, but for many shopping for camping and outdoor gear (camping being a relatively popular activity in those days) such as ponchos, ground sheets, tents, gas lamps and stoves, and even compasses and maps at the Scout Shop which was in a bright and airy room on the ground floor of the building. The headquarters of the Scout Association moved to a temporary premises in Tanglin Road, when Sands House was acquired in 1987.

Looking at the area where the south section of Cavenagh Road met Clemenceau Avenue. The junction lay where the CTE runs today, just by where the northbound slip road runs into the CTE. Sands House stood just to the right of the gantry.

Looking down at what used to be below Clemenceau Avenue towards the grounds of the Istana … Sands House was on the right of this area.

Along with Sands House, quite a lot of property along Clemenceau Avenue was also acquired, including the Highway Inn, a hotel which I somehow imagined to be a popular nightspot. The construction work on the tunnels and the CTE began in 1988, and by the time this section of the CTE was completed in 1991, the area had completely been transformed, leaving no trace of the lost section of Clemenceau Avenue that had existed some years back. Along with Clemenceau Avenue, the area that had served as the back door to Orchard Road had itself been transofrmed. Gone were the pre-war shop units and houses, the old Cold Storage building, and also the former Orchard Market and the food stalls along Koek Road and Koek Lane (the lane itself has also disappeared), moving to Cuppage Centre which was a mixed use development at the end of the 1970s. Cuppage Centre included a wet market on the lower floors and a food centre on the upper floor, with offices above it. Then, there was such a stench from the wet market housed in the centre that many referred to it as “Garbage Centre”. The building has since been refurbished and is now Starhub Centre – the market and food stalls moving out in the late 1990s. Part of Cuppage Road is also now a pedestrian mall, and the portion of Koek Road that joined with the lost stretch of Clemenceau Avenue has also disappeared, buried under the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre, leaving very little to remind us of what had once been around the area.

Koek Road now stops short … it used to run through what is now the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre on to Clemenceau Avenue.

Where the junction of Koek Road and Clemenceau Avenue once was – right in front of the main entrance to the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre.

Starhub Centre was once the Cuppage Centre which housed a market on its lower floors and a food centre above the market.


Picture of Sands House from a pack of cards posted in Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore” on 9 October 2011 by David Donnelly:

Sands House

A photograph of the Highway Inn from 1983 (from the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009).

Highway Inn  general view