Orchard Road, half a century ago

14 06 2021

Glitzy and glamourous, Singapore’s Orchard Road is sold today as a fashionable destination to find a hotel in, to shop and to have a meal. With much of its two kilometres lined with modern malls, it is no wonder. It however, wasn’t this way when I first got to know the street as a child. This was in the second half of the 1960s, when Orchard Road still wore a rather sleepy aura, lined with shophouses, a multitude of car showrooms, among which two supermarkets were nestled.

 A view down Orchard Road in 1971.
A view down Orchard Road in 1971.

Two of the motor showrooms that would often catch my attention were Champion Motors – a VW dealer, located where Lucky Plaza is today, and Orchard Motors – which sold Vauxhalls and Chevrolets on the site of the older section of Paragon. The latter, stood right next to one of the supermarkets, Fitzpatrick’s, which was the younger of the two supermarkets, having opened in August 1958.

1958 was also the year that the rather famous Orchard Road outlet of C K Tang – housed in a Chinese-styled building that would become quite an Orchard Road icon – opened. The rags to riches tale of C K Tang or Tang Choon Keng, who came as a poor immigrant from China in 1923 is one that has frequently been told. His bold decision, to move from River Valley Road to the more centrally located Orchard Road might be thought of as a stroke of genius. To the superstitious, the site of the new store might have been thought of as being inauspicious, with it facing the former Teochew burial site, Tai Swa Teng, just across the road. Tang’s move, with a view to catching the growing tourist crowd, eventually paid off and was possibly the spark that lit the fire. By 1965, Metro – another household name today – found its way to the street, opening its Metrotex store at Liat Towers, and in 1967, Chinese Emporium opened its outlet at International Building.

By the early 1970s, what could be thought of as the first modern mall – fashioned out of the former Orchard Motors showroom, The Orchard, opened. The mall, housed some upmarket shops such as Charles Jourdan, The Elizabeth Arden Salon, Diethelm Furniture, Jade Palace Restaurant and Thong Sia, a branch of Robina Department Store and was perhaps best known for Tivoli Coffee House. Several large scale mall developments were to follow with Tanglin Shopping Centre at nearby Tanglin Road being completed in 1972 and Plaza Singapura, at which Yaohan became an instant hit, in 1974. The conversion of the former Orchard Motors car showroom may also have spelt the beginning of the end for the motorcar trade on Orchard Road. Orchard Motors’ companion, Champion Motors, soon also gave way to Lucky Plaza, which opened in 1978.





Days of Wonder

28 05 2021

Films containing familiar sights and sounds of the past have a wonderful effect of evoking feelings of nostalgia and a sense of coming home. Such was the case when I was provided with the opportunity to view a selection digitised 8mm home movies from the 1960s and 1970s that have been deposited in the National Archives of Singapore with a view to putting together segments of them in preparation for last Thursday’s “Archives Invites” online session “Days of Wonder: Fun and Leisure in 1960s and 1970s Singapore“. The session involved the screening of two videos, each containing scenes of the Singapore I was familiar with as a child, with a focus on sites, attractions and leisure activities that were popular among Singaporeans.

Fun for me in the late 1960s.

Among the activities that I put a spotlight on in the videos were those that took place by the coastal areas, which included scenes of Changi Beach – an extremely popular spot for picnics and dips in the sea at high tide – complete with kelongs in the near distance. Changi Beach, a regular destination for picnics right out the boot of the car (we could once drive right up to the beach), was where I first took a dip in the sea. The beach and the long sandy coastline that ran all the way towards Bedok, featured in many weekend outings and holidays through much of my childhood.

Ayer Gemuroh



It was the same for many in my generation. Changi Beach was often the place to chill out at during the weekend, especially when the timing of the high tide was favourable, which a quick check on tide tables published daily in the newspapers, could confirm. A friend of mine recounted how she looked forward to trips to Changi on the back of a borrowed lorry with the extended family whenever the timing of the tide was good. Pots of chicken curry and loafs of the local version of the baguette would also accompany the . If you were fortunate to have come with a car, there was also the option of driving right up to the beach and parking right under a shady tree to have your picnic right out of the car’s boot. Seeing cars with their wheels stuck in the sand was a pretty common sight because of this. And, if the chicken curry ran out or if one had come without food, there were several beachside cafés that one could visit. There was also the option of waiting for the fish and chips van, and the various itinerant food vendors that also visited the beach throughout the day such as the vadai man, the kacang putih man and the ice-cream vendors.

A small part of the segment on the coast, involved a holiday, taken locally by the sea – as was the fashion back in days when most of us could not afford to take a trip abroad. For me holidays involved the various government holiday facilities along the Tanah Merah coast, at long lost places with names like Mata Ikan and Ayer Gemuroh. A question that was put to me during the Q&A session was what do I miss most of those days. Mata Ikan, the Tanah Merah coast, and also how we seemed to have unlimited access to much of the length of Singapore’s coast, is probably what I miss most. Those were wonderful times for me, walking by the beach and along stretches of seawalls, poking my nose into the numerous pillboxes that lined the coast (boy, did they smell!), wading out when the tide went out, often as far as the kelongs were planted. The coastal regions are much more protected these days and in many parts, blocked off from the public.

Beside my interactions with the Tanah Merah coast, there were many other places in SIngapore that left an impression. I remember how places would come alive by night, as the scenes of an Orchard Road and Guillemard Circus illuminated by neon advertising boards seen in the videos show. Singapore had such a wonderful glow by night with the numerous fountains – many planted on the major roundabouts, also illuminated by night, and the occasional float parades and light-ups during National Day, often adding to the night lights. Adding to the lively scene by night were what would be termed as “pop-up” food centres. Several open-air car parks, such as the famous one on Orchard Road where Orchard Central, transformed themselves into places to indulge in some of the best hawker fare that could be found in Singapore.

The car park at Orchard Road that transformed into a hawker fare paradise by night (Paul Piollet Collection, National Archives of Singapore)



The one at Orchard Road, dubbed “Glutton’s Square” to provide it with greater tourism appeal, was an assault (in a pleasant way) on four of the five the senses. Evening time brought with it the disorderly rush of pushcarts, all of which would somehow be lined up in neat rows in double quick time. Lit by kerosene lamps in the dark, each contributed to the smoke that filled the air together with an unimaginable array of aromas. The sounds of the ladles scraping the bottoms of woks added to the atmosphere. Besides Orchard Road, there were also carparks at Prince Edward Road opposite the Singapore Polytechnic and the one in front of the railway station at which hawkers similarly gathered by night.

Among the other scenes were those of Orchard Road, which was in the 1960s, a place to perhaps shop for cars, to visit the western style supermarkets, which were uncommon then, and perhaps C K Tang. C K Tang, a pioneering departmental store on Orchard Road, was then housed in its rather iconic Chinese-roofed building and right nearby was Champion Motors on which Lucky Plaza now stands, Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket and Orchard Motors. The conversion of Orchard Motors into The Orchard – a shopping centre at which the infamous Tivoli Coffee House was located, possibly marked the beginning of the end for Orchard Road’s motoring days. There are perhaps two reminders left of those days, in the form of Liat Towers – built as a Mercedes Benz showroom and headquarters, and the delightful sunburst topped former Malayan Motors 1920s showroom that can be found opposite Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.

The former Malayan Motors showroom seen in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Another of my favourite urban sites was Change Alley, which many locals – my grandmother included – seem to pronounce as something that sounded like “Chin-Charlie”. It was such a joy to wander through the alley, which in the late 1960s was filled with the sounds of the chorus of laughing bags being set off. The alley, which also provided correspondence between Collyer Quay and Raffles Place, was described by the BBC’s Alan Whicker in a 1959 newsreel as being “perhaps the most famous hundred yards in Southeast Asia”, a hundred yards of alley where one risked being “attacked in the pocket book”.

Whicker’s World with the BBC’s Alan Whicker wandering through Change Alley in 1959.

During the rather lively Q&A session at the end of the Archives Invites session, I believe that in view of the limited time we had, a number of questions posed went unanswered. Should you have been in that audience, and did not receive answers to the questions you may have posed, or have questions to which I was not able to adequately answer, you may leave them as comments to this post. I will try answering them as best as I can.





The Last Christmas

12 01 2021

Robinsons, which shut down over the weekend, had a long association with Christmas and had Singapore dreaming of its very first white Christmas in 1949.


Robinsons’ last Christmas, 2020.

For a while, Christmas in Singapore wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit to Robinsons. The store — a long time Singaporean retail institution, which had a strong link with the year end season of cheer, had its long and eventful history brought to a sad end when it shut its doors for good on 9 January 2021 – just a few weeks short of its 163 birthday.

Robinsons – building it occupied at Raffles Place from 1891 to 1941, prior to moving across the square to Raffles Chambers.

Growing up, Robinsons was certainly the place to go to get a feel of Christmas. The prospect of having to say hello to Father Christmas, of whom I was terrified, did not stop me from visiting the toy department. Robinsons vast array of toys made its toy department possibly the largest in Singapore at that time. Even if there wasn’t much prospect of getting my hands on what I truly desired, it made it the place to be at, if only to gawk at the toy selection and a model railway that never failed to have me enthralled. There was also the Christmas lucky dip to turn towards if all manners of persuasion at getting a toy that I badly wanted failed. For the price of what may have been two bowls of noodles, the gifts that one pulled out of the dip did sometimes surprise and I obtained one of my favourite toys in this manner, an orange battery operated submarine.

Raffles Chambers, Christmas 1966.

Those were days when Robinsons occupied its rather iconic Raffles Chambers premises in a building that, quite tragically, was destroyed in a huge fire that claimed nine lives in November 1972. The old building in Raffles Place was not Robinsons first store. It moved to it late in 1941, just a month or so before the war came to Singapore. It was however a location that was Robinsons’ most recognised and remembered in its stores right up to the point at which it closed. Raffles Chambers was also where Robinson’s introduced some of its more elaborate ways to welcome the season — a season that for Robinsons must have had the cash registers ringing for many years. Among the innovative ways in which Christmas came to Robinsons at Raffles Chambers was with Singapore’s very first “White Christmas” — when a movie set snowstorm blew in a Christmas themed display in a shop window. Snow made from chemically treated fibre was brought over from England for this with fans used to blow fake snow around the set.

A 1930s newspaper advertisement – Robinsons has had a long association with Christmas.

The history of Robinsons went back to February 1858, when Philip Robinson — who had arrived from Melbourne just the year before, and James Gaborian Spicer, established Spicer and Robinson. The “family warehouse” dealt in a large assortment of imported household goods, outfitting and foods from its premises at 9 and 10 Commercial Square or Raffles Place. The partnership did not last very long. In October 1858, Spicer pulled out of the arrangement and as Robinson and Co, the store continued operating with Robinson and a new found partner George Rappa Jr at the helm. The store prospered, and after being on the move and moving out of Raffles Place, eventually found a large “warehouse” back in Raffles Place in 1891. By that time Robinson and Co operated departments for drapery, hosiery, haberdashery, furnishings, motors and cycles, photographic apparatus and sports requisites. The store also dealt with arms and ammunition, as sole agents for Messrs Kynochs, a Birmingham based ammunition manufacturer.

Raffles Places in the late 1800s.

Soon after its move across the square to Raffles Chambers, the first Japanese bombs fell on Singapore in December 1941. The building would be partially damaged by the air raids twice — on 8 December 1941 and on 13 February 1942, even if it continued operations before eventually closing when Singapore fell. The occupation years brought a different occupant in the form of a Japanese department store, Matsuzakaya, which moved into the premises on 21 March 1943 after extensive repairs that were partially paid for by the Japanese military were made to the building. Robinsons would only return in June 1946, operating first on the ground floor and the basement before the building was fully returned by the British Military. A Royal Air Force amenities store in the interim following the reoccupation of Singapore in September 1945.

The iconic Raffles Chambers, which was topped by a statue of Mercury, was built to house another store, Katz Brothers, in 1912 (postcard: roots.sg).

The post war years would see Robinsons prosper further and lead the way in innovations. In June 1955, the store became the first department store in Malaya and Singapore to be fitted with full air-conditioning. The tragic fire of 1972 brought an end to Robinsons connection with Raffles Place and perhaps heralded the beginning of the end for the long time shopping icon. The store was able to reestablish itself on Orchard Road — first at Specialists Shopping Centre before making a move to Centrepoint in 1983. Several changes of ownership and the store’s opening of several branches did little to stem Robinsons slow slide into obscurity. In 2013, Robinsons moved its flagship store to The Heeren, which was given a more upmarket feel. That perhaps put the final nail in its coffin for the old store. In October 2020, Robinsons announced its intention to close and on 16 December 2020 it closed its flagship store and on 9 January 2020, its last store at Raffles City.

When Robinsons had its flagship store at Centrepoint
Its flagship store at The Heeren
Its last window display at its Raffles City store
Its iconic Raffles Chambers store remembered in the Raffles City outlet

Parting Glances – A Last Look at Robinsons





The Crazy-Rich-Asian mansion at Dhoby Ghaut

8 12 2020

Described as a Victorian-style mansion, the mansion of shipowner Teo Hoo Lye once graced the site that is now occupied by The Cathay. Built in 1913 and demolished in the late 1930s, the mansion was — at some points in its short history — also used in parts by several tenants, one of which was the Royal English School, a private school.

Teo Hoo Lye’s mansion – as seen from the Raffles Museum and Library.

The school moved into part of the premises in 1925 before being evicted in 1931 — after Teo had lent his name to the Teo Hoo Lye Institution. Established by a Methodist minister, Chanan Singh, the school took the name in 1929 through a mutual arrangement which saw Teo providing part of his mansion for the school’s use rent-free.

A postcard of the mansion c.1920 (National Archives of Singapore)

Teo passed on in 1933 and the grand house came down about four years later in 1937, when Mrs Loke Yew and Loke Wan Tho purchased the site for Cathay Cinema.





Motoring Days on Orchard Road

26 11 2020

It is hard to imagine it today, but Singapore’s famous main shopping street, Orchard Road, was once lined with car showrooms and motor workshops. Car brands such as Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Austin, Morris, Ford, Vauxhall, Fiat … and even Rolls Royce, had a presence there. It was certainly the go-to place to do a test drive and place an order for the still affordable family car, or to send the car for servicing and repair.

Orchard Motors, which was at the corner of Orchard and Bideford Road, became The Orchard in the early 1970s — the home of the (in)famous Tivoli Coffee House (Orchard Motors photo used with the kind permission of Mr Bryan Soh).

Two showrooms that were rather prominent in the regular journeys that I made as a child along Orchard Road between C K Tang and Cold Storage, were Champion Motors and Orchard Motors. Champion, which was then a dealer for Volkswagen is today where Lucky Plaza stands, while Orchard Motors — which dealt with Vauxhalls and Chevrolets, was first converted into The Orchard — a small shopping mall that was better known as the location of the (in)famous Tivoli Coffee House, before being replaced by the Paragon’s original wing.

The Orchard, seen with Lucky Plaza coming up on the site of the former Champion Motors showroom.

Today, only two buildings that bear testament to Orchard Road’s motoring past still stand. One is the wonderfully designed sunburst gabled no 14 to 20 Orchard Road — now used by MDIS, which has a history that goes back to Orchard Road’s early motoring days when it was purpose-built as showroom cum office building for Malayan Motors, a Morris dealer. That stands in a conserved row now opposite Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station — along a stretch of Orchard Road that attracted a host of showrooms and workshops in the early days of motoring and was where Ford motorcars were initially assembled in Singapore. Names such as Universal Cars, a Ford dealer and Borneo Motors, an Austin dealer turned Toyota agent, were also connected with the stretch.

The former Malayan Motors showroom seen in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

While it does seem quite well established that the former Malayan Motors showroom is still around, much less has been said about Liat Towers, which was constructed as the headquarters and showroom of Mercedes Benz. Its construction came at a time when the street was on the cusp of its transformation into the world-renowned retail destination that it is today. It would not be long before shopping malls such as Plaza Singapura (1974) and Lucky Plaza (1978) launched the transformation of the street into a retail destination.






Orchard Road’s last shophouses

10 11 2019

Built close to a century ago, the last of Orchard Road’s shophouses stand as a reminder of a time before Singapore’s shopping mile was mall-ed. Comprising four delightful structures at numbers 14 to 38, each a gem of eclectic architectural expression, they also serve to remind us of the rubber trade inspired hopes and aspirations of the decade that followed the end of the Great War. The row, which features three notable edifices and one, no 38, which often goes unnoticed, was acquired by the State in the 1980s following a 1978 gazette for acquisition and gazetted for conservation in November 2000.

The conserved row.

The east end of the row is marked by the cry for attention that the former Malayan Motors showroom is. Designed by Swan and Maclaren’s DS Petrovich, it replaced the Morris and Rolls Royce dealer’s earlier showroom and represented a progression in showroom designs. A length of windows on each side of a projection in its façade provided natural illumination to its upper floors where its upper level showroom was served by a ramp to the ground floor. A scalloped semi-circular gable (if one can call it that) at each end of the roof drew attention to it.

The former Malayan Motors showroom seen in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Completed in 1927, the former showroom can also be thought of as a marker of Orchard Road’s motoring days. Fuelled by the expansion in the rubber market here during the Great War, the demand for the motorcar had risen three-fold between 1913 and 1918, leading to a proliferation in the area of motorcar showrooms, and workshops (several over the canal at what is now Handy Road ) by the 1920s. Vehicle assembly was also introduced and Singapore’s first assembly plant – for Ford – opened in the area with a production capacity of 12 cars a day in 1925. The showroom was built by the Wearnes brothers who also brought in the Fords, which they sold via another dealership, Universal Cars. Besides Morris and Rolls Royce, other brands that the Malayan Motors showroom would have dealt with were Rover and Studebaker.  The showroom made its last sale in August 1980, following which Malayan Motors concentrated its business at its Leng Kee branch. Following its acquisition by the State, the showroom was renovated in 1988 for use by the Singapore Manufacturers’ Association as SMA House. It has been used by MDIS, a private school, since 2002.

The former MidFilm House, then and now.

Another interesting building is the Dutch-gabled former Midfilm House (Middle East Film Building) at no 22 to 24 next to the showroom. This dates back to 1921 and was put up by Middle East Films Ltd, a pioneering distributor of films in Southeast Asia. The building, which is Orchard 22 today, also served as temporary premises for Malayan Motors when its showroom was being rebuilt in 1926-27.

22-24 Orchard Road in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

What is probably now the icing in the cake for the row is the somewhat art deco and possibly modern-classical no 26 to 36 next to the former Midfilm House, which since June 2019, is the resplendent Temasek Shophouse. Built  in 1928, it stands on the site of six older shophouses – three of which had each been acquired by Chee Swee Cheng in 1926, and the other three by E Kong Guan from 1925 to 1926. Both Chee and E had roots in Malacca and were tapioca and rubber planters. Chee was also known to have substantial interests in opium and spirit “farming” in North Borneo and a landowner, who held several properties in Singapore. He is associated with the abandoned villa at 25 Grange Road, Wellington House, often incorrectly referred to as the Chee Guan Chiang mansion – after Chee’s son by a second marriage.

The Temasek Shophouse.

It was Guan Chiang who had the 3-storey 26 to 36 Orchard Road co-developed with E – based on plans drawn up by Westerhout and Oman in 1927. The new building’s interior spaces were split down the middle for each of the two owners, with E’s side being the western half numbered 32 to 36. An office space and store was laid out on each side of the ground floor. The upper floors of each half, each contained a 2-bedroom apartment.

No 26 to 36 in 1984 with the Art Furniture Depot and Sin Sin Furniture occupying the ground floor (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

The office spaces found use as showrooms, both initially occupied by The Art Furniture Depot in 1929. It was this store that the building would have the longest association with. The store gave up one of its showrooms in the early 1930s in the face of the Great Depression. The vacant unit would became the Eddystone Radio showrrom in 1933 and after the war, Sin Sin Furniture’s. Both furniture stores moved out around 1986 when the building was acquired by the State. Following this, substantial modifications were made to the building’s interiors so that it could house Pisces Garments Department Store with escalators, lifts and a mezzanine level were put in. The department store, which opened in 1989, morphed into PMart in 1994.

 

The current transformation has opened up the back of no 26 to 36, giving a full view of it.

The current transformation followed on the award of a tender launched in 2017 to Temasek, on the basis of the quality of concept that it had put forward.  The 18-month refurbishment effort that followed reversed several of the interventions of Pisces and gorgeously and sensitively restored the building, earned a 2019 URA Architectural Heritage Award for restoration. The overhauled interiors now feature a double-volume event space with a green wall featuring native plants. That is – in the context of today – not complete without a social-enterprise café. As an alternative to the street entrance, the garden – which the knocking of a boundary wall at the back has opened up – provides a very nice back door. The back is also where a pair of conserved concrete spiral staircases attached to the building’s rear – perhaps one of the tallest now seen – can be admired together with the equally impressive back façade. Offices, co-working spaces, meeting and function rooms – with native birds as themes, offices, a meeting space on its roof garden and space to accommodate its partners complete the picture.

Shophouses beyond the east end of the row – leading to an expunged street named Dhoby Ghaut – that have since been demolished (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Fresh, innovative and a joy to behold, the Temasek Shophouse brings Temasek Trust and its beneficiaries Temasek Foundation and Stewardship Asia Centre under one roof – with the aim to serve as an incubator of social and philanthropic in initiatives promoting community collaboration and advancing sustainability. It brings, if not for anything else, an injection of purpose to that the conserved row now sorely lacks.

The event space and its green wall.


More photographs of the Temasek Shophouse

A co-working space on the mezzanine.

Another view of the event space and the café.

One of the native bird themed meeting spaces.

Up on the roof.

The rooftop meeting room.

Offices for one or its sustainability partners – which makes furniture out of recycled material.

A pantry within an office space.

A balcony and on of its spiral staircases at the building’s rear.

A balcony overlooking Orchard Road and Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.

A close-up of the Corinthian capitals of the classical-esque columns on the building’s front façade.

Another view of the front balcony.

And another of the rear spiral staircase and balcony.

A downward view to the back garden from one of the spiral staircases.






37 Emerald Hill Road to be conserved

30 08 2019

It seems that three buildings of the former Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) campus at 37 Emerald Hill Road is to be conserved. The campus, used in the interim by Chatsworth International School, features two buildings from the early 20th century as well as the additions of more recent times.

The Song Ong Siang Block, the newest of the buildings that the URA proposes to conserve.

A view over Emerald Hill Road, much of which was gazetted as a conservation area in 1989. The former SCGS was not then included in the conservation area.

The three buildings, assessed to be of high historical and architectural significance, are the Main Block built in 1925, the Principal’s House built in 1930, as well as the Song Ong Siang Block. Built in 1956 and fronting Emerald Hill Road, the Song Ong Siang Block is named after one of the school’s founders, and has served as the face of the school for many. The older buildings were designed by architecture firm Messrs. S. Y. Wong and Co. – the architects for the New World – on English and American principles”.

Once an area in which a jungle of trees that yielded a spice that was worth more than its weight in gold, the area is now dominated by a concrete jungle put to use in mining the gold of the new age.

Founded in 1899, the school occupied a site at the corner of Hill and Coleman Streets (now occupied by the extension to the Central Fire Station) prior to moving to Emerald Hill late in 1925. It is regarded as a pioneer in the provision of education to Straits-born Chinese girls. The Emerald Hill site, previously owned by Dr. Lim Boon Keng, was bought for a sum of 50,000 Straits Dollars in 1924 by the Straits Settlements Government for the school. The school was granted a 99-year lease for the site in exchange for the its Hill Street premises, and occupied the site until it moved to Dunearn Road in 1994.

The 1930’s built Principal’s quarters.

The school, which was renamed Emerald Hill Girls’ School in the early part of the Japanese Occupation, was said to have also been used as a comfort station. This has not been verified, although it is known that several other buildings in the area were put to such use. The Sakura Club, was one known comfort station at Emerald Hill Road. Another, the Nanmei-Soo, which was identified as a comfort station in Goh Sin Tub’s “The Nan-Mei-Su of Emerald Hill, was reportedly more of a ryotei  – a restaurant. The Nanmei-Soo reportedly employed hostesses to provide services beyond serving food and drink. This operated out of the ex-Hollandse Club at 30 Cairnhill Road.

The front view of the Main Block, built in 1925.

The decision to conserve the three buildings, comes on the back of a community effort driven by former students of SCGS, “Keep 37 Emerald Hill“. The effort saw various proposals put forward for the reuse of the buildings in a manner that the history of the site is not lost.

The main block as seen from the back.

Another view of the front of the Main Block.

The Song Ong Siang Block.

The Main Block as seen from the Song Ong Siang Block. The Lee Kong Chian Block, an addition in the 1970s seen on the right of the Main Block is not one of the three being proposed for conservation.

Stairway in – if I remember correctly – the Song Ong Siang Block.

Another view towards the Lee Kong Chian Block.

The Principal’s Quarters.


 





A postcard from the past: Shaw House and Lido

29 06 2017

Another landmark of the Orchard Road that I loved was the old Shaw House. That, stood at the corner of Orchard and Scotts Road through the 1960s to the 1980s. What made the building special was the branch of The Chartered Bank that was housed on its ground floor, a branch that my mother frequented and one at which I obtained my favourite piggy bank that was modelled after the Disney cartoon character Donald Duck. Completed in 1958, the modern 10-storey block was lit the path for the eventual transformation of Orchard Road. It was one of two that the Shaw Brothers built, the other being Lido Theatre next to it – a cinema at which I caught many Pink Panther movies. In its latter years, Shaw House was also where a popular restaurant Copper Kettle opened.





A postcard from the past: a view over the Killiney Road area in the 1970s

22 06 2017

Another postcard from the past: a view over the Killiney Road and River Valley area in the early 1970s. What can quite clearly be made out is Killiney Road, Dublin Road, Lloyd Road, Tiverton Lane and Devonshire Road at the bottom of the picture. Some of the buildings that are identifiable in the foreground include the old Killiney Road Market (from its roof), Mitre Hotel, and if you look hard enough, the roof of 38 Oxley Road!

What this postcard brings to mind is in fact 38 Oxley Road, which has been very much in the news of late. I was first made aware of it being the house of the then Prime Minister from the backseat of the car of a neighbour, Uncle Singh. We were in the vicinity one evening and Uncle Singh decided to drive through the short stretch of Oxley Road (that was before entry to the stretch was restricted to residents) just to show his son and me where the Prime Minister lived, pointing the Gurkha guards manning the sentry posts out as he drove past. This would have been sometime in 1969 or 1970 as I was in kindergarten then. What I don’t recall was why we were in the area (we were living in Toa Payoh), or what I was doing in his car. I do remember the car, an old and rather beat up Austin Cambridge, which had a corroded floorboard and torn PVC upholstery on its backseat – so much so that the coconut husk used for the filling of its cushion was showing through.





A postcard from the past: Fitzpatrick’s on Orchard Road

21 06 2017

I miss the old Orchard Road. Laid back, when compared to the madness that now consumes the street, little remains of it except for a few memories and some precious photographs, which when they crop up are like postcards sent from the past.

One photograph that I was quite excited to come across is the one below. A scan that a new found friend kindly permitted me to scan, it is a rare shot taken inside Fitzpatrick’s supermarket in the very early 1970s, just as I remember it. The scene, complete with the inside ends of the checkout aisles and the cigarette display racks, brought back an instant recall of a place, its smell and of the brown paper bags the shopping would be packed into. I remember the latter especially well and a time when plastic bags, now a scourge to the environmental, were much less used widely used. Much was also reused and recycled such as the cartons that one picked up from a pile on the left after the checkouts that the shopping, particularly the heavier items were sometimes packed into.



 





An alternative view of Orchard Road

3 02 2014

The best view one can possibly get of Singapore’s famous ‘shopping mile’, Orchard Road, is perhaps from up above. It is high up above the ground that one does see an unseen side of the street, known more for its gleaming modern shopping malls: that of the cover of trees – something that is quite easy not to notice with the distractions at ground level. It is a view of the street that I now enjoy most, one that takes me away from the madding crowds one now can’t seem to escape at ground level, and one that does seem to take me back to a time, now forgotten, when I did best like the street.

The most heavenly view one can get of Singapore's famous 'shopping mile', Orchard Road, is really from up above. It is from high up that one gets an amazing sight of the tree cover over the street which isn't quite noticeable at ground level.

The most heavenly view one can get of Singapore’s famous ‘shopping mile’, Orchard Road, is really from up above. It is from high up that one gets an amazing sight of the tree cover over the street which isn’t quite noticeable at ground level.

A view of one half of the almost completed Orchard Gateway towering over what will be the new Singapore Visitor Centre and the conservation houses of Emerald Hill.

A view of one half of the almost completed Orchard Gateway towering over what will be the new Singapore Visitor Centre and the conservation houses of Emerald Hill.

Another look at Emerald Hill and part of the area to its right where the first rail line in Singapore ran through to Tank Road.

Another look at Emerald Hill and part of the area to its right where the first rail line in Singapore ran through to Tank Road.

A look across to Mounts Sophia and Emily which once provided commanding views across the city.

A look across to Mounts Sophia and Emily which once provided commanding views across the city. The dome of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Sikh Temple between Mount Sophia and Emily can be seen.

Another look towards Mount Sophia - the buildings once used by Methodist Girls' School are clearly visible.

Another look towards Mount Sophia – the buildings once used by Methodist Girls’ School are clearly visible.

A look down Cuppage Road.

A look down Cuppage Road.

A look towards the greenery surrounding the grounds of the Istana.

A look towards the greenery surrounding the grounds of the Istana.

A look west westwards - distinctive roof of the Singapore Marriott (ex-Dynasty) Hotel can be seen.

A look west westwards – distinctive roof of the Singapore Marriott (ex-Dynasty) Hotel can be seen.

Orchard Road at ground level is dominated by the gleaming new edifices of glass and steel that has risen in the last two decades.

Orchard Road at ground level is dominated by the gleaming new edifices of glass and steel that has risen in the last two decades.

Another look through a glass panel.

Another look through a glass panel.

The roof terrace of Orchard Central from which one gets the alternative views of Orchard Road.

The roof terrace of Orchard Central from which one gets the alternative views of Orchard Road.





A look down the Orchard Road of the early 1970s

20 01 2014

A photograph that would probably have been taken from the top of the Hilton in the early 1970s offers a view of that show how different Orchard Road was back then. The Mandarin Hotel, which was completed in 1971, and the two-way traffic system along the stretch from the junction with Scotts/Paterson Roads provides an indication of when the photograph would have been taken. This was period when I probably enjoyed Orchard Road the most, a time when the crowds we now cannot seem to escape from were non-existent, and a time before the modern shopping malls descended on what has since become a street well-known throughout the world for its shopping offerings.

Orchard Road early 1970s

Of some of the main landmarks seen in the photograph, only the Mandarin Hotel and Liat Towers stands today. In place of Orchard Road Police Station is the Orchard MRT Station and ION Orchard above it. Across the road, the complex that houses Tangs and Marriot Hotel (ex Dynatsy Hotel) now stands in place of the two rows of shophouses and the iconic old CK Tang Building.

Lucky Plaza (1978), one of the first malls to arrive on Orchard Road, stands where Champion Motors (a former Volkswagen dealer) used to be and Tong Building (1978) stands where the Yellow Pages Building and an Esso Petrol Station were, right next to the old Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket.

Fitzpatrick’s went for the Promenade Shopping Centre (1984) to be built. The Promenade, best remembered for its spiral walkway up, has since been demolished for an extension of Paragon (2003) to be built.

The original portion of Paragon (1997) would have been where The Orchard, a shopping centre that was converted from the former Orchard Motors showroom in 1970, had stood. The Orchard would be remembered for its famous Tivoli Coffee House.

Another icon along that old Orchard Road, would be Wisma Indonesia beyond Orchard Road Police Station and separated from the road by an uncovered Stamford Canal and a service road. That housed the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, and was very recognisable for its Minangkabau styled roof. In its places stands Wisma Atria (1986).

Beyond the Wisma was Ngee Ann Building. It was where the once well-known Mont d’Or Cake Shop was located. The site of Ngee Ann Building (and the then empty land beyond it) is where Ngee Ann City (1993) stands today. The canal one had to cross both to Ngee Ann Building and the Wisma, was covered up in 1974 and its is on top of this that the wide pedestrian walkway running down that side of Orchard Road, now runs.

More related to Orchard Road in the 1970s and 1980s can be found in several posts:





The magical sea of light at Christmas

24 11 2013

Every year for the last three decades, Orchard Road is transformed into an enchanting sea of lights in the lead up to Christmas. This year’s light-up, which features the silver tinged twinkle of stars and sparkle of diamonds against the cool of blue lights taking one magically away from the tropics, was launched last evening at Shaw House’s Urban Plaza with President Tony Tan Keng Yam gracing the occasion as the Guest-of-Honour.

The Orchard Road Christmas Light-up is in its 30th year.

The Orchard Road Christmas Light-up is in its 30th year.

President Tony Tan greeting the guests.

President Tony Tan greeting the guests.

Before the launch, colour and entertainment at the launch ceremony was provided by the Super Trouper Choir and the Dim Sum Dollies. The Super Trouper Choir features 14 students with intellectual disabilities from MINDS Lee Kong Chian Garden School, 11 of whom sang at the event.

The Super Trouper Choir.

The Super Trouper Choir.

The Dim Sum Dollies.

The Dim Sum Dollies.

The Dim Sum Dollies, who were their entertaining selves, included the brand new dolly, Denise Tan. Together they will feature in Dream Academy’s CRAZY CHRISTMAS Ting Tong Belles the cast of which will also include the likes of Kumar, Broadway Beng (Sebastian Tan) and Judee Tan. CRAZY CHRISTMAS Ting Tong Belles will play at Esplanade Theatre from 11 to 22 December 2013.

Selena Tan.

Selena Tan.

Pamela Oei.

Pam Oei.

New dolly, Denise Tan.

New dolly, Denise Tan.

Themed “Christmas on A Great Street”, the light up, which will run from 23 November 2013 to 5 January 2014, is sponsored by Hitachi (for the 23rd year) with Mastercard as the Official Card. The light-up which is organised by the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) is also linked with the Community Chest – an association which goes back to the first light-up, serving as a launch-pad for the annual year-end charity drive.

JeromeLim 277A5725

JeromeLim 277A5759

JeromeLim 277A5764

During the launch ceremony, battery-powered candles were also given out to guests as well as members of the public by 100 student volunteers from the Republic Polytechnic with the ORBA donating $1 for each candle lit in front of ION Orchard.

A lighted candle during the launch ceremony.

A lighted candle during the launch ceremony.

The light-up also sees several malls participating in the Best Dressed Building Contest 2013. The contest runs from 23 November to 8 December 2013 with members of the public voting for their favourite building through a mobile @Orchard app – with the chance to win shopping vouchers – $500 worth for each of the six winners, and $250 worth for each of the three runners-up.

JeromeLim 277A5804

JeromeLim 277A5814

The very useful @Orchard app which is free and downloadable to mobile devices, also includes a underground navigation function with an ORBA Walking Map which works below ground.

JeromeLim 277A5799

JeromeLim 277A5817

The period of the light-up also sees performance and activities along Orchard Road to look forward to including a mass carolling event on Christmas Eve and a Grand Christmas Concert on Christmas Day. More information can be found at the Christmas on the Great Street website’s events page.

JeromeLim IMG_3541


Participating Malls for the Best Dressed Building Contest 2013

  1. Forum the Shopping Mall
  2. GrandPark Orchard
  3. ION Orchard
  4. Mandarin Gallery
  5. Ngee Ann City / Takashimaya Shopping Centre
  6. Orchard Central
  7. Paragon
  8. Tanglin Mall




A world apart

26 09 2013

A look down Orchard Road at its junction with Killiney Road close to 40 years apart. The view in 1975 was dominated by the towering Mandarin Hotel which opened in 1971, but it was probably Cold Storage, the longest established supermarket in Singapore, which would have served as a landmark. Across the road from the Cold Storage was what became known later as “Gluttons’ Square”, a car park which would be transformed as night fell, into a sea of pushcarts, tables and stools – a food lovers’ paradise of local hawker fare which was popular with many. The area did in fact feature more than just the car park, but also across Cuppage Road from Cold Storage – with many popular hawker stalls found around the old Orchard Road Market area at Koek Road and Koek Lane.

The junction of Orchard Road and Killiney Road some 4 decades apart, as seen in 1975 and today (source of 1975 photograph: Ray Tyers' Singapore Then & Now).

The junction of Orchard Road and Killiney Road some 4 decades apart, as seen in 1975 and today (source of 1975 photograph: Ray Tyers’ Singapore Then & Now).

Another landmark in the area was of course the Specialists’ Shopping Centre which opened in 1972. That housed the main outlet of a retail institution, Robinson’s, after a huge fire on 21 November 1972 had destroyed its main premises. Intending initially to open a branch on a single floor at the Specialists’ Centre in late 1972 / early 1973, the long established departmental store opened on two floors on 11 December 1972. The Specialist Centre Robinson’s would be remembered for the St. Michael’s (a brand name used by Marks and Spencer’s) outlet within it on the ground floor which was popular particularly for its biscuits.

The old Cold Storage on Orchard Road.

The old Cold Storage on Orchard Road.

The area now sees huge developments taking place, dominated by new shopping malls such as Orchard Central and 313 @ Somerset. One that isn’t completed which will certainly add to the clutter will be Orchard Gateway which will straddle Orchard Road with a tubular glass pedestrian link bridge between its two parts positioned diagonally across from each other.

The stretch now sees many new retail developments such as Orchard Central on the left and under construction Orchard Gateway with its link bridge which will further alter the area's flavour.

The stretch now sees many new retail developments such as Orchard Central on the left and under construction Orchard Gateway with its link bridge which will further alter the area’s flavour.

Orchard Central as seen at the corner of Orchard and Killiney Roads.

Orchard Central as seen at the corner of Orchard and Killiney Roads.

The competition from the new malls has also seen one which has seen its popularity wane in its three decades of existence. Centrepoint, to which Robinson’s moved its fashion departments into in June 1983 – which then became its flagship store after it shut down its outlets (including John Little’s keeping only the St. Michael’s outlet) at Specialists’ Centre in June 1984, underwent a recent makeover. It will soon also see its anchor tenant moving out – Robinson’s has announced it would be moving to The Heeren next year, ending what will be a 30 year association with Centrepoint.

One side of Orchard Gateway with part of the link bridge. The conserved shophouse seen below it is fronting Orchard Road where a new Singapore Visitors' Centre will open.

One side of Orchard Gateway with part of the link bridge. The conserved shophouse seen below it is fronting Orchard Road where a new Singapore Visitors’ Centre will open.

The changes that are taking place, are ones which will render the area unrecognisable even from what it would have been like a decade ago. For me, however, it will always be the gentler times of four decades past I am taken back to, times of the old Cold Storage with its deli counter which never failed to interest me – times when our shopping went into brown paper bags and used cartons rather than in the non environmentally friendly plastic bags we use too much of these days. They were also times when not only having a malted milkshake in the cool comfort of the vinegar scented air of the Magnolia Snack Bar was as much a treat as a bowl of beef noodles at Koek Lane or a plate of oyster omelette at the car park would have been. It is that simpler world I often wish I can return to, a world unlike the one I find myself in today in which the a lot more than we have does somehow seem like a lot less.





Celebrating Orchard on National Day

10 08 2013

Celebrating Orchard is an exhibition of photographs I helped the National Heritage Board (NHB) put together for a National Day event. The one day exhibition at the Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza offers perspectives of Singapore’s well known shopping district, commonly referred to as ‘Orchard’ through  a series of photographs – those of eight individuals including myself who have made first impressions of the street and its environs at different periods of its development, post-independence.


Photographs I exhibited:

Reflections

Jerome-8251-2

I love how reflections can sometimes offer interesting perspectives such as these reflections I captured off an Orchard Road shop window, which does represent how I see Orchard’s transformation over the years since my first impressions were formed. The street is now one that is rich in flavour and colour. Full of excitement, it now has an appeal which goes far beyond the shopping and dining venues it is known for and is very much where Singapore comes alive.


The Motor End

JeromeLim 5224

An early impression I had of Orchard was of its car showrooms. Several were found at the ‘Motor End’. It was where my father was to purchase the first five cars he owned from. Three were from Borneo Motors (two Austins and later a Toyota), as well as one from Universal Cars (a Ford) and another from Malayan Motors (a Morris). The building which housed Malayan Motors is one which has survived and is currently occupied by MDIS.


Runway Orchard

JeromeLim 1244

Orchard has always been one to celebrate fashion. Back in the 1960s it became home to trendsetting designer and hairstylist Roland Chow when Roland’s opened on the street. The internationally recognised fashion hub now celebrates in a big way, shutting itself to traffic one evening a year when it transforms itself into a fashion runway for Fashion Steps Out @ Orchard.


About Celebrating Orchard

Orchard Road or ‘Orchard’, as the street and its surroundings is commonly referred to, has over the years offered very different experiences to its many visitors. Lined with car showrooms and several memorable places to shop at the point of Singapore’s independence, it has become a focal point of the new and exciting Singapore. It is where the heart and soul of Singapore can perhaps be found.

Celebrating Orchard explores the famous street through the eyes of eight photographers, who having had their first impressions of the street made during different periods of its development, offer a different take on Orchard Road.

JeromeLim-9031-2

JeromeLim-9021

JeromeLim-8977

JeromeLim-9011

JeromeLim-8970

Other photographers who exhibited:






The shortlived French invasion of Singapore

8 02 2013

I was looking through some of my old (and rather badly taken) photographs of Chingay when I stumbled upon a sign which brought to mind events of the 1980s. The decade was a time when the world around us was very much in transition and a time when the French decided on an invasion of Singapore. The invasion was one not involving any form of military force, but by forces of an entirely different nature – those of two of their well established retail giants, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps – department stores which are landmarks on one of Paris’ famous shopping streets, Boulevard Haussmann (it was a photograph with the Printemps sign that brought this to mind).

The Printemps Store along on the ground level of Hotel Le Meridien at Orchard Road.

The Printemps Store along on the ground level of Hotel Le Meridien at Orchard Road.

The entrance of the two stores into the local retail market came at the start of a decade in which Singapore was too see massive changes. Much of the resident population of the city centre had been or was to be moved out, and once bustling districts of shophouses which coloured much of the urban landscape was over the period, reduced to rubble. The 1980s also saw Orchard Road establishing itself as Singapore’s main shopping street and the economic success of Singapore – one of the four “Tigers” of the Asian economies, provided for the rising affluence among Singaporeans and with that a greater awareness of fashion trends. This influenced shopping habits and preferences and many overseas based retailers saw an opportunity to gain a foothold into the Singapore market, with two Japanese based retailers having by then already established themselves. Isetan came in 1972 and Yaohan in 1974.

It was Galeries Lafayette which lead the French charge, opening a 5574 square metre store in out-of-town Goldhill Square (since renamed United Square) in December 1982. Printemps followed soon after, taking up 4000 square metres of space on Orchard Road on the ground floor of the newly constructed Hotel Le Méridien (now Concorde Hotel) in September 1983. It was Printemps which perhaps had the greater impact – projecting an image not so much of Parisian chic but one of being hip, colourful and affordable – it was Printemps which introduced the colourful canvas espadrilles which for a while seemed to catch on with Singaporean shoppers (trendy as they might have been, they unfortunately were not the most ideal form of footwear for the local climate). Printemps colourful and cheap polo-tees were also rather a hit with the young.

Despite the apparent popularity of some of what the stores had to offer, both did have great difficulty in making inroads and were making losses. Galeries (as it was referred to by Singaporeans) closed its Goldhill Square store in May 1986. The news of that did not come as a shock as it had been plagued by rumours of its closing for several months before that even as it had expressed interest in taking up a space either at Crown Prince Hotel or the space previously occupied by Mohan’s at Orchard Shopping Centre. It was perhaps a poor decision made to open their store at a location far from the main retail scene in Singapore. The closure did turn out to be a temporary move. Some ten months after closing the Goldhill Square store, Galeries opened a 4460 square metre store at Liat Towers on Orchard Road and not long after that, a smaller 400 square metre outlet at Raffles Place. In spite of the problems the two stores faced in what was perhaps becoming a saturated retail market, the two did last a little longer. Printemps operated ntil December 1989 when it shut its doors. Galeries after its second coming lasted a little longer – it was in March 1996 when they did finally close again.

Galeries Lafayette's second coming which was at Liat Towers, seen here in the 1990s, in March 1987 (source: http:// a2o.nas.sg/picas/).

Galeries Lafayette’s second coming which was at Liat Towers, seen here in the 1990s, in March 1987 (source: http:// a2o.nas.sg/picas/).





Where dogs, politicians and the postman once met

6 11 2012

One of the quieter stretches of today’s Orchard Road has to be the less trodden path that takes one from Killiney Road towards what is today a four way junction with Buyong Road, across from where the Concorde Hotel (ex Le Méridien Hotel) is. Walking down it I am often taken back to a time when Orchard Road was a very different place, a place lined with car showrooms, the odd supermarket, and lots of old shophouses that lined both sides of what has today become a sea of malls, and when the stretch that I speak of was where the headquarters of the ruling political party, the People’s Action Party or PAP, had been located.

Orchard Circus in days when Orchard Road was a much quieter place. To the left of the clump of palm trees is where the entrance to the Istana is.

Map of general area today with overlay of road layout in 1978.

Besides the PAP having their headquarters there until 1978 (when they moved to another of their former HQs at Napier Road), the stretch was home to headquarters of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The SPCA occupied a premises the entrance of which was by the side of a building that was the former Orchard Road Post Office (across from where Buyong Road met Orchard Road) – a sign over its entrance could not be missed. The former Orchard Road Post Office which was built in 1902, had by the time I got to see the building, long moved out when the Killiney Road Post Office (which opened in 1963) was built to replace it when that magnificent building it occupied proved too small (there were initial thoughts to expand the building – but due to limitations of the site, a new building was instead planned).

The shophouse lined stretch of Orchard Road is seen between Specialist Centre at the top of the picture and United Motor Works (building seen with the AC Spark Plug Advertisement – with words “Hot Tip”) in 1974 (source: http://picas.nhb.gov,sg). The gap in the buildings just beyond United Motor Works is where the SPCA / former Orchard Road Post Office was.

The former Orchard Road Post Office building in 1982, with the entrance to the SPCA next to it (from the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009). The post office closed in 1963 when the Killiney Road Post Office was opened.

Another photograph of the SPCA on Orchard Road from the SPCA’s website.

The premises of the SPCA were used since the organisation moved to into in 1965 (although they had maintained kennels behind it since 1954 when it was still the RPSCA), paying a nominal $1 in rent per year. The kennels were one that were regularly visited by student volunteers including some of my classmates in primary school – I recall my mother dropping me off at the premises on a few occasions in 1976 when I did accompany a classmate who helped out at the SPCA. The SPCA’s premises was acquired for redevelopment in 1983 and the SPCA moved into their current headquarters at Mount Vernon built at a cost of $1 million with money obtained from the organisation’s fund raising efforts.

The area where the SPCA / Orchard Road Post Office was.

Approximate position of the former post office building / SPCA seen against what the area is today (image of Orchard Road Post Office from the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009).

The stretch today bears little resemblance to the stretch back when the SPCA was there. Cleared completely of the buildings that had occupied it as well as with the realignment of the roads in and around it, it is hard to imagine what is today a relatively quiet and pretty green stretch, lined with shophouses all along to where its junction was with Clemenceau Avenue (where the Orchard Circus, which went in 1967) had once been.





The synagogue at Belle Vue

19 10 2012

One of the wonderful things about Singapore is the diverse cultural and religious practices, some modified with time, some influenced by the environment, but many that remain distinct reflecting the many lands far and wide from which immigrants to Singapore have arrived from. Besides the myriad of festivals that seem to go on all year around, this diversity is also reflected in its architectural heritage – some 28 of its 64 National Monuments are places of worship which are very much in use today.

A page from religious diversity of Singapore – a Sefer Torah at the Chesed-El Synagogue.

Two of the 64 that I had an opportunity to visit during a recent Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB) walking tour were the Hong San See Temple and the Chesed-El Synagogue. The Hong San See or Temple on Phoenix Hill is one that I already am familiar with from a previous visit. A magnificent and beautifully restored example of Fujian Lam Ann (Nan’an) religious architecture, its last restoration effort from 2007 to 2009 earned a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2010. More information on the temple can be found in my previous post The Temple on Phoenix Hill.

The Chesed-El Synagogue at Oxley Rise was one of two religious monuments I recently had an opportunity to see as part of a Monumental Walking Tour organised by the PMB.

The main motivation for my participation in the tour was more for the opportunity it provided to visit a synagogue as I had never in stepped into one. While there are two such places of worship in Singapore, such opportunities are rare, especially due to more recent security concerns and this provided me with a look of what it was like behind the façade of a religious building belonging to a small and sometimes lesser known local community which has made a significant contribution to Singapore.

Opportunities to visit a synagogue are rare especially with more recent security concerns.

A look beyond the Chesed-El’s façade. The wooden pulpit or bimah is seen in the centre of the hall with the ahel or ark at the end.

The Jews in Singapore have certainly made a huge contribution to its development with many notable names through Singapore’s history, members of the community. One of its prominent members in the early days of Singapore was a certain Sir Manasseh Meyer, a highly successful businessman and property owner, who counted among his properties, the Sea View Hotel and the Adelphi Hotel, lending his name to Meyer Road. It was also Manasseh Meyer who built the Chesed-El, Singapore’s second synagogue (after Maghain Aboth in Waterloo Street).

Participants on the walking tour had a chance to look at the second of two synagogues in Singapore.

The Chesed-El completed in 1905 on Manasseh Meyer’s sprawling estate in Oxley Rise, Belle Vue, was designed by Regent Alfred John Bidwell of architectural frim Swan & Maclaren (which was responsible for many of the monumental works of architecture in Singapore) in the Palladian style. What had prompted Manasseh Meyer to build Chesed-El, which translates as the “bountiful mercy and goodness of God” were differences of opinions which members of the community from differing backgrounds had at the Maghain Aboth, which was built as a private synagogue.

The synagogue was completed in 1905.

The building was built in the grand Palladian style.

Besides providing the opportunity to have a look into the synagogue, the visit also allowed a better appreciation of the layout of a synagogue. Placed in a westward facing direction to Judaism’s eternal city, Jerusalem, a wooden pulpit rises at centre of the hall. The pulpit or bimah, is where prayers where the rabbi leads the prayers, and where the Torah scrolls (Sefer Torah) are placed and read during services.

The entrance to the synagogue.

A closer look at the bimah.

The entrance and the balconies on the upper gallery.

Inside the lower gallery.

A reminder.

The visit also allowed us a peek at the upper gallery where the women are kept separated from the men during services. The balconies on the upper gallery feature iron work that we were told were imported from Scotland which provided an appreciation of the effort taken in the building of the house of worship for the greater glory of the Maker.

The balconies on the upper gallery, reserved for women, feature beautifully crafted ironwork imported from Scotland.

The staircase to the upper gallery.

A view through an arch on the upper gallery.

The women’s perspective.

A quiet room on the upper gallery.

Another view from the upper gallery.

The upper gallery.

The highlight of the visit was a close-up look we had at Sefer Torah as well as a look into the holiest part of the synagogue, the ark or ahel – a room where the Sefer Torahs are stored. The sefers or scrolls are made from specially handwritten parchment and are ones donated by members of the congregation, and includes one that is a hundred years old.

The ahel at the front end of the hall is behind three curtains.

A rabbi opening a Sefer Torah.

A hundred year old Sefer Torah in the ahel.

Floor tiles.

The ahel’s entrances are covered by a curtain or parochet.

Ironwork above the ahel.

The look at the synagogue was one that provided not only an insight into the religious practices of a small but important community in Singapore, but also one which offered a window into the role the many successful immigrants who came from far and wide played in building and supporting their respective communities. It is these communities which have provided the foundation on which Singapore’s success is built and which makes Singapore that wonderful celebration of cultures and religions that it is today.

The grounds of the synagogue.


Resources on the Jewish Community, Sir Manasseh Meyer and the Chesed-El Synagogue:

Jewish Community in Singapore (on The Jewish Community of Singapore)
Jewish Community in Singapore (on The Jewish Times Asia)
Sir Manasseh Meyer (on infopedia)
Chesed-El Synagogue (on infopedia)
Chesed-El Synagogue (on The Jewish Community of Singapore)
Chesed-El Synagogue (on PMB’s website)






The ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2012 Award

22 08 2012

The Martell Cordon Bleu Heritage exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the celebrated name in Cognac and the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2012 Photography exhibition drew to a close this evening. The closing of the exhibition at the Timeless Capsule , a temporary art gallery outside ION Orchard, also saw an awards ceremony during with the winners of the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2012 awards were unveiled. Besides the top prize which was won by Edwin Koo, there were Discernment Awards given out to two photographers, Jeremy San and Ernest Goh and for the first time, an Eternal Discovery Prize based on public voting created for the centenary celebration, awarded to Wesley Loh. The title prize brings with it $30,000 in cash, a trip to Cognac, France and the chance to publish a photography book of his works, the Discernment Awards carries a cash prize of $8,000 each, while the Eternal Discovery Prize is worth $1,000 and an exclusive Centenary Limited Edition set of Martell Cordon Bleu.

Edwin Koo came prepared with a speech …

The winners were selected from nine nominees and picked by a jury of international and local judges who looked at the strength of the photographer’s portfolio, a body of work that shows a coherent vision, unique points of view as well as skillful and well-developed artistic expression. This year’s jury consists of Madame Agnes de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, photography curator and writer; Mr Ian Berry, Magnum Photographer; Ms Emmeline Yong, Partner, Objectifs Centre for Photography and Filmmaking; Ms Bridget Tracy Tan, Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Arts & Art Galleries, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and Ms Charmaine Leung, Director of Marketing, Pernod Ricard Singapore.


About ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu

Organised by Pernod Ricard Singapore, ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu is an annual photography award that recognises Singapore’s most outstanding photographer. As part of Martell Cordon Bleu’s centenary celebrations and to pay homage to this celebrated cognac that has given its name to the award, ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2012 was organised around the centenary theme of Eternal Discovery. New elements were introduced to the third edition of ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu.


About the winner Edwin Koo’s portfolio

Edwin Koo (image provided by ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu).

Edwin Koo’s three series, Dreaming of Phayul, Paradise Lost and We Would Be Heroes, shares an overarching theme of “A Strange Place Called Home”, where the concept of home and homeland is explored. Dreaming of Phayul examines the hopes and dreams of Tibetan exiles yearning for a “fatherland” that is no longer theirs, while Paradise Lost, set against the backdrop of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, is an investigation into the notion of physical paradise as home. Meanwhile, We Would Be Heroes dwells on the heroic ambitions of young Nepali men and women to free their homeland from feudalism, only to end up estranged from home as the civil war ended.


A selection of Edwin Koo’s works (images provided by ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu):





A timeless capsule

3 08 2012

Step outside ION Orchard, it would be hard not to notice a temporary structure that has made an appearance close to the corner where Orchard Road and Paterson Road meets. What will probably draw one to it would be the name ‘Martell Cordon Bleu’ – which celebrates its 100th anniversary with an exhibition which traces the history of the celebrated cognac to its origins in 1912 as well as featuring old shipping invoices and newspaper advertisements which provide a link to its presence in Singapore that dates back to the 1930s at the structure named The Timeless Capsule which will be opened to the public from 3 to 22 August 2012 . It isn’t however just the celebration of Martell Cordon Bleu’s centenary that makes it worthwhile to visit what has been touted as Singapore’s largest art gallery, but also another joy – one that celebrates the works of nine nominated ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu photographers – in an annual photography award organised by Martell Cordon Bleu for which the nine will vie for the top prize of $30,000.

Mr Paul-Robert Bouhier, Managing Director Pernod Ricard Singapore introducing The Timeless Capsule.

The photographers have been shortlisted by an expert panel that comprises Ms Kelley Cheng, Creative Director of The Press Room; Mr Russel Wong, celebrated Singapore photographer; Mr Milenko Prvacki, Senior Fellow at LaSalle College of the Arts; Mr Edmund Wee, managing and creative director of Epigram books, and ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2011 winner, Mr Sean Lee. They are Mr Albert Lim, Mr Edwin Koo, Mr Ernest Goh, Mr Jeremy San, Mr Roy Zhang, Mr Sam Kang Li, Mr Tristan Cai, Mr Wesley Loh and Mr Yian Huang. Their works are being exhibited in non print form – through the use of a multimedia format. In addition to the cash prize, the winner of ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu will also receive the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu trophy, a trip to Cognac, France and an opportunity to publish a book of his photographs. The two runners-up will each be honoured with the Discernment Award and cash prize of $8,000. In addition to this, a Eternal Discovery prize worth $1000 has also been introduced this year for the centenary, which will be awarded to the photographer who has obtained the most support through public voting. Votes can be cast online at www.icon-martellcordonbleu.com or at the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu exhibition in The Timeless Capsule.

Shadows of guests at the opening of The Timeless Capsule each with a glass of Martell Cordon Bleu in hand.

I did not have the time to view all the exhibits by ones that caught my eye immediately the most were the works of Edwin Koo and Yian Huang both of which I found to be extremely evocative. Edwin who has been using photography to tell stories since 2002 had previously worked in the local press before leaving for Nepal in 2008 where pursue his interest to document human displacement and political turmoil. His series, Dreaming of Phayul, Paradise Lost and We Would Be Heroes, features marginalised groups during his time based in Kathmandu, Nepal. In 2011, his works on the Swat Valley was exhibited in the Angkor Photo Festival. His works on the Tibetan exiles were also shown in Photo Quai, in Paris in 2011.

Refugees wait for tea at Sheik Yasin camp, Mardan, Pakistan by Edwin Koo (image provided by ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu).

Edwin Koo (image provided by ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu).

Yian Huang on the other hand had a background in management consultancy before obtaining his Masters degrees from Columbia in International Affairs and Journalism. He covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while in the Middle East and has been exhibited at Galerie Steph at Helutrans in Singapore, the Palais du Louvre in Paris, the Singapore Art Museum, and in galleries in Russia, Italy and the US. He has also been published in the Economist, Newsweek, the Peak, and Sports Illustrated; and worked for the Newark Star Ledger based in New York City, and as an intern at the Magnum Photo Agency in Paris.

Work of Yian Huang (image provided by ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu).

Yian Huang (image provided by ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu).

An interesting display in The Timeless Capsule is a specially crafted, one-off piece of the iconic Martell Cordon Bleu cognac bottle by the renowned House of Boucheron. The unique bottle – The Ultimate Jewel which captures the houses’ passion for transforming the finest and rarest of raw materials into either exquisite blends or beautiful, timeless jewellery. The Ultimate Jewel will make a few stops on its international circuit before it is to be auctioned in China at the end of the year.

The Ultimate Jewel (image provided by Martell Cordon Bleu).

The centenary celebrations also sees Martell Cordon Bleu embarking on a charity drive. This would be to raise funds for the beneficiaries of Community Chest. The Martell Cordon Bleu Centenary Charity Drive aims to raise a minimum of $128,800. For the drive 100 exclusive Martell Cordon Bleu Anniversary Gift Sets consisting of a Limited Edition Centenary Bottle, Standard Edition Centenary Bottle autographed by cellar master, Benoit Fil, a Limited Edition photo print and photography book by ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2011 Winner, Sean Lee, will be given in appreciation to contributions of a minimum of $1,288 each with all proceeds going to Community Chest.

The light show during the opening of The Timeless Capsule.

Several fringe activities will take place in The Timeless Capsule during the period, including a photography talk, An Eternal Discovery Revealed, on 6 August by the nine nominated photographers; a cognac and chocolate pairing session called Cognac & Chocolate: A Timeless Taste on 8 August (chocolate desserts prepared by the Singapore National Pastry Team will be paired with Martell Cordon Bleu for the public to sample the timeless taste of the cognac at the session). A photography book by ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2011 winner, Sean Lee, will also be officially launched on 16 August. All fringe activities are free to the public but registration is required as places are limited. The Timeless Capsule is open everyday from 3 to 22 August between 10am and 10pm. For more information about The Timeless Capsule, please visit www.icon-martellcordonbleu.com.

Claressa Monteiro performing at the opening of The Timeless Capsule.


About ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu – The Exhibition

3 Aug – 22 Aug, 10am – 10pm

The Timeless Capsule, Outside ION Orchard

Admission is free

ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu returns for its third year to recognise Singapore’s most outstanding photographer. In conjunction with Martell Cordon Bleu’s centenary celebrations, ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu will include new elements as part of this 100th year milestone. Curated around the centenary’s theme of Eternal Discovery, the photography exhibition will be presented in a multimedia format, thus taking photography appreciation to a whole new level. ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu will also be awarding the Eternal Discovery prize to the photographer with the most votes. The public can vote online at http://www.icon-martellcordonbleu.com.

The exhibition will be held in a specially constructed gallery called The Timeless Capsule outside ION Orchard. The Timeless Capsule will also host an exhibition on the heritage of the legendary Martell Cordon Bleu cognac as well as fringe activities involving art and gastronomy.