The area around Toa Payoh Library 37 years ago

23 11 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





An Oasis lost

3 10 2010

With the news carried by the local print media on Thursday that the demolition of the National Stadium has started, there has been much focus on the stadium itself and how it would remain in the hearts of the many Singaporeans who have sat on its terraces since it was built for the 7th South East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games in 1973. Having been a landmark in the Kallang area for close to four decades, the area would probably look a little bare once the grey icon and its four floodlight towers makes an exit from the landscape off Nicoll Highway and Mountbatten Road.

The Today report on the start of demolition at the National Stadium on 30 Sep 2010.

Demolition work has began in earnest and access to roads in the vicinity of the stadium are now restricted (seen on 1 Oct 2010).

For me, the stadium always seemed an invariable part of the landscape in the Kallang area, one that stood firm despite the many changes that have overtaken the area around it since the days when it first dominated the area. Some of the sights familiar to me that had kept the stadium company in the earlier days of the stadium had since abandoned the Grand Old Lady. One of these was the bright and lively Guillemard Circus that I had always been fond of passing … with its colourful neon signs that transformed it into a wonderland of light at night – one that somehow I recall being dominated by the huge Knife Brand Cooking Oil advertisement. There was of course the old Wonderland Amusement Park that had my favourite ride – a roller coaster that I would persuade my parents to return to the park for time and time again – the Wonderland was in fact how I had first become acquainted with the area. Years later, I was to spend a short period of time at a shipyard on the banks of the Geylang River just by the area where the Wonderland was located, walking past the stadium from a bus stop in Kallang everyday to get to the area around Jalan Benaan Kapal which has since been transformed in a way that makes it had to imagine slipways lining what were dirty and muddy river banks.

The newly constructed stadium was the most modern in South East Asia and provided an ideal setting for the birth of the Kallang Roar. The stadium had stood as a landmark in the area since it opened in 1973.

The stadium being prepared for demolition on 28 Sep 2010.

I have had over the 37 years had a love affair with the Grand Old Lady, one that started in 1974 with the first leg of the Malaysia Cup semi-final match played between Singapore and Penang. It was where I had first watched a football match live … and became part of the frenzied atmosphere that accompanied the matches played in the stadium featuring Singapore which became known as the much Kallang Roar. In its heyday, as many as 70,000 pairs of feet would stamp on the terraces combined with 70,000 voices that gave the stadium that thunderous blare that put fear in many visiting teams at the stadium.

A reflection on an icon that will soon be a mirage ...

The stadium had often in its life been referred to as the “Lions’ Den”, not after the pair of stone Merdeka Lions that had once stood guard at the ends of the span of the Merdeka Bridge, being moved to stand guard at the area on which Stadium Boulevard had been constructed, but after the national football team which besides being referred to as the “Boys in Blue” – a reference to the sky blue jerseys they wore in the 1970s and 1980s, were also referred to as the “Lions”. The pair of lions also abandoned the stadium – sometime perhaps at the end of the 1980s.

One of the floodlight towers that dominated the Kallang landscape.

A lion watches sadly from across Nicoll Highway as the former Lions Den is being torn down.

Whilst there were many that abandoned the Grand Old Lady, there had been a few that managed to stay with it throughout its life. Among those that have kept the stadium company were the nearby Police Coast Guard (Marine Police) headquarters which moved to Pulau Brani with the construction of the Marina Barrage, and a somewhat forgotten icon of the area: the Oasis Restaurant complex. The Oasis would be going the way of the stadium as well, having stood where it was for some forty years. Indeed the Oasis had been as much of an icon in the Kallang Park area since it was opened in 1969 as the Oasis Theatre Restaurant, Cabaret and Nightclub. Comprising a three storey main building and three auxiliary buildings built on stilts extending out some 100 metres over the Kallang Basin, the complex was a popular night spot for many years. The octagonal shaped auxiliary buildings which housed restaurants provided the complex with its distinctive character which Singaporeans immediately identified with the complex and provided a unique dining experience for many were completed in 1970 and operated until the closure of the complex a few years back. The octagonal shaped buildings and the three storey main building are also in the process of being torn down, and a feature that will also be missing from the area very soon.

The former Police Coast Guard HQ near the stadium.

The distinctive octagonal structures on stilts that used to be part of the Oasis Restaurant complex over the Kallang Basin.

The 3-storey main building of the former Oasis being demolished (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

The octagonal buildings being reflected off the Kallang Basin. Once giving a distinctive character to the basin, the reflections of the basin will soon reflect only the sky (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

One of the octagonal buildings being demolished (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

With the icons of its past being dismantled, Kallang will no doubt never look the same again. That change is inevitable in land scarce Singapore is something that we as Singaporeans have come to accept. In the case of Kallang, the change is certainly necessary – one that will give Singapore a sorely needed modern sports hub that is sorely lacking at the moment. Still, there is that part of me that doesn’t want to let go … the part that will always remember Kallang fondly for the roller coaster rides not just that Wonderland brought with it, but the ones that the Lions took us on in the thrills and spills that accompanied their exploits in the Malaysia Cup.

Vanishing scenes around Nicoll Highway.

The north east floodlight tower looks like it would be the first of the four to come down.

More views around the stadium and its environs taken on 28 Sep 2010: