An old world hidden on Forbidden Hill

14 05 2012

Hidden on a terrace behind the blood and bandages of the Central Fire Station is a delightful old bungalow set amid the luscious greenery of a hill that was once an abode of the Kings. From the world that lies below, it is hard to imagine the world that does exist on the terrace – the entrance to the grounds on which it is set in is well hidden, nestled in between the mystery of the Masonic Hall and a building that I had once remembered as housing the Methodist Book Room, now the Singapore Philatelic Museum.

The entrance to the Flutes at the Fort housed in a century old colonial bungalow is hidden between the mysterious Masonic Hall and the Singapore Philatelic Museum.

A pathway takes one along the back of the Central Fire Station up to a terrace on which the delightful black and white century old bungalow sits.

I found myself heading up to the bungalow one afternoon, headed for an event held to honour the founder of Azimuth, Alvin Lye as The Glenlivet Pioneer of the Year. Stepping through the hidden entrance way, a sign reveals that it is to the Flutes at the Fort that I was heading to, up through a shady part that ran along the back fence of the Central Fire Station, up to a world a large part of I am familiar with from my many explorations in the area during my days in school. To the bungalow that stood on a terrace above the pathway, I had not previously ventured to, and it was as much to satisfy my curiosity for what is a conserved black and white bungalow – the only one now on the hill that was in the days of the Kings of Singapore known as “Forbidden Hill“, as well as to attend the event itself, that I found myself making my way up to the terrace.

A view from the pathway.

The bungalow and an auxiliary building.

The bungalow elevated on stilts and with a generous amount of openings to keep it cool and airy – as is common in many similar houses built to house senior officers of the Colonial administration which this one apparently also built as, was built at the turn of the last century during the same period that the Central Fire Station itself was. It served as the quarters of the Superintendent of the Singapore Fire Brigade convenient in its location at the back of what had been the first and main fire station it overlooks. Although available information identifies the bungalow as being one built in 1908, it does appear that the construction took place after the start of construction of the Central Fire Station. It was built at a cost of $7,800 with the tender for its construction “in accordance to plans and specifications” drawn up by the Municipal Engineer that was awarded to the same contractor that built the Central Fire Station, a Chia Tien Siew, in May 1909.

The bungalow sits on a terrace over the Central Fire Station.

Elevated on stilts, the bungalow features a generous amount of openings that is typical of colonial residences.

The very first occupant of bungalow when it was completed was perhaps fittingly the then Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, Montague William Pett, the first professionally trained Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, who arrived from England in 1905 and served as the Superintendent up until 1912. In his time here, Pett had seen to the construction of the fire station, seen to the modernisation of the fire brigade’s equipment and transformed the fire brigade into a respected and effective force.

The stairway up to the bungalow.

A view from the verandah.

The lovely setting in which the very spacious and airy bungalow off what is Lewin Terrace that served as the residence of Pett and the colonial Superintendents of the Fire Brigade that followed has been given conservation status since November 2005 makes it an ideal place to hide a restaurant, Flutes at the Fort, away that in the words of the restaurant itself, is “a vineyard inspired experience (that) affords a time away from the noise of the city and modern distractions”. On the basis of what I discovered, it certainly is a place that takes one far away from the noise of the city, and to a time

The verandah.

The bungalow is now used by a restaurant Flutes at the Fort.





Back to a time I have forgotten

10 05 2012

My entry into the world came in the still of the morning, at a time when the world beyond the delivery room had been anything but still. Insulated from tumultuous events that accompanied the first year of Singapore’s merger with the Malayan Federation by the oblivion of early childhood, life as I would remember it seemed anything but calm in the world where I had spent the earliest years of my life.

Church of the Blessed Sacrament.

That world is one that I have of late tried to reconnect with. It is a world of which I remember very little of – most of what I remember is associated with the Commonwealth Crescent area where I lived and of the walks I took with my parents in the area. Beyond that, it is the physical structures of the places as I remember them that I sometimes see in my memory, and ones that I have sought as a reminder of my connection to the place. Of the physical structures that I have long identified with the wider area, there were two beside the residential blocks that remain etched in my memory, across Commonwealth Avenue in what is commonly referred to as the Tanglin Halt area. One, a blue cylindrical tank – the gas holding tank of what had been the Queenstown Gasholder Station at Tanglin Halt, has long since disappeared, falling victim to the switch from City Gas production in the 1990s to imported natural gas. The other, also dominated by the blue of a prominent part of its structure, is thankfully still there, unaltered by the passage of time. That structure is that of a building that which some say is “more roof than building” – the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.

The church’s interior.

The church, with a very distinctive blue slate roof that dominates its structure, is one that I very much have an attachment to, being where I had been baptised all those years back. Standing out in an area that would have otherwise been dominated by the ramp of the road that has expanded beside it, the building was designed by James Gordon Dowsett of the architectural firm Iversen, Van Sitteren and Partners. Dowsett was the creator of two buildings that also become well recognised in their time – the old Shaw House and Lido Theatre. The design of the roof, said to resemble paper being folded in the art of origami, was inspired by the shape of a tent. This, based on information on the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) page on the conservation of the church, was to symbolise  the “tent of meeting” in the Old Testament. The page provides further information elaborating further that “the roof dips downwards to wrap the interior with portions touching the ground, reminiscent of anchoring pegs” which functionally also serve as drainage points for rainwater. More information on the church’s architecture and interior can be found at the URA Conservation of Build Heritage web page. The church which was blessed and officially opened on 8 May 1965 by the Roman Catholic Archibishop of Malacca and Singapore, Monsignor Michael Olcomendy, was gazetted for conservation on 25 November 2005.

Father Odo Tiggeloven, one of the church’s two founding priests, signing the baptism register in the Damien Hall.

Stepping inside the church, the warmness of the visual greeting provided by the soft light filtering through that casts a warm glow over the wood flavoured interior seems to also extend a spiritual welcome. I realised then that it had been a long while since I visited the church – not since I shifted away as a child of three and a half. As I looked around me, it was nice to see that the church is one that has stayed very much the same as it had been at its beginnings close to half a century ago. In that, it is also nice to know that in a world in which we have been quick to forget the past, there is a place that I can come to where the past hasn’t been forgotten.

Soft light filters through into the interior of the church.

One more view of the inside of the church.





75 feet above the harbour

30 03 2012

From a vantage point 75 feet (about 23 metres) over Singapore’s former harbour, officers with the Harbour Division of the Preventive Branch of the Department of Customs and Excise (which later became Singapore Customs), stood watch over the Inner Roads of the harbour for more than three decades. The vantage point, a panoramic lookout tower that we still today, was part of the Customs Harbour Branch Building built over an L-shaped pier along the waterfront at the end of Collyer Quay. The building and pier, built at a cost of S$1.8 million, was completed in October 1969. The complex housed the 300 strong force of the then Harbour Division, as well as provided berths and maintenance facilities (which included a slipway) for some 35 launches and speedboats of the Division when it first opened. The building also provided cargo examination facilities and its construction allowed the Division to move from its somewhat makeshift premises in a godown in Telok Ayer Basin.

What is today a posh dining destination, Customs House, with its very distinct 75 foot lookout tower, was formerly the Customs Harbour Branch Building. It was completed in October 1969 and housed the Harbour Division of the Customs Preventive Branch.

The Customs Harbour Branch Building in 2006 (source: URA site on Conservation Matters).

Collyer Quay in July 1974 seen beyond the Detached Mole, a breakwater that sheltered the Inner Roads from the opened Outer Roads. The Customs Harbour Branch Building and its distinct 75 foot tower is seen on the extreme left of the photograph (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan).

While 75 feet in the context of what now surrounds the former Customs complex, the tower allowed customs officers to keep a round-the-clock watch over the harbour for small boats attempting to sneak dutiable goods into Singapore. The octagonal shaped and fully air-conditioned watch tower which is supported by a cylindrical base provided a panoramic view which extended beyond the Inner Roads to the mouth of the Singapore River, the Geylang River and Tanjong Rhu. Officers spotting a suspicious boat could then alert their colleagues manning the speedboats which were on standby by the pier who would then head out to intercept the suspicious boat.

A side elevation of the former Customs Harbour Branch Building with its very distinct lookout tower (source: URA site on Conservation Matters).

At the bottom of the 75 feet climb up a spiral staircase to the lookout tower - reminiscent of climbs up several lighthouses I've visited.

In between heavy panting, I managed to appreciate the view halfway up.

At the end of the 75 feet climb - a view of the lookout tower's ceiling.

Looking down at the cause of my heavy breathing.

Use for the building and the pier in its intended role ended with the construction of the Marina Barrage which cut what were the Inner Roads of the old harbour off from the sea and the building then under the Maritime and Port Authority’s charge was passed over to the Singapore Land Authority in 2006. Customs House was given conservation status in 2007 and was reopened as a dining destination under the management of Fullerton Heritage, which also manages the former Clifford Pier and the Fullerton Hotel. The tower itself is however disused and remains inaccessible to the general public.

At the top of the lookout tower.

The lookout tower no longer commands a view of a harbour littered with bumboats, twakows and tongkangs, but of the new world that is Marina Bay.

Show me the money! An interpretation perhaps of the new view - as seen in the reflection of a window of the lookout tower offered by one of the installations for i Light Marina Bay 2012 - Teddy Lo's MEGAPOV.

Seeing double - BIBI's Bibigloo and a reflection of it as viewed from the lookout tower.








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