The last, and a soon to be lost countryside

22 09 2016

A charming and a most delightful part of Singapore that, as with all good places on an island obsessed with over-manicured spaces, is set to vanish from our sights is the one-time grounds of the Singapore Turf Club. Vacated in 1999 when horse racing was moved to Kranji, it has remained relatively undisturbed in the its long wait to be redeveloped and is a rare spot on the island in which time seems to have stood very still.

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The last …

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… soon to be lost countryside.

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Light and shadow in a part of Singapore in which light may soon be fading.

Once a rubber estate of more than 30,000 trees, the grounds grew from an initial 98 hectares that the original turf club purchased in 1929 to the 141 hectares by the time the club’s successor vacated it, spread across what has been described as “lush and undulating terrain”. By this time, it was occupied by two racetracks, several practice tracks, up to 700 stables, pastures and paddocks, accommodation units, a hospital for horses, an apprentice jockey school, two stands, car parks with many pockets of space now rarely seen in Singapore in between. Parts of the grounds gave one a feel of a countryside one could not have imagined as belonging to Singapore. Full of a charm and character of its own, it was (and still is) a unique part of a Singapore in which redevelopment has robbed  many once distinct spaces of their identities.

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The former grounds of the Singapore Turf Club offers a drive through a countryside we never thought we had in Singapore.

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As un-Singaporean a world as one can get in Singapore.

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A wooded part of the former turf club grounds.

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More wooded parts.

A section of the grounds that is particularly charming is the site on which the Bukit Timah Saddle Club operates. Set across 10.5 hectares of green rolling hills decorated with white paddock fences, the area has even more of an appearance of the country in a far distant land. The saddle club, which was an offshoot of original turf club, was set up in 1951 to allow retired race horses to be re-trained and redeployed for recreational use. It has been associated with the grounds since then, operating in a beautiful setting in which one finds a nice spread of buildings, stables and paddocks in a sea of green.

A cafe at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

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The Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

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A cafe at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

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A 12 year-old horse named Chavo, being given a run in a paddock.

In the vicinity of the saddle club, there is an equally charming area where one finds a cluster of low-rise buildings that hark back to a time we have almost forgotten. Built in the 1950s as quarters for the turf club’s sizeable workforce and their families, the rows of housing containing mainly three-roomed units are now camouflaged by a wonderfully luxurious sea of greenery. Some of those these units would have housed were apprentice jockeys, syces, their mandores, riding boys and workers for the huge estate workers that the turf club employed. The community numbered as many as 1000 at its height and was said to have a village-like feel. Two shops served the community with a small mosque, the Masjid Al-Awabin, and a small Hindu temple, the Sri Muthumariamman put up to cater to the community’s spiritual needs.

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Former Quarters, many of which would have been built in the 1950s.

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Former Turf Club quarters.

Not far from the area of housing and the saddle club at Turf Club Road is what has to be a strangest of sights in the otherwise green settings – a row of junk (or antique depending on how you see it) warehouses known as Junkies’ Corner that many have a fascination for. This, for all that it is worth, counts as another un-Singaporean sight, one that sadly is only a temporary one set in a world that will soon succumb to the relentless tide of redevelopment.

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Junkies’ Corner.

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Traffic going past Junkie’s Corner.

The signs that time is being called on the grounds are already there with the former turf club quarters surrounded by a green fence of death. Based on what has been reported, the leases on several of sites on the grounds including that of the saddle club (it has occupied its site on a short term basis since the 1999 acquisition of the turf club’s former grounds) and what has been re-branded as The Grandstand will not be extended once they run out in 2018.  A check on the URA Master Plan reveals that the prime piece of land would be given for future residential development and it seems quite likely that this will soon be added to the growing list of easy to love places in Singapore that we will very quickly have to fall out of love with.

Former Turf Club Master Plan

URA Master Plan 2014 shows that the former turf club grounds will be redeveloped as residential area.


More views of the area:

(aslo at this link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10210755341268240.1073742271.1491125619&type=1&l=77fc0ee8cf)

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A Pacific Swallow.

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Update 23 September 2016:

It has been brought to my attention that there may be an small extension of the tenancy period, at least for The Grandstand, granted beyond the expiry of its lease in February 2018. The possible extension of 2 years and 10 months, reflected on the SLA website, will go up to the end of 2020, and its seems then that redevelopment of the area may take place only after that.


 

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The great “hold up” at the sixth mile

24 07 2015

1999 would have been a year that is celebrated by the residents of the area in and around the 6th Milestone of Bukit Timah. It was in August of that year when the Singapore Turf Club (STC) moved its race course from its sprawling 140 ha. site off Dunearn Road north to the site of the current race course at Kranji, bringing much relief to the area’s long suffering residents.

The old and new grandstands of the former Bukit Timah Race Course as seen today.

The old and new grandstands of the former Bukit Timah Race Course as seen today.

Opened on 15 April 1933 by the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Clementi, who made his grand entrance riding in on the back of a horse; the race course was to experience its first race day traffic holdup at its inaugural race meeting in May of the same year. Described as “Saturdays Great Hold Up” in a 22 May 1933 report in the  Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, a motorist spoke of the 25 minutes it took him to cover the final mile into the car park, which was said to be almost three times as long as the time he had taken to cover the distance from town to the new race course.

A post card a newly built new Turf Club in the 1930s.

A post card of the then newly built new Race Course with its iconic 5000 seat grandstand.

That the 1933 opening was a grand occasion, there is little doubt. Among the 5000 guests at the opening was the Sultan and Sultanah of Johor, the Tunku Mahkota, as well as the Sultan of Perak – who was at the time the largest individual owner of racehorses in Malaya.

The original south grandstand.

The original south grandstand as seen today.

The new course, designed by Swan and MacLaren, was itself built as a replacement for the older race course at what is today Farrer Park. The older race course’s location in the city made it difficult for it to be expanded and a decision was taken in 1927 to sell off the site, the use of which went back to the Singapore Turf Club’s founding as the Singapore Sporting Club in 1842, to the Singapore Improvement Trust. A new site was identified and the 244 acres (99 ha.) acquired from the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate for it in 1929 required the felling of some 25,000 of the estate’s rubber trees and a huge effort in the levelling of the area’s undulating terrain. The new race course’s location also made it convenient to move racehorses around to the other venues in the Straits Racing Association’s circuit in the Peninsula by rail with the re-sited Bukit Timah Railway Station of the 1932 railway deviation located just a stone’s throw away.

A view of the south grandstand from the car park.

A view of the former south grandstand from the car park.

A reminder of its horsey past.

A reminder of its horsey past.

Among the features of the new race course and its spread of structures such as stables and quarters was its rather iconic grandstand with its distinctive central clock tower. The three tier grandstand at its opening contained a royal box and press box on its second level and stewards’ and owners’ boxes on the upper tier. The stand was also fitted out with some 2000 tip-up teak chairs, which was described as “the largest single chair order East of the Suez”.

A track-side  view of the former South Grandstand.

A track-side view of the former South Grandstand.

One thing that the Turf Club, renamed in 1924 as the Singapore Turf Club, wasn’t able to do was to commemorate its centenary with war interrupting the running of races from Octber 1941 to November 1947. The days leading up to the fall of Singapore saw the British Military move in and during the occupation the race course and its auxiliary buildings were reportedly used as a prisoner of war camp and its lawns used for growing food crops.

The area where the former race track was - now used as a sports ground.

The area where the former race track was – now used as a sports ground.

Much of the appearance that the former race course’s main structures display today, are the result of work carried out to expand its capacity in the 1970s and 1980s. A second grandstand, the North Grandstand, which expanded the seating capacity to 8,000 and a possible 50,000 standing, was added in 1981. The two-storey car park we still see on the grounds today, was an addition made at the end of the 1980s. Another addition made, a multi-storey car park with a capacity of 2900 cars at the corner of Swiss Club Road and Dunearn Road, has however since been demolished.

The north grandstand, which came up in the early 1980s.

The north grandstand, which came up in the early 1980s.

The upper deck of the two-storey car park that was added at the end of the 1980s.

The upper deck of the two-storey car park that was added at the end of the 1980s.

The grounds, zoned in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Master Plan for future residential use, was soon after the race course’s last meeting in July 1999, re-purposed in part for use as Turf City. Among the tenants during an initial ten-year period and the extension of its lease to 2012, were a hypermarket, dining outlets, early education providers and other retail outlets in the former grandstands as well used car dealers on the ground level of the spacious double-storey car park. During this time the building took on a rather worn and tired look.

The link way between the car park and the former grandstand.

The link way between the car park and the former grandstand.

A touch of the countryside nearby at the   Bukit Timah Saddle Club - which has been using part of the race course's estate since 1951.

A touch of the countryside nearby at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club – which has been using part of the race course’s estate since 1951.

Under a new leasee, the former grandstands and car park has been refurbished and reopened as The Grandstand in 2012. Besides the hypermarket and used car dealers from the Turf City days, The Grandstand has also attracted a host of dining outlets and a new-age food hall style market. This is however, only in the interim as under the terms of the new lease, even if some S$20 million has been pumped into the refurbishment, will see it used for a maximum of 3 + 3 years, after which the race course and its long association with Bukit Timah, will possibly only be a distant memory,

As Turf City - seen in early 2012.

As Turf City – seen in early 2012.

Another look at the inside of the South Grandstand in its Turf City days.

Another look at the inside of the South Grandstand in its Turf City days.

The last days of Turf City.

The last days of Turf City.

Other parts of the former race course site such as the former stables at 100 Turf Club Road have also been re-purposed - this as HorseCity.

Other parts of the former race course site such as the former stables at 100 Turf Club Road have also been re-purposed – this as HorseCity.

A residence belonging formerly to the Turf Club, which remains vacant.

A residence belonging formerly to the Turf Club, which remains vacant.