Sometimes it saddens me to see what some of the sites in which contributions have been made to the history of Singapore have been reduced to. One such site is the former Singapore Badminton Hall in Guillemard Road, which is now apparently used as a prawn fishing venue. The hall which was constructed from 1951 to 1952 had seen some significant moments in our history, one of which was the counting of votes in the 1962 referendum for Singapore to merge with the Federation of Malaya (along with the Borneo colonies of Sabah and Sarawak), as well as playing host to the Thomas Cup and many badminton competitions in which we were able to catch many of the illustrious names in the sport over the years. The hall was built to host the second Thomas Cup competition, following Malaya’s victory at the inaugural competition in 1949, but it was only completed in May 1952, a little too late to be in time for the competition which was to be held that May. The troubled beginning for the hall had in fact started before its construction, and it was only following delays caused by disagreements, late approvals and a lack of funds, that work started in July 1951. The hall which had been originally expected to cost some $300,000 of which less than $200,000 was initially raised, cost close to $850,000 by the time it was completed, and it eventually took a benefactor, in the shape of the building’s contractor, to cover the shortfall in funds.
Over the years since its official opening in June 1952, until it closed in January 2008 having hosted its last badminton competition in December 2007, many events were held at the hall, including the third and fourth Thomas Cups, the third which Malaya won and the fourth, the Indonesians. There were also other sports events, dances, and even performances by striptease artist Rose Chan that the hall hosted. Many of these were well before I came into the world and by the time I was conscious of the hall’s existence, badminton had been in a state of decline in Singapore and the hall seemed to be a sweaty, dingy, dusty, place to which I came occasionally to support the school badminton team. My memories of the hall relate mostly to these occasions in which I often came out of the hall drenched in perspiration and a pair of shorts that showed evidence of the dirty, dusty and hard terraces on which we sat to watch the school team play. On one occasion, I had somehow managed to also get my the white of my shirt stained by the dusty walls and railings with black streaks that ruined the shirt. This resulted in a good earful from my mother and fortunately for me, that was the last occasion on which I ever set foot in the hall … that is until very recently when I discovered that the courts have been invaded by pools of prawns.
Another memory I have of the hall that comes to mind, although I wasn’t physically present, would be Singapore’s Wong Shoon Keat’s fabulous three set victory over Hastomo Abri of Indonesia in the men’s singles finals of the South East Asian Games in June 1983, which came on the back of another three set triumph over the then reigning world champion, Icuk Sugiarto, also of Indonesia, in the team semi-finals which Singapore eventually lost. While many thought that that would herald a revival in the fortunes of Singapore’s badminton scene which the illustrious Wong Peng Soon once illuminated, sadly, it proved to be a false dawn.
The building, although not a gazetted site, has actually been recognised as a historical site by the National Heritage Board. While this doesn’t have any bearing on how a site or building is used, and recognising that commercial considerations need to be taken in making the preservation of some of these sites or buildings viable, it is still sad to see what sites such as the Singapore Badminton Hall have been reduced to.