A Collared Kingfisher along Stamford Road

17 07 2012

Nature in an urban space …

The Birds and the Bees

A Collared Kingfisher seen at the grounds of the former National Library along Stamford Road on 6 July 2012.

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Mapping memories of the Bras Basah area

8 06 2012

The streets around the Bras Basah Road area are ones that I am familiar with through my four years of interactions with them as a secondary schoolboy and also from going to church in the area in my early years. A lot has changed since those days – the school I went to and the many others in the area have all moved out along with the many businesses and household that were displaced when the wave of redevelopment swept through the area in the 1980s. Today, the world that I find is one that, without the buzz that all that has been displaced over the three decades since I left school, is silent and without colour.

The streets around the former SJI are ones that although is not devoid of life, now seem silent and without colour.

Silent, colourless and changed as the streets may seem, there is still the many memories of them embedded in the many places around the area – memories that I have attempted to capture through entries in this blog, as well as through photographs as a trigger of memory On a Little Street in Singapore – a little Facebook group that I started with the aim of sharing memories of a Singapore we have all left behind. On a Little Street in Singapore has proven not just to be a place to share memories, but has also turned out to be a repository of the memories of many, separated by circumstances, by time and by unfamiliarity, are connected by their interactions with the same places.

One that has resisted the wave of redevelopment – St. Joseph’s Church in Victoria Street, helps to connect the present with the past.

I have been scratching my head on a way in which the captured can be connected – not just those on this blog, but also those on the Facebook Group – which isn’t as easy to navigate through as I would have liked it to be. It wasn’t until I decided to help a friend on a project to record memories of the Bras Basah precinct that I thought of doing what now seems obvious – place them on a map. With an available online tool such as Google Maps, that not only makes putting placemarks to mark the location of a memory possible, it is also possible to connect the places with captured memories through links to photographs, blog entries and even discussions on the Facebook Group. This I have done for the Bras Basah area – and maybe a little beyond it and with that (the navigable map can be found embedded below), it becomes not just a tool to capture and navigate through the memories of the area, but also to aid in the appreciation of the area’s recent and otherwise forgotten history and to discover little bits of the past that lies beneath the glass and steel edifices that now dominate the area.





The case of the missing fountain

3 09 2011

There is a pretty little fountain whose whereabouts are not known. It was a fountain which graced the courtyard of that red brick library along Stamford Road we all loved, and hasn’t been seen since the National Library moved to new premises where an Empress once stood. The red brick library has since bid farewell to this world, going the way of several other easily identifiable buildings that were once scattered around the foot of Fort Canning Hill and all that is left are two pillars to remind us of its existence, leaving little else behind. What seems to have disappeared with the building is the fountain, a pretty Renaissance styled one and a more recent addition to the courtyard of the library.

The Renaissance style fountain that was in the courtyard of the old National Library (photo courtesy of Mr S N Tan).

Those who frequented the library in the late 1990s up to its closure in 2004 may remember the courtyard café and the fountain that came after a renovation of the library in 1997. The previously closed courtyard was then opened up to the public. The National Library’s Singapore Infopedia pages mentions: “the Courtyard was constructed as part of the National Library Building which opened in 1960. The area was not open to the public then and it appears that no (staff and public) activities took place there. The Courtyard was renovated in 1997 when the National Library Building went through major renovation and upgrading works. It subsequently opened with a new look: containing a café and a renaissance fountain, in January 1998. The Courtyard can accommodate up to 120 people”.

The courtyard café and the fountain was a much later addition to the National Library (postcard image courtesy of Mr S N Tan).

The Renaissance Fountain is also mentioned in detail: “the National Library Board Chairman, Dr Tan Chin Nam mooted the idea of a renaissance fountain in the middle of the Courtyard in keeping with the notion of Singapore enjoying a renaissance of the arts. The fountain design is composite of pre-manufactured components put together. The base is a quatrefoil and superimposed square-emblematic of the transition from the medieval or Gothic into the quattrocento (the totality of cultural and artistic events and movements that occurred in Italy during the 15th century, the major period of the Early Renaissance). This design was also used quite extensively by Italian artists of the period. The fleur-de-lis at the top is unique, as it is the symbol of Florence: the birthplace of the renaissance”.

Based on information at the National Library's Singapore Infopedia site, the idea was mooted by the then NLB Chairman, Dr Tan Chin Nam, to signify Singapore enjoying a renaissance of the arts (photo courtesy of Mr S N Tan).

While the fountain is a recent addition and probably not really representative of the old National Library as we wish to remember it, it does represent a period of revival, not just for the red brick building, but also one of public consciousness for the conservation of heritage. There is a chance that it may still be intact – it seems it may have been passed on to the Singapore Management University (SMU) which now dominates the Stamford Road area (although no one I have asked who are connected with SMU seems to have seen it). And if it can be found, it should really be put on public display, not just as a reminder of the red brick library, but for what the red brick building, in those final days, had stood for.

Another view of the courtyard and fountain (photo courtesy of Mr S N Tan).





Beautiful buildings and a tale of buried treasure under a bridge: Memories of Stamford Road

21 02 2010

I loved passing through Stamford Road as a child. This was the road that started with the sight of a needle like structure that is the Civilian War Memorial, rising up where Nicoll Highway and Connaught Drive merged, close to where the Satay Club and that semi-circular hawker centre at the end of the Esplanade were located. The brilliant white needle like structure for me evoked a sense of mystery, looking as if it was a rocket destined for the moon, or perhaps, put there by visitors from another world to serve as an observation post. The structure actually comprises four pillars rising each representing the four main race groups is dedicated to civilians who perished during the Japanese occupation, and was unveiled on 15 February 1967, the 25th anniversary of the fall of Singapore.

The Civilian War Memorial.

A new "needle" the 73 storey Swissôtel The Stamford now towers over the original across Beach Road. When it was built in 1986, the then Westin Stamford was the World's tallest hotel.

The old and the new. The 68m tall Civilian War Memorial at War Memorial Park was completed in 1967 is dwarfed by the 226m Swissôtel The Stamford.

Back then, the now undercover Stamford Canal, which runs parallel to Stamford Road, was open for all to see. On the canal side of the road, bridges over the canal could be found at the intersections of the roads that ran perpendicular to Stamford Road, with names such as Polglase Bridge (on North Bridge Road) and Malcolm Bridge (on Victoria Street). I remember an interesting story about Polglase Bridge sometime in the mid 1970s. An elderly lady sparked off a frantic dig for buried treasure on the bank of the canal underneath the bridge, after relating how while hiding under the bridge during the Japanese occupation, she had witnessed Japanese soldiers forcing some civilians to bury what she thought was gold there – I am not sure if anything was found.

The junction with Beach Road would have been the first intersection along Stamford Road heading north – this would be where the white-washed St. Andrew’s Cathedral would stare at me from the left, and, over the Stamford Canal, the buildings that housed Raffles Institution (RI) before it moved to Grange Road in 1972. For a while the disused buildings stood there looking somewhat tired and abandoned until it was demolished at the end of the 1970s to make way for the I.M. Pei designed Raffles City complex.

Saint Andrew's Cathedral as seen from Stamford Road.

The former Raffles Institution as seen from Beach Road, 1975 (Photo source: Ray Tyers Singapore Then & Now).

Stamford Road in 1976 at the junction with Beach Road. On the area on the right of the picture now stands Raffles City (Photo source: Ray Tyers Singapore Then & Now).

The same junction today with the Swissôtel The Stamford towering over the area.

My favourite stretch of the road began at the junction with North Bridge Road. This was of course where Capitol Building stood, with its façade dominated by a colourful hand-painted canvas mural which brightly advertised what was being screened at the cinema theatre that stood hidden behind the building. The building itself was put up in 1933 and was designed in eclectically in a neo-Classical style. Capitol is in fact one of the five iconic cinema buildings that were featured in a stamp set “Cinema Theatres of Yesteryear” issued by Singpost in 2009, and would deserve more detailed mention in a post on its own.

Capitol building with its façade dominated by a colourful hand-painted canvas mural featuring what was being screened at the cinema that stood hidden behind the building (Photo courtesy of Mr Derek Tait).

Capitol Building today.

The building housing the actual cinema hidden behind the Capitol Building.

This stretch that brings us past the junction with Victoria Street right up to the junction with Armenian Street and Queen Street also featured some wonderful examples of architecture on the left-hand side: Stamford House, Eu Court and the MPH Building. Stamford House, next to Capitol Building, stands at the junction of Stamford Road built in the Venetian Renaissance-style in the early 1900s, was originally the Oranjie Building, and for a while was the Oranjie Hotel in 1930s. The art deco styled Eu Court across Hill Street from Stamford House was built in the late 1920s as an apartment block. Sadly the beautiful building was demolished in 1992 to make way for the widening of Victoria and Hill Streets, being replaced by Stamford Court, a building that seems out of sync with the architecture of the area, sticking out like a sore thumb. MPH building, which was built in 1908 in an Edwardian commercial street style is one that I frequently visited and have fond memories of, housed the MPH bookstore until 2003.

A refurbished Stamford House as seen from the junction of Stamford Road and Victoria Street.

Stamford Court (on the left) sticking out like a sore thumb at the junction of Hill Street and Stamford Road was built over the site of the former Art Deco Styled Eu Court.

Over the canal on the canal side of the street at the section between North Bridge Road and Victoria Streets was the walled compound of the Holy Infant Jesus Convent (CHIJ). A three storey building lined the canal behind the wall. This housed the convent’s secondary school. Looking up on the background of the area, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was built on the site of what were several bungalows which once were used by a Hotel van Wijk, established to serve Dutch travellers to Singapore in the early 1900s. The bungalows were taken over by the convent in 1933 when the hotel ceased operations, and were used to house St. Nicholas Girls School. The three storey building replaced the bungalows in the early 1950s. In the place of the building, the SMRT headquarters now stands, another building that seems to destroy the character of the area. Along the next stretch, another girls school – the Raffles Girls School was located over the canal between Victoria and Queen Streets. A building belonging to the Singapore Management University (SMU) now stands in its place.

The bungalows that housed the Hotel van Wijk were demolished to make way for a three storey building which housed the CHIJ secondary school in the early 1950s (Photo source: Ray Tyers Singapore Then & Now).

The SMRT Headquarters stands in place of the CHIJ Secondary School Building at the site of the former Hotel van Wyjk.

Past the junction with Armenian Street and Queen Street, the was a row of shop houses on the left – one of the shops there dealt with crocodile skin products and had a glass display of bags, boots, shoes, wallets and a stuffed crocodile, one that I could not help but peer at every time I waited for a bus at the bus stop which was in front of the row of shops. This is the stretch that led up to the iconic red brick National Library building, which sadly, modern Singapore has no place for. The library which closed in 2004 and the stretch of road just that led up towards the end of Stamford Road where the National Museum is has since been swallowed up by the Fort Canning Tunnel. Stamford Road being realigned around the tunnel as a result of this, meeting up with a part of the original stretch in front of the National Museum to where the road ends at Bencoolen Street and Fort Canning Road.

The red-brick National Library building along Stamford Road (Source: National Library http://www.nl.sg)

Left as a reminder of the former National Library, the red-brick posts that stood at the entrance to the library.

Fort Canning Link leading up to the newly constructed Fort Canning Tunnel runs over what used to be the stretch of Stamford Road that led to the National Library.

Fort Canning Link leading up to the Fort Canning Tunnel swallowing up the stretch of Stamford Road that ran past the National Library. Evidence of the bus stop in the form of a bus bay from where I caught service number 166 home still exists. The area along the lower left of the picture along the road used to be lined with a row of shop houses.

Another view of Fort Canning Link.

On the canal side, there was of course the SJI school field between Queen Street and what was Waterloo Street. The basketball court was located at this end of the field and there was a story that circulated then that involved the ghost of a person who was said to have hanged himself at the posts of the basketball court there. I seem to remember that there was a car park on the canal side on the stretch from Waterloo Street to Bencoolen Street, filling the space between the former CYMA and the canal.

The neo-classical National Museum Building was completed in 1887 and marks the end of Stamford Road.

Looking up from the junction where Stamford Road merged into a disjointed section of Orchard Road then, there was a beautiful mansion like building that was the YMCA that would stare at you. The building had served as the headquarters of the Japanese Kempetai during the Second World War and we were told it held prisoners who were tortured by the Kempetai, the much feared Military Police. The old YMCA building which had the distinction of a being at No. 1, Orchard Road, sadly has had to make way for the newer, bigger and more modern premises of the YMCA, being demolished in 1981.

The beautiful old YMCA building on 1 Orchard Road (Photo source: YMCA Singapore).