Orchard Road’s last shophouses

10 11 2019

Built close to a century ago, the last of Orchard Road’s shophouses stand as a reminder of a time before Singapore’s shopping mile was mall-ed. Comprising four delightful structures at numbers 14 to 38, each a gem of eclectic architectural expression, they also serve to remind us of the rubber trade inspired hopes and aspirations of the decade that followed the end of the Great War. The row, which features three notable edifices and one, no 38, which often goes unnoticed, was acquired by the State in the 1980s following a 1978 gazette for acquisition and gazetted for conservation in November 2000.

The conserved row.

The east end of the row is marked by the cry for attention that the former Malayan Motors showroom is. Designed by Swan and Maclaren’s DS Petrovich, it replaced the Morris and Rolls Royce dealer’s earlier showroom and represented a progression in showroom designs. A length of windows on each side of a projection in its façade provided natural illumination to its upper floors where its upper level showroom was served by a ramp to the ground floor. A scalloped semi-circular gable (if one can call it that) at each end of the roof drew attention to it.

The former Malayan Motors showroom seen in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Completed in 1927, the former showroom can also be thought of as a marker of Orchard Road’s motoring days. Fuelled by the expansion in the rubber market here during the Great War, the demand for the motorcar had risen three-fold between 1913 and 1918, leading to a proliferation in the area of motorcar showrooms, and workshops (several over the canal at what is now Handy Road ) by the 1920s. Vehicle assembly was also introduced and Singapore’s first assembly plant – for Ford – opened in the area with a production capacity of 12 cars a day in 1925. The showroom was built by the Wearnes brothers who also brought in the Fords, which they sold via another dealership, Universal Cars. Besides Morris and Rolls Royce, other brands that the Malayan Motors showroom would have dealt with were Rover and Studebaker.  The showroom made its last sale in August 1980, following which Malayan Motors concentrated its business at its Leng Kee branch. Following its acquisition by the State, the showroom was renovated in 1988 for use by the Singapore Manufacturers’ Association as SMA House. It has been used by MDIS, a private school, since 2002.

The former MidFilm House, then and now.

Another interesting building is the Dutch-gabled former Midfilm House (Middle East Film Building) at no 22 to 24 next to the showroom. This dates back to 1921 and was put up by Middle East Films Ltd, a pioneering distributor of films in Southeast Asia. The building, which is Orchard 22 today, also served as temporary premises for Malayan Motors when its showroom was being rebuilt in 1926-27.

22-24 Orchard Road in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

What is probably now the icing in the cake for the row is the somewhat art deco and possibly modern-classical no 26 to 36 next to the former Midfilm House, which since June 2019, is the resplendent Temasek Shophouse. Built  in 1928, it stands on the site of six older shophouses – three of which had each been acquired by Chee Swee Cheng in 1926, and the other three by E Kong Guan from 1925 to 1926. Both Chee and E had roots in Malacca and were tapioca and rubber planters. Chee was also known to have substantial interests in opium and spirit “farming” in North Borneo and a landowner, who held several properties in Singapore. He is associated with the abandoned villa at 25 Grange Road, Wellington House, often incorrectly referred to as the Chee Guan Chiang mansion – after Chee’s son by a second marriage.

The Temasek Shophouse.

It was Guan Chiang who had the 3-storey 26 to 36 Orchard Road co-developed with E – based on plans drawn up by Westerhout and Oman in 1927. The new building’s interior spaces were split down the middle for each of the two owners, with E’s side being the western half numbered 32 to 36. An office space and store was laid out on each side of the ground floor. The upper floors of each half, each contained a 2-bedroom apartment.

No 26 to 36 in 1984 with the Art Furniture Depot and Sin Sin Furniture occupying the ground floor (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

The office spaces found use as showrooms, both initially occupied by The Art Furniture Depot in 1929. It was this store that the building would have the longest association with. The store gave up one of its showrooms in the early 1930s in the face of the Great Depression. The vacant unit would became the Eddystone Radio showrrom in 1933 and after the war, Sin Sin Furniture’s. Both furniture stores moved out around 1986 when the building was acquired by the State. Following this, substantial modifications were made to the building’s interiors so that it could house Pisces Garments Department Store with escalators, lifts and a mezzanine level were put in. The department store, which opened in 1989, morphed into PMart in 1994.

 

The current transformation has opened up the back of no 26 to 36, giving a full view of it.

The current transformation followed on the award of a tender launched in 2017 to Temasek, on the basis of the quality of concept that it had put forward.  The 18-month refurbishment effort that followed reversed several of the interventions of Pisces and gorgeously and sensitively restored the building, earned a 2019 URA Architectural Heritage Award for restoration. The overhauled interiors now feature a double-volume event space with a green wall featuring native plants. That is – in the context of today – not complete without a social-enterprise café. As an alternative to the street entrance, the garden – which the knocking of a boundary wall at the back has opened up – provides a very nice back door. The back is also where a pair of conserved concrete spiral staircases attached to the building’s rear – perhaps one of the tallest now seen – can be admired together with the equally impressive back façade. Offices, co-working spaces, meeting and function rooms – with native birds as themes, offices, a meeting space on its roof garden and space to accommodate its partners complete the picture.

Shophouses beyond the east end of the row – leading to an expunged street named Dhoby Ghaut – that have since been demolished (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Fresh, innovative and a joy to behold, the Temasek Shophouse brings Temasek Trust and its beneficiaries Temasek Foundation and Stewardship Asia Centre under one roof – with the aim to serve as an incubator of social and philanthropic in initiatives promoting community collaboration and advancing sustainability. It brings, if not for anything else, an injection of purpose to that the conserved row now sorely lacks.

The event space and its green wall.


More photographs of the Temasek Shophouse

A co-working space on the mezzanine.

Another view of the event space and the café.

One of the native bird themed meeting spaces.

Up on the roof.

The rooftop meeting room.

Offices for one or its sustainability partners – which makes furniture out of recycled material.

A pantry within an office space.

A balcony and on of its spiral staircases at the building’s rear.

A balcony overlooking Orchard Road and Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.

A close-up of the Corinthian capitals of the classical-esque columns on the building’s front façade.

Another view of the front balcony.

And another of the rear spiral staircase and balcony.

A downward view to the back garden from one of the spiral staircases.






The lost waterfront

19 09 2013

The former waterfront at Collyer Quay is certainly one place which exemplifies how Singapore has transformed over the years, discarding much of what made Singapore a Singapore which was full of character and flavour, to the sea of glass, steel and concrete Singapore has become today.

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The waterfront we inherited from our colonial masters was one of wonderfully designed buildings which might have rivaled Shanghai’s Bund. Even in 1971 after the Overseas Union Shopping Centre (see image above) did spoil some of that flavour, it still retained much of its original character. Then, the three “skyscrapers” that came up in the 1950s: the modern looking 15 storey Shell House (1959); the Bank of China Building (1954); and the Asia Insurance Building (1954) (out of picture), still dominated. It was however the grand looking edifices – several of them attributed to architecture firm Swan and MacLaren which designed many notable buildings from our past, which would have been noticed. This included the Maritime Building (former Union Building) with its tower and the HongKong Bank Chambers (1924) next to it. The Fullerton Building (1928) which housed the General Post Office also wouldn’t have been missed.

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The beginning of the end for the old waterfront came at the end of the decade with the demolition of the HongKong Bank building notable not just for its English Renaissance style design, but also for its stained glass skylight over its main banking hall and huge bronze entrance doors, in 1979. The Maritime Building, built originally for the Union Insurance Society of Canton and which once housed the Far East headquarters of the Royal Air Force, soon followed in the early 1980s. What we do see today is a towering skyline of glass and steel against which the surviving “skyscrapers” of the 1950s are now dwarfed. The buildings along old waterfront which did survive are the Fullerton Building (Fullerton Hotel), Clifford Pier (part of Fullerton Bay Hotel), Bank of China Building, Customs House, and the Asia Insurance Building (Ascott Raffles Place).

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The synagogue at Belle Vue

19 10 2012

One of the wonderful things about Singapore is the diverse cultural and religious practices, some modified with time, some influenced by the environment, but many that remain distinct reflecting the many lands far and wide from which immigrants to Singapore have arrived from. Besides the myriad of festivals that seem to go on all year around, this diversity is also reflected in its architectural heritage – some 28 of its 64 National Monuments are places of worship which are very much in use today.

A page from religious diversity of Singapore – a Sefer Torah at the Chesed-El Synagogue.

Two of the 64 that I had an opportunity to visit during a recent Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB) walking tour were the Hong San See Temple and the Chesed-El Synagogue. The Hong San See or Temple on Phoenix Hill is one that I already am familiar with from a previous visit. A magnificent and beautifully restored example of Fujian Lam Ann (Nan’an) religious architecture, its last restoration effort from 2007 to 2009 earned a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2010. More information on the temple can be found in my previous post The Temple on Phoenix Hill.

The Chesed-El Synagogue at Oxley Rise was one of two religious monuments I recently had an opportunity to see as part of a Monumental Walking Tour organised by the PMB.

The main motivation for my participation in the tour was more for the opportunity it provided to visit a synagogue as I had never in stepped into one. While there are two such places of worship in Singapore, such opportunities are rare, especially due to more recent security concerns and this provided me with a look of what it was like behind the façade of a religious building belonging to a small and sometimes lesser known local community which has made a significant contribution to Singapore.

Opportunities to visit a synagogue are rare especially with more recent security concerns.

A look beyond the Chesed-El’s façade. The wooden pulpit or bimah is seen in the centre of the hall with the ahel or ark at the end.

The Jews in Singapore have certainly made a huge contribution to its development with many notable names through Singapore’s history, members of the community. One of its prominent members in the early days of Singapore was a certain Sir Manasseh Meyer, a highly successful businessman and property owner, who counted among his properties, the Sea View Hotel and the Adelphi Hotel, lending his name to Meyer Road. It was also Manasseh Meyer who built the Chesed-El, Singapore’s second synagogue (after Maghain Aboth in Waterloo Street).

Participants on the walking tour had a chance to look at the second of two synagogues in Singapore.

The Chesed-El completed in 1905 on Manasseh Meyer’s sprawling estate in Oxley Rise, Belle Vue, was designed by Regent Alfred John Bidwell of architectural frim Swan & Maclaren (which was responsible for many of the monumental works of architecture in Singapore) in the Palladian style. What had prompted Manasseh Meyer to build Chesed-El, which translates as the “bountiful mercy and goodness of God” were differences of opinions which members of the community from differing backgrounds had at the Maghain Aboth, which was built as a private synagogue.

The synagogue was completed in 1905.

The building was built in the grand Palladian style.

Besides providing the opportunity to have a look into the synagogue, the visit also allowed a better appreciation of the layout of a synagogue. Placed in a westward facing direction to Judaism’s eternal city, Jerusalem, a wooden pulpit rises at centre of the hall. The pulpit or bimah, is where prayers where the rabbi leads the prayers, and where the Torah scrolls (Sefer Torah) are placed and read during services.

The entrance to the synagogue.

A closer look at the bimah.

The entrance and the balconies on the upper gallery.

Inside the lower gallery.

A reminder.

The visit also allowed us a peek at the upper gallery where the women are kept separated from the men during services. The balconies on the upper gallery feature iron work that we were told were imported from Scotland which provided an appreciation of the effort taken in the building of the house of worship for the greater glory of the Maker.

The balconies on the upper gallery, reserved for women, feature beautifully crafted ironwork imported from Scotland.

The staircase to the upper gallery.

A view through an arch on the upper gallery.

The women’s perspective.

A quiet room on the upper gallery.

Another view from the upper gallery.

The upper gallery.

The highlight of the visit was a close-up look we had at Sefer Torah as well as a look into the holiest part of the synagogue, the ark or ahel – a room where the Sefer Torahs are stored. The sefers or scrolls are made from specially handwritten parchment and are ones donated by members of the congregation, and includes one that is a hundred years old.

The ahel at the front end of the hall is behind three curtains.

A rabbi opening a Sefer Torah.

A hundred year old Sefer Torah in the ahel.

Floor tiles.

The ahel’s entrances are covered by a curtain or parochet.

Ironwork above the ahel.

The look at the synagogue was one that provided not only an insight into the religious practices of a small but important community in Singapore, but also one which offered a window into the role the many successful immigrants who came from far and wide played in building and supporting their respective communities. It is these communities which have provided the foundation on which Singapore’s success is built and which makes Singapore that wonderful celebration of cultures and religions that it is today.

The grounds of the synagogue.


Resources on the Jewish Community, Sir Manasseh Meyer and the Chesed-El Synagogue:

Jewish Community in Singapore (on The Jewish Community of Singapore)
Jewish Community in Singapore (on The Jewish Times Asia)
Sir Manasseh Meyer (on infopedia)
Chesed-El Synagogue (on infopedia)
Chesed-El Synagogue (on The Jewish Community of Singapore)
Chesed-El Synagogue (on PMB’s website)






The “bright” lights of Prince Edward Road and the Polytechnic by the sea

16 05 2010

There was a time when my parents used to take us, my sister and me, to Mount Faber on quite a regular basis. The excursions were almost always, done in the evenings when it was a lot more pleasant, and would more often than not, culminate in a drive down Keppel Road for  dinner. Then, there were plenty of choices of street food, that seemed to taste a lot better then than it somehow does in the food centres of today. For reasons that have escaped me, my parents avoided going to nearby Chinatown, and Keppel Road seemed an obvious choice, as it was well known for the two dimly lit car parks which would came to life each evening, illuminated by the relatively bright lights of hawker stalls, the bustle of a hungry crowd and the metallic sounds of noodles being violently tossed in the wok. One of these was the car park in front of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, one that we didn’t frequent as much as the one down by the east end of Keppel Road, at the large car park on Prince Edward Road.

Looking down Shenton Way and the former Quays towards Prince Edward Road in the early 1960s. The Singapore Polytechnic buildings can be seen at the top of the photograph (Source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The car park that hosted the hawker stalls of the early 1970s?

I only have vague memories of where it was exactly, unable perhaps to make very much of the visual picture presented, beyond the distraction provided by the mess of hawker stalls, tables and chairs, seen in the half light that was filtered by the greasy smoke that filled the air with its pungent lard laden aroma. The car park I suppose would be the one opposite the old Singapore Polytechnic campus that we see today, or perhaps not, but what I did remember were the rows of lighted pushcarts from which there would have been a choice of everything the Singaporean hawkers were known to conjure up. There was the tomato ketchup stained mee goreng that I so loved, the starch laden oyster omelette that was a favourite of my father, and the spicy piping hot sup kambing that was my favourite. That was a place that perhaps I took for granted, never for once imagining that it would disappear one day. It did eventually, I don’t quite remember when, and in going the way of the many other street food places, flavour somehow gets lost in the relocation to the sanitised premises of the new food centres which were built to get the hawkers off the streets. Perhaps it was with the sanitary conditions that made the difference, where dish washing would have been done in basins of water next to opened drains into which flowed not just the washing water, but the contents of that were on the plates and bowls on which the drain’s residents would have thought of as a feast.

The Singapore Polytechnic operated at its former premises on Prince Edward Road from 1958 to the mid 1970s (photo courtesy of Mr Ma Yoke Long).

Prince Edward Road then, was also home to the premises of Singapore’s first Polytechnic, the unimaginatively named Singapore Polytechnic. The Polytechnic was established in 1954 with the passing of the Singapore Polytechnic Ordinance and classes began with an initial enrollment of 2800 students when the building was completed in late 1958 (it was officially opened in early 1959). The Polytechnic initially offered 58 different courses to train a pool of technicians for the developing economy of the island and remained at Prince Edward Road until the mid 1970s when it moved in stages to its present campus at Dover Road. The building that housed the Polytechnic still stands today as the Bestway Building, offering us a glimpse of an architectural style that is very typical of the era during which it was built. It was designed by Swan and MacLaren, which has had a hand in designing much of Singapore’s magnificent colonial buildings and civil infrastructure, and remains somewhat forgotten in a little pocket of land that time seems to have forgotten, at odds with the skyscraper infested financial centre that has sprouted up next to it. Whether it and the area around it would stand the test of time that many of the older buildings in the area have yielded to, perhaps only time will tell.

The original Singapore Polytechnic building has a new lease of life as the Bestway Building.

Another view of the building that was once the Singapore Polytechnic.

The premises of the former Singapore Polytechnic is still used as an education centre.

The basketball court of the former premises of the Singapore Polytechnic.

A view of one of the buildings that housed the Singapore Polytechnic.

Another view of the façade.





Where the stork once visited: Prinsep Street (Rochor to Middle Roads)

29 03 2010

In taking my stroll through the streets of what once was Singapore’s Jewish Quarter, the Mahallah, I realised that among them, Prinsep Street has probably seen the most dramatic changes since the turn of the last century. Prinsep Street, spelt Princep Street in the days of the Mahallah, was named after a Charles Robert Prinsep, a descendent of a John Prinsep who featured prominently in the British East India Company. Charles Prinsep had own several nutmeg estates in the new colony and one on nearby Mount Sophia that occupied much of the land on which are now the grounds on which the Istana stands. The street is made up of two sections, the first running from Bras Basah Road, by Dhoby Ghaut up to Middle Road, and the second from Middle Road to Rochor Road. The second section is where much of the Mahallah would have been centred on, and is where perhaps the most significant changes have taken place since the early 1900s when it was part of the Mahallah.

The door of the former Salmon's Maternity Home brings some colour to an area with a colourful past.

This was the stretch of the street that perhaps made some notable contributions to healthcare in Singapore and was where the island’s first Maternal and Child Health Clinic was set up in 1923, and where one of the pioneers of private Obstetric and Gynaecological healthcare in Singapore, a Dr. S. R. Salmon had first a practice and subsequently a private maternity hospital, the Salmon’s Maternity Home. Dr. Salmon, a General Practitioner (GP), had along with Professor J. S. English, Singapore’s first Professor of Midwifery and Gynaecology and another GP, Dr. Paglar who established the Paglar Maternity and Nursing Home on which the Parkway East Hospital now stands in Joo Chiat, been attributed with raising the understanding of the need for ante-natal and post-natal care in Singapore.

Prinsep Street has undergone a transformation where there is little left of its forgotten past.

Interestingly the wonderful Art Deco styled building (there is a nice sketch of the building at this blog) that housed Dr. Salmon’s Maternity Home, set up in 1950 on 110 Prinsep Street, still stands, as a reminder of a time when ante-natal and post-natal care was very much in the hands of GPs and midwives, before specialist ante-natal and post-natal care as a norm was established in the 1960s. It is interesting to note that Dr. Salmon’s daughter Dr. Yvonne M. Salmon, had a distinguished career in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Kandang Kerbau Hospital (KKH) in a career spanning 44 years.

The former Salmon's Maternity Home at 110 Prinsep Street was built in 1950 by Dr. S. R. Salmon..

The Art Deco styled façade of the former Salmon's Maternity Home.

A reminder of what the building was once used as.

Across the street from the former Salmon’s Maternity Home, is another landmark, the very recognisable red brick building at 77 Prinsep Street, which is the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, built in 1931. The church has an interesting history, having been established in 1843 as the Malay Chapel to serve the Malay community by Rev. Benjamin Peach Keasberry. The church was subsequently known as the Straits Chinese Church to reflect its growing ministry to the Straits-born Chinese, and was where the Boys’ Brigade movement in Singapore was born. The current church building was designed by SSwan and MacLaren and built in 1931 in place of the old chapel.

The distinctive red brick Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church was built in 1931 on the site of the former Malay Chapel.

The Singapore Life Church at 144 Prinsep Street.

Much of the area that is around the churches and the former maternity home had in the early part of the twentieth century been rather run down and has been renewed, first with the construction in the late 1950s by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) the predecessor to the HDB of the blocks of flats that include the low rise blocks that are now used by the SMU for student housing, and several high rise blocks that included Albert House and Rochor House on the plots of land between Prinsep and Short Streets leading up to Rochor Road which has since been torn down, partly replaced by the interesting looking (and award winning!) LaSalle College of the Arts building with its clean black façade of aluminium and granite and open interior spaces, between a new road McNally Road, named after the founder of LaSalle College, Brother Joseph McNally, and the pedestrian mall that was the former Albert Street. The building also sits where there was once a street called Prinsep Court and before that (up to the 1950s) Veerappa Chitty Lane. The plot from Albert Street up to Rochor Road across from Sim Lim Square, which came up in 1987, is being developed into the Rochor MRT station.

The award winning LaSalle College Building with its black façade of aluminium and granite was built in 2007 and located at 1 McNally Street off Prinsep Street.

LaSalle College of the Arts as seen from Prinsep Street, stands on the grounds of what were SIT flats that were built as part of a renewal of the district in the late 1950s.

The low rise SIT flats which are now used by the SMU for student housing.

The pedestrian mall that was Albert Street between LaSalle College and a construction site for the new Rochor MRT station where Rochor House once stood.

The SIT built Rochor House was constructed in the late 1950s along with Albert House and a few low rise blocks of flats bewteen Prinsep Street and Short Street (Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rochor_House,_Aug_06.JPG).





My stroll through the streets that made up the Mahallah: Selegie Road

17 03 2010

Wandering around the Selegie Road area today, there is very little of the old that is left to remind us of the Selegie Road that existed in the when I was growing up in the 1960s, and certainly even less of a time when you might have thought you were in a different world altogether. That was a time we have long left behind as Singaporeans, a past that we have perhaps chosen to forget.

Signs of the times: Selegie Road at the turn of the 21st Century ... a very different world from when it was a bustling street within the Mahallah.

The area today boasts of spanking new edifices, the School of the Arts for one and Wilkie Edge being another, representative perhaps of the Singapore we have become, somewhat cold and grey, seemingly perfect and lacking in identity, much like Huxley’s Brave New World. Interspersed with the new kids on the block are several older structures built in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Peace Centre, Selegie House and the former Selegie School, as well as some pre-war buildings that have hitherto managed to escape the wrecker’s ball.

Spanking new buildings now stand in what was once the Mahallah.

It is the pre-war buildings that provide a glimpse into the forgotten past, when it was part of an area referred to by its inhabitants as the Mahallah, or “place” in Arabic. Of these, two, the David Elias building at the junctions of Selegie Road, Middle Road and Short Street, and the Ellison building which is located at the end of Selegie Road provide the clues as to whom the inhabitants of the Mahallah were, not Arabs as one might have assumed, but members of the Diaspora, the symbol of which, the Star of David, is displayed prominently on the façades. It was a comment on my post on Selegie Road, from a reader Mamadondi, who lived in the vicinity from 1958 to 1978, who suggested a link between the two buildings that prompted me to take a stroll through the area in an attempt to acquaint myself with this past.

Selegie Road today is a mix of modern buildings and pre-war buildings such as the former Tiger Balm building and the David Elias building.

The former Tiger Balm Building at the corner of Short Street and Selegie Road - a surviving pre-war building on Selegie Road without a Jewish past.

The Mahallah was the “place” where the many working class Baghdadi Jews who had settled in Singapore around the turn of the twentieth century, called home, a Jewish Quarter so to speak. They went about the daily business, just as they might have done on the streets of old Baghdad or Calcutta where many had originated from, living amongst the Indian, Eurasian and Chinese families in the area. The area included Selegie Road, Short Street, Wilkie Road, Sophia Road, Prinsep Street and Middle Road. That Arabic was a common language and that the two buildings mentioned both display the Star of David on their façades, provides an appreciation for who the area’s inhabitants were. It was common to see Jews dressed in Iraqi attire, with men topped with a fez, as the new immigrants sought to recreate a familiarity of where they had arrived from, within the surroundings of their new world. The large Jewish families that lived in the area were relatively poor, many with ten or more children, and most were cramped in the many small two storey houses that were common in the area. Many were small traders, rabbis and bakers who came to seek a better life or to serve the community, some following their more successful brethren, for the promise of success. Living in the Mahallah, many struggled to make ends meet. However, it was from the adversity of living in these conditions that many in the community succeeded in life, with many prominent and successful Singaporeans emerging out of the Mahallah, among them Jacob Ballas and Harry Elias.

The David Elias Building with Stars of David displayed prominently provides a link to the area

On this point, it must be said that wider community of Baghdadi Jews had in fact seen tremendous success, with many living in stately mansions away from the Mahallah, or close by on Mount Sophia, among them the Elias family and Mannaseh Meyer. The community also provided Singapore, with its first Chief Minister, David Marshall – the son of an Baghdadi immigrant, Saul Marshall. The Elias family had through their patriarch, Aaron, who passed away in 1902, amassed a huge fortune from the opium trade. At the point of Aaron’s untimely death, the mantle was taken up by the eldest son, Joseph Aaron Elias. The family was known for its stately mansion by the sea on the East Coast, as well as a holiday villa in Tampines which provided Elias Road in Pasir Ris with its name. Several buildings including Amber Mansions that stood on Orchard Road where the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station is today is attributed to Joseph. The David Elias building was built by David J. Elias, who was the second cousin of Joseph Aaron Elias, and brother-in-law, having married Joseph’s sister Miriam, and was a successful import and export merchant in his own right. The building which was designed by the prominent colonial architectural firm, Swan and MacLaren, and built in 1928, contained many offices and shops and the offices of David’s company, D. J. Elias and Company.

Floor tiles on the five-foot way of the David Elias building.

The Ellison Building as seen from the junction of Rochor Canal and Selegie Roads.

At the end of Selegie Road at its junction with Bukit Timah Road, stands the Ellison building which I mentioned in a previous post. The origins of the buildings are rather vague, having been described in an infopedia article as being built for a Jewish lady named Ellison. It could very well have been for a Flora Ellison, having been put up in 1924 by Issac Ellison, a Romanian Jew who owned an Iky’s Bar near Raffles Place which was apparently quite a popular nightspot. Issac was married to Flora who was a Baghdadi Jewess who had come from Rangoon.

Issac (Ike) and Flora Ellison (Source: Joan Bieder's "The Jews of Singapore").

I guess it is hard to imagine how the area once was – an aerial view of Eu Villa on Mount Sophia, which incidentally was also designed by Swan and MacLaren, available on the National Archives PICAS site provides an impression of how it would have looked like in the pre-war years, without recreating the atmosphere that existed. It was good to have Joan Bieder’s excellent book, “The Jews of Singapore”, for which much of the factual information provided here is based on, to accompany my stroll through the area, as a guide. Whatever it was … the Mahallah has ceased to exist, living only the the memory of those who lived there … replaced by the modern structures which struggle to recreate the vibrancy that the inhabitants of the Mahallah once brought to the area.

Aerial view of Eu Villa on Mount Sophia from the National Archives PICAS website providing a good idea of how the area looked like before the war in 1940.