The Bras Basah – Bugis district is a 95 hectare area that is culturally, historically and architecturally rich. Its history dates back to 1822, when Lieutenant Philip Jackson drew up the urban plan for the town of Singapore (known as the “Jackson Plan”) under Raffles’ orders. The current Bras Basah – Bugis area lies roughly around the areas of the civic centre and the European Town. Due to its prime location, there was a conglomeration of religious, educational and residential buildings. In my last post, I shared photos and information of the museums and old school buildings. But the iconic buildings located in this district are not restricted to these.
In the past, wet rice was laid along this road to be dried. This led to the Malay name beras basah, which means “wet rice”. This name first appeared in G. D. Coleman’s map of Singapore in 1836. Prior to that, the road was known as Church Street/Selegy Street or Cross Road.
Designed by Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan & MacLaren
Constructed: 1897 to 1899 (Main Building)
Preserved: Since 1987
The hotel was founded in 1887 by the Sarkies Brothers from Armenia, who had also opened numerous other hotels in the region. It was originally located in a colonial bungalow located along Beach Road and Bras Basah Road, owned by Arab trader Syed Mohamed Alsagoff (سيد محمد بن أحمد السقاف). In 1899, the main building was completed, and was equipped with electric lights and ceiling fans. Subsequent extensions were built at different times between 1904 and 1920.
In 1987, the hotel was declared a national monument. In 1989, restoration works started, reverting the hotel back to its original design in 1915. A new extension was also built, and the hotel reopened in 1991. It was re-gazetted as a national monument in 1995.
There used to be a popular cinema known as Jubilee Theatre located next to the hotel. It opened in the 1930s and was managed by Eng Wah Theatres. It was torn down in the late 1980s to make way for the extension block. Jubilee Hall, the playhouse in the new extension, was named after this theatre.
Designed by Palmer & Turner
Conserved: Since 2002
The SAF Non-Commissioned Officers Club being renovated as part of the new South Beach Development
The SAF NCO Club building was opened as the Britannia Club in 1952. It served as a recreational centre for the British Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI). When the British troops pulled out, the club closed down in 1969, and reopened as the SAF NCO Club 5 years later. It was renamed SAF Warrant Officers and Specialists (WOSE) Club in 1994. In 2002, the club moved to a newer and larger premise at The Chevrons. The building was bought over, together with the rest of Beach Road Camp (completed in 1932; closed in 2000), to be developed into the new South Beach Development. As the buildings were given conservation status in 2002, they will be conserved within the new development premises.
The SAF Non-Commissioned Officers Club after renovation
Designed by Frank Dorrington Ward (Block 9)
Constructed: 1932 (Block 9); 1939 (Block 14)
Conserved: Since 2002
Block 9 of Beach Road Camp, also known as the Drill Hall
The history of the Beach Road camp began in 1907, when the headquarters of the Chinese unit of the Singapore Volunteer Corps (SVC) was set up here, complementing the main SVC headquarters at Fort Fullerton. A wood-and-corrugated-iron building was built to house the SVC Chinese unit. In 1932, a new concrete-and-brick building (block 9) was completed, replacing the functions of the original wooden building, which was demolished the next year. The new art deco building housed the overall headquarters of the SVC and the Straits Settlement Volunteer Force (SSVF). It became the main building of Beach Road camp, and was subsequently also referred to as the Drill Hall. Over the years, more buildings were constructed, such as block 14, used to house the Malay company of the SVC.
Block 14 of Beach Road Camp
In 1953, the Singapore Military Forces Bill was passed, allowing Singapore to set up its own army and navy. The Singapore Military Forces (SMF) was then formed, consisting of regulars, national servicemen and volunteers from the SVC. The Beach Road camp then became the headquarters of the SMF, as well as the registration centre and training camp for conscripted national servicemen. The SVC was renamed the People’s Defence Force (PDF) following Singapore’s independence in 1965. The newly-formed Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) also set up several military units in Beach Road camp. Thus, Beach Road camp was deemed as the birthplace of the SAF.
The iconic vertical ornamental window of Block 9. A memorial plaque commemorating the volunteers who sacrificed themselves during WWII is located at the base of the window
Designed by Keys and Dowdeswell
Constructed: 1929 (Capitol Theatre) & 1933 (Capitol Building)
Conserved: Since 2007
Capitol Theatre was built in 1929 by the Persian Namazies family, and Capitol Building was completed as an extension 4 years later. The neo-classical style building was sold to Shaw Organisation in 1946, and was known as Shaw Building until 1989.
The URA took over the building in 1987, but movies continued to be screened for the next 11 years.
The billboards are no longer there
Capitol Building being redeveloped
The building was gazette for conservation in 2007, together with the adjacent Stamford House.
The newly reopened Capitol Theatre
In 2011, a redevelopment project consisting of Capitol Building, as well as the adjacent Stamford House and Capitol Centre, was initiated. Capitol Centre was demolished, while the other two conserved buildings were refurbished.
Designed by Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan & MacLaren
Conserved: Since 2007
This Venetian Renaissance building was known as the Oranje Building when it was completed in 1904 for Singaporean Seth Paul. It was occupied by a retail firm Whiteaway Laidlaw & Co. until 1910, when Raffles Hotel took over the top two floors as an annex.
In 1933, Seth’s daughter Theodara Van Hein converted the building into the Oranje Hotel. It was sold to Basaco Enterprise Private Limited in 1963, when it gained its current name.
The URA took over the building in 1984, and was opened as a furniture shopping mall in 1995. It has since closed down.
On my latest visit, most of the windows were removed
The Stamford House can be easily identified with its keystone arches and Venetian windows. Its fine detailing on the facades is a stark contrast to the Capitol Building.
1904 – its year of construction
Together with the Capitol Building and Capitol Centre, it is converted into a new mixed-used development. In July 2015, the retail section of this new development, known as Capitol Piazza, opened for business. It occupies parts of the first, second floors and the two newly-constructed basements of the Capitol Building and where Capitol Centre once stood. Capitol Theatre remains as a cinema and performance theatre, while a residential development known as Eden Residences Capitol, designed by Richard Meier, now stands over the original spot of Capitol Centre. A hotel known as The Patina, Capitol Singapore is also located in the Stamford House and the upper levels of Capitol Building.
Hill Street & Coleman Street junction
As you may have guessed, Hill Street was so named due to its close proximity to Fort Canning Hill (then known as Government Hill in the early 1800s).
Hill Street was also known as chui sien mng ji ke (水仙门二街; “second street of Water Fairy Gate”). The area around North Boat Quay, which was the alighting point along Singapore River back in the 1800s, was known as chui sien mng, possibly as a reference to the customs located at the gate of the same name, in ancient Quanzhou city, China. North Bridge Road, running parallel to Hill Street, was known as chui sien mng jit ke (水仙门一街; “first street of Water Fairy Gate”), while High Street, running perpendicular to the two, was known as chui sien mng hing ke (水仙门横街; “horizontal street of Water Fairy Gate”).
Coleman Street, on the other hand, was named after George Drumgoole Coleman, one of the earliest architects in Singapore and Raffles’ urban and architectural advisor. Coleman’s own residence, designed by himself, stood along this street, at No. 3 Coleman Street.
After Coleman passed away, the house changed hands several times. It became Hotel de la Paix in 1865, and then Burlington Hotel until WWII. It was finally demolished in 1965, and Peninsula Hotel and Shopping Centre now stands on its spot.
G. D. Coleman was buried at the Christian Cemetery at Fort Canning.
Locals refer to Coleman Street as jiu dian jie (酒店街; “Hotel Street”), as Adelphi Hotel (constructed in 1904; demolished in 1980) used to stand along this street. The hotel, opened in 1863 at Commercial Square (Raffles Place), was on par with Raffles Hotel during its heydays, until its closure in 1973. The Adelphi Complex (constructed in 1985) now stands at its spot.
Designed by Lionel Bintley of Public Works Department (PWD)
The gate of the National Library building
The iconic red brick building was declared open in 1960 by then Head of State of Singapore, Yusof bin Ishak. It was funded by Chinese philanthropist Lee Kong Chian (李光前), son-in-law of Tan Kah Kee. It housed the library that originally occupied the western wing of the Raffles Museum (now National Museum of Singapore). When the building, designed to reflect the red-brick epoch of British architecture of that time, was first completed, it was hit with criticisms. In particular, it did not harmonise with the adjacent museum building.
The building had a total floor area of over 10,000 square metres. It housed facilities such as an exhibition hall, a children’s activities room, a lecture hall, microfilm reading room, and a five-storey stack for research materials. There was also a courtyard space between the buildings.
In 1989, plans for a new National Library building first surfaced. 3 years later, plans for the Fort Canning Tunnel to be built at the location of the library building were announced in the Civic District Master Plan, though there was no mention of the consequential fate of the building. The library underwent a S$2.6 million upgrade and renovation in 1997. One year later, the Singapore Management University (SMU) announced the campus premise of the new university, which included the site of the library. This triggered a chain of events that led to an outcry from the public to save the building, a stark contrast to the outcry when the building was initially completed.
Despite the public dissent, the building was torn down in 2005 after the new building at Victoria Street was completed. Only the front gate remains at the site.
The Substation is Singapore’s first independent art centre, started by leading local theatre practitioner Kuo Pao Kun (郭宝崑). It is located at the building of a former power sub-station, built in 1926, hence its name. The sub-station was closed in the late 1970s, and in 1986 it was identified by URA for conservation, together with the adjacent shophouses and the old Tao Nan Building. It was renovated and officially opened as The Substation in 1990.
It houses a black box theatre, a gallery, a dance studio and classrooms. The garden occupied by Timbre now was also a site for live events and flea markets.
Designed by Ng Keng Siang
The SCCCI headquarters
The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) was formed in 1906 to look after the Chinese business community as a whole, rather than as individual clans and associations. Since then, it has evolved to support other Chinese-related activities such as education and culture.
Entrance to the SCCCI building
The SCCCI building was completed in 1964 to replace the old two-storey building which also housed the SCCCI headquarters. It was built in the Chinese National style, a style prevalent in Singapore in the 1900s as an architectural expression to unite the various Chinese clans and dialect groups, representing one single modern Chinese identity. It is influenced by the architectural styles adopted by Republican China. The building is primarily modern in terms of construction style and materials, but is ornamented with Chinese-style roofs and eaves.
Other similar buildings include the Nanyang University Administration Block and Library (now the NTU Chinese Heritage Centre, also by Ng Keng Siang), C. K. Tang Department Store, and the former OCBC Building (by Keys and Dowdeswell).
National Archives of Singapore, housed in the old Anglo-Chinese Primary School building
The National Archives of Singapore was established in 1968, in charge of preserving the archives of Singapore dating back to the 1800s. It was first located in the National Library, before moving to Fort Canning. In 1980, it then shifted to the Old Hill Street Police Station. The NAS finally moved into the current building in 1997.
The building was originally the Anglo-Chinese Primary School. It was completed in 1893, and underwent 3 extensions before moving out in 1993.
Designed by Donald McLeod Craik
This English Renaissance building was completed in 1886, as a Masonic Lodge for the freemasons in Singapore. Freemasonry first started in Singapore in 1845, and Masonic meetings were held at various locations prior to the completion of this building. For many years, the building was known as rumah hantu, or “haunted house”, as few knew of the activities and ceremonies that were held in this exclusive clubhouse. Non-members are only allowed to enter the ground level.
Constructed: 1908 to 1909
Preserved: Since 1998
Central Fire Station
The Central Fire Station, or Hill Street Fire Station, was completed in 1909, and is the oldest surviving fire station in Singapore. Its distinctive façade colour is due to the exposed red bricks and bricks that are plastered over and painted white. During WWII, the building was painted green to avoid being a target of Japanese bombing.
Still a functioning fire station
The first station has been in operation ever since its inauguration, even during the Japanese Occupation, when 8 of the firefighters and 27 of the auxiliary force personnel avoided imprisonment and were allowed to run the fire station.
The Civil Defence Heritage Gallery, located in the fire station
The building was declared a national monument in 1998. This led to the setting up of the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery, which opened 3 years later.
Designed by Frank Dorrington Ward of PWD
Constructed: 1934 to 1936
Preserved: Since 1998
Prior to the construction of this building, Singapore’s first prison and the old Assembly Rooms of the Town Hall stood at its site. The six-storey neo-classical building was completed in 1934 as the Hill Street Police Station and Barracks, which included living quarters for policemen and their families. It was renamed the Silver Jubilee Building on the 25th anniversary of the reign of King George V. In the 1960s, a new housing scheme for police personnel led to the gradual evacuation of the living quarters, and the station was closed in 1981. It was renovated and renamed the Hill Street Building, and housed a number of government departments such as the National Archives (see above). By 1997, all the occupants had moved out again, and the Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA), together with its associated statutory boards, moved in 3 years later. The building was then known as the MITA Building
In 2001, MITA was renamed the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA), but the acronym of both the ministry and the building was only change in 2004. With the recent restructuring of MICA and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), a new change in name for the building could be expected. Meanwhile, it currently houses both the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
Coloured windows at the MICA Building
The building is characterized by its 911 windows with colourful shutters, and 2 internal courtyards, one large and one small. It was gazette a national monument in 1998.
File Last Updated: April 15, 2017