Through the Water Fairy Gate

Along the Singapore River lies an area known as chui sien mng (水仙门), translated as either “Water Fairy Gate” or “Narcissus Gate”. It refers to the area roughly bounded by North Bridge Road, Hill Street, Coleman Street, and the Singapore River. Chui sien mng was the alighting point along the Singapore River back in the 1800s, and was thus the “gateway” into Singapore back then. The colloquial name possibly as a reference to the customs located at the gate of the same name, in ancient Quanzhou city, China. Today, chui sien mng is straddled in between the youthful vibes of Clarke Quay, the rich history of Fort Canning Hill, and the vibrant arts and cultural scenes of Bras Basah Bugis and the Civic District. Overshadowed by its neoughbours, the Water Fairy has faded into obscurity.

Water Fairy Gate 01
Chui sien mng today

The two roads flanking chui sien mng, North Bridge Road and Hill Street, were also known as chui sien mng jit ke (水仙门一街; “first street of Water Fairy Gate”) and chui sien mng ji ke (水仙门二街; “second street of Water Fairy Gate”) respectively. The few streets that run horizontally in between, such as High Street, Hock Lam Street, Chin Nam Street and Coleman Street, were all referred to as chui sien mng hing ke (水仙门横街; “horizontal street of Water Fairy Gate”).

High Street Centre 水仙门商业大厦
Constructed: 1973 to 1975
Status: Found

High Street Centre 01
High Street Centre

The construction of High Street Centre was part of URA’s redevelopment plans for the chui sien mng area. The 31-storey office-cum-shopping complex was to be a landmark in this shopping district. It consisted of a 7-storey podium with shops and parking, and a 24-storey office and residential tower. The top 6 floors of the tower housed executive apartments and penthouses, offering a spectacular view of the Singapore River. The new development also boasted features such as a riverside landscape garden, as well as a luxurious theatre-restaurant.

Although named after High Street, High Street Centre is actually not located adjacent to it, as it stands closer to the river bank, along North Boat Quay. A row of shophouses (subsequently demolished and redeveloped) stands in between High Street Centre and High Street.

High Street 02
High Street Centre along the river bank

High Street Centre is notable as one of the few major developments in chui sien mng that bears this colloquial name in their official Chinese names.

There was once a Ford Street connecting High Street and North Boat Quay. It was named after Sir Theodore Thomas Ford, who served as Chief Justice of the Straits Settlements from 1886. It has since been expunged, and High Street Centre now stands at its location.

High Street Plaza
Designed by C.T. Akitek
Constructed: 1975
Status: Found

High Street Plaza is another high rise commercial complex to be built in chui sien mng. The 11-storey development consists of a basement carpark, a 4-storey shopping podium and a 6-storey office tower. The developer, High Street Development, was set up by a group of merchants who have operated in chui sien mng prior to this. They acquired a row of shophouses along High Street and demolished them to make way for the new complex.

High Street
Constructed: 1821
Status: Found

High Street 01
High Street

High Street was one of the first streets to be built in Singapore after colonisation. As its name suggests, it was one of the primary locations for trading and retail, especially for North Indian settlers, and remained so until the 1970s. Since then, the area began to lose its edge to the upcoming retail street that is Orchard Road, despite ambitious renewal plans such as the construction of High Street Centre and High Street Plaza.

In 1957, a small store known as Metro opened in a shophouse at 72 High Street. It would soon grow to become a major departmental store chain in Singapore and the region. The Treasury now stands at the original site of Metro’s first store in Singapore.

Other notable developments that have sprung up along High Street over the years include Satnam House, a 7-storey building constructed in the 1960s, and Wisma Sugnomal, another 7-storey development from the 1990s. Satnam House, along with the adjacent Amar Raj House, was purchased by RB Capital in 2007 and demolished to make way for a new 9-storey office building called EFG Bank Building, named after its largest occupant. On the other hand, Wisma Sugnomal was sold in 2008 and developed into The Co Building.

EFG Bank Building (former Satnam House) 01
EFG Bank Building, where Satnam House and Amar Raj House once stood

With the completion and opening of the new Parliament House in 1999, the segment of High Street next to it (to the east of North Bridge Road) was renamed Parliament Place.

Colombo Court 水仙大厦
Constructed: 1973
Status: Lost
Demolished: 1999

Supreme Court (former Colombo Court) 01
The Supreme Court, where Colombo Court once stood

Colombo Court was another development in chui sien mng whose Chinese name referenecs this colloquial name. The 14-storey commercial-cum-office development was completed in 1973, at the junction of High Street and North Bridge Road. It is named after Colombo Court, a road that ran behind it, connecting High Street to Coleman Street.

Before Colombo Court (the building) was constructed, a stretch of Colombo Court (the road) ran perpendicular to North Bridge Road, alongside the Adelphi Hotel. Another road, Mansoor Street, connected it to High Street. Mansoor Street was expunged prior to the construction of Colombo Court (the building).

The Colombo Court development housed numerous offices of governmental bodies and statutory boards, including the PUB Water Department (which moved over from City Hall), the Singapore Telephone Board (STB) and Telecommuncation Authority of Singapore (TAS). In the shopping floors, notable tenants include the Cortina Department Store, the Singapore Manufacturers’ Association and the Northern Palace Restaurant.

In 1999, Colombo Court was demolished to make way for the new Supreme Court building. The Colombo Court road was subsequently renamed as Supreme Court Lane.

Hill Street
Status: Found

Hill Street, along with North Bridge Road, is another street that was built in the early years of Raffles’ founding. It was so named due to its close proximity to Fort Canning Hill (then known as Government Hill in the early 1800s).

In addition to being called chui sien mng jit ke, Hill Street was also given several other colloquial names, such as ong ke swa kha (皇家山脚; “foot of Government Hill” in Hokkien) and tiau kio thau (吊桥头; “end of the suspension bridge” in Hokkien).

Hill Street Police Station
Designed by Frank Dorrington Ward of PWD
Constructed: 1934 to 1936
Status: Found
Preserved: Since 1998

Old Hill Street Police Station 01
The old Hill Street Police Station

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. 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.

Old Hill Street Police Station 03
The old Hill Street Police Station

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. After the restructuring of MICA and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) in 2012, the building became known as the Old Hill Street Police Station. Meanwhile, it currently houses both the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

Old Hill Street Police Station 02
Coloured windows at the old Hill Street Police Station

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.

Hill Street Centre
Constructed: 1984
Status: Lost
Demolished: 2002

Hill Street Centre 01
Where Hill Street Centre once stood

Hill Street Centre was a 6-storey commercial-cum-office development located next to the old Hill Street Police Station. It was famous for the Hill Street Food Centre, which housed food stalls resettled from the nearby Capitol Shopping Centre (which in turn, were relocated from the nearby Hock Lam Street). It was a popular “makan” venue for office workers in the vicinity, including those from CPIB, which occupied the top floor of Hill Street Centre.

Hill Street Centre 02
The only remnant of Hill Street Centre – where the overhead bridge terminates

In 1998, CPIB shifted to Cantonment Road, and by the end of 2000, the food centre ceased operations. The building was then demolished, leaving behind the overhead bridge which once connected it to Funan Centre across the road.

Funan DigitaLife Mall
Designed by A.M. Chandra Abeyasinghe of URA
Constructed: 1985
Status: Lost
Demolished: 2016

Funan DigitaLife Mall 01
Funan DigitaLife Mall prior to demolition

Funan DigitaLife Mall opened as Funan Centre in 1985, to house shops affected by URA’s redevelopment plans. It was one of the 6 modern resettlement centres developed by URA in the early 1980s to serve such a function (the others being Beauty World Centre, Hill Street Centre, Orchard Point, Rochor Complex and South Bridge Road Centre). Like the adjacent Hill Street Centre, it housed shops and hawkers relocated from Capitol Shopping Centre, including the famous Hock Lam Street beef-ball noodle stall.

Funan Centre was designed to be a pedestrian “shortcut” between Hill Street and North Bridge Road. By encouraging pedestrian flow through the building, it was expected to entice more visitors to shop there. Two overhead bridges were also constructed on either side of the building, connecting it to Hill Street Centre and the new Adelphi complex.

Funan DigitaLife Mall 05Funan DigitaLife Mall 06
Overhead bridges that led to The Adelphi and Hill Street Centre respectively
Funan DigitaLife Mall 04
Overhead bridge to Funan DigitaLife Mall

Since the beginning, Funan Centre was planned to be a centre for micro-computer shops, with the 5th and 6th floors designated for such shops. This was part of URA’s attempt to create a unique character for each of the resettlement centres. Other shops were arranged by trade as well; shops with similar trade occupied the same floors. The 7th floor was the Food Paradise, deemed Singapore’s first “customised air-conditioned hawker centre” (a “predecessor” of the food courts we are familiar with today). Many of the stalls were taken up relocated hawkers who once operated along Hock Lam Street – they were resettled in Capitol Shopping Centre when the street was expunged to make way for Funan Centre. Hence, their return to this location (albeit 7 floors up) was some kind of homecoming for them.

Other notable shops that occupied Funan Centre in its early years include Carona Chicken, A&W, Big Rooster, and Cortina Department Store (which shifted over from Colombo Court, to a premise 10% of its original size). The most notable IT-related store to have operated in Funan, however, is none other than Challenger. Having operated multiple software and hardware stores in Funan Centre for years, Challenger made the decision to consolidate them all into a Superstore in 1994, occupying the entire 6th floor. This Superstore remained as Challenger’s flagship store until the closure of the mall in 2016.

Funan DigitaLife Mall 03
IT-related stores in Funan DigitaLife Mall

In 1989, Pidemco Holdings (which subsequently merged with DBS Land to form CapitaLand) took over Funan Centre from URA. In 1997, Funan Centre was renamed Funan the IT Mall, indicating the increase in proportion of IT-related stores over the years, to beyond the 5th and 6th floors. It was renamed again in 2005 to Funan DigitaLife Mall. However, the mall’s role as a hub for IT-related products began to diminish, as IT stores started to spring up in heartland malls, making it unnecessary for Singaporeans to travel all the way to Funan to buy such products. In 2015, CapitaMall Trust announced its decision to redevelop Funan DigitaLife Mall. Demolition began in 2016.

Funan DigitaLife Mall 02
Funan DigitaLife Mall

In addition to Hock Lam Street, other streets that were expunged for Funan Centre include Chin Nam Street and Hong Hin Court. Hock Lam Street (福南街) was named after Chop Hock Lam (福南银号), a medical shop owned by philanthropist Low Kim Pong (刘金榜), who also owned many shophouses along this street. Chin Nam Street (振南街) was named after Cheong Chin Nam (张振南), a dentist, merchant and landowner. Hong Hin Court (丰兴阁) was built by philanthropist Tan Kim Seng, and its name refers to his business (丰兴号).

Adelphi Hotel
Constructed: 1904
Status: Lost
Demolished: 1979

The Adelphi 01
The Adelphi, where Adelphi Hotel once stood

The Adelphi Hotel was the oldest hotel in operation in Singapore prior to its closure in 1973. It began operation at Commercial Square, before shifting to High Street and then to No. 3 Coleman Street – the original residence of colonial architect George Dromgold Coleman. It then shifted down the road to Nos. 1 and 2 Coleman Street, where it remained till its closure. During its heydays, it was deemed one of the major hotels in Singapore, on par with Raffles Hotel, Hotel de la Paix and Hotel de l’Europe.

The hotel was purchased by businessman Manasseh Meyer, who would later serve as Municipal Commissioner, in 1892. About a decade later, Messrs Sarkies, Johannes & Co. bought over the hotel and rebuilt it into the iconic 3-storey building, housing 100 rooms and a dining hall with a capacity of 400. During the Japanese Occupation, the hotel was renamed Nanto Hotel (南都ホテル).

The Adelphi 02
The Adelphi

In early 1973, proprietors New Adelphi Pte Ltd decided to wind up the business, and the hotel closed at the stroke of midnight on 25 June 1973. The landowner, Chartered Bank Trustees, sold the premise to Choon Bee Enterprises, with the intention of redeveloping the plot of land into a high-rise, mixed use development. However, the redevelopment plans were met with a series of setbacks. The original plan for a 34-storey building was rejected, and the new plan for a 10-storey hotel was delayed due to recession. By 1979, only the rear portions of the old hotel was demolished, as the front part was still occupied by tenants who have yet to move out. The project was then sold to Adelphi Development, subsidiary of Golden Wall Realty Pte Ltd, and construction finally began.

The Adelphi 03
The Adelphi

Originally set to be completed in 1982, the construction of the new Adelphi complex was delayed time and again. By the mid 1980s, the retail podium was completed, but the tower was still incomplete. In the meantime, the development continued to change hands several times, first from Adelphi Development to Grace Development, and then to DBS Land. The decision was also made to change the hotel portion of the development was into office use.

Today, the building, designed by Lee Sian Teck Architects, is known as The Adelphi. The 5-storey retail podium is well-known for shops selling high-end audio equipment.

Peninsula Hotel
Designed by Alfred Wong Partnership Private Limited
Constructed: 1971 (podium); 1974 (tower)
Status: Found

Peninsula Excelsior Hotel 02
Peninsula Hotel

On the site of the G. D. Coleman’s original residence, a new hotel complex rose on the 1970s. Peninsula Hotel, a 22-storey hotel and shopping complex, was developed by Peninsula Hotels, Shopping Complex & Realty. The 6-storey shopping podium began operations in 1971, while the hotel tower opened 3 years later. The coffeehouse in the hotel was named Coleman’s Coffeehouse, as a tribute to the colonial architect.

Peninsula Excelsior Hotel 05
The shopping podium at Peninsula Hotel

Peninsula Hotel was one of the few proposed hotels along Coleman Street in the 1970s and 80s, in an attempt to rival against Orchard Road. These include the adjacent Excelsior Hotel, the proposed Sheraton Hotel across the street, and the new Adelphi Hotel down the street.

In 1973, Peninsula Hotels, Shopping Complex & Realty was acquired by Consolidated Hotels Ltd.

Excelsior Hotel
Constructed: 1984
Status: Found

Peninsula Excelsior Hotel 03
Excelsior Hotel

In 1979, the site next to Peninsula Hotel was allotted to Yapinco Pte Ltd, a sister company of Consolidated Hotels Ltd. 5 years later, the Excelsior Hotel and Shopping Centre opened for business. The shopping podiums of Peninsula and Excelsior Hotels were connected on two levels.

Peninsula Excelsior Hotel 06
Excelsior Hotel

In 1996, it was announced that the two hotels would merge into one. Today, it is known as the Peninsula-Excelsior Hotel, with a single hotel lobby located at level 5 of the podium.

Peninsula Excelsior Hotel 04
Peninsula Excelsior Hotel 01
Peninsula-Excelsior Hotel

Coleman Street
Status: Found

Coleman Street 03
Coleman Street

Coleman Street 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 moved away in 1841, the house changed hands several times. It was occupied by the London Hotel, the Adelphi Hotel, Hotel de la Paix, and finally Burlington Hotel until WWII. It was demolished in 1965, and Peninsula Hotel and Shopping Centre was constructed on its spot.

G. D. Coleman was buried at the Christian Cemetery at Fort Canning.

Hill Street & Coleman Street 01
Hill Street and Coleman Street

Locals refer to Coleman Street as jiu dian jie (酒店街; “Hotel Street”), as Coleman’s residence was occupied by various hotels over the decades prior to its demolition. It was also known as hiok ni sin chu au (旭年新厝后; “behind Yeok Nee’s new building”) in Hokkien, as Tan Yeok Nee (陈旭年) briefly stayed in Coleman’s residence before his Tank Road mansion was ready. As Tan Kim Ching’s house was also located along this street (where Peninsula Plaza is today), the Hokkiens and Cantonese also refered to it as chin seng chu pi (beside Chin Seng’s house) and chan seng tai ok fong pin (beside Chin Seng’s big house) respectively; Chin Seng / Chan Seng (成行) was the name of Tan Kim Ching’s business.

Peninsula Plaza
Designed by Alfred Wong Partnership Private Limited
Constructed: 1980
Status: Found

Peninsula Plaza 01
Peninsula Plaza

On the other side of Coleman Street stands Peninsula Hotel’s “sister development” – Peninsula Plaza. This 32-storey commercial complex stands where Tan Kim Ching’s house once stood. The house was also known as Siam House as it was where the King and Queen of Siam stayed when they visited Singapore in 1890 (thanks to the close relationship between Tan Kim Ching and the royal family of Siam).

The Siam House was initially owned by Takoyee Manuk, a friend of G. D. Coleman who lived across the street. It was later converted to a hotel known as Hotel Hamburg, before being bought over by Tan Kim Ching. In 1906, Tan Boo Liat (grandson of Tan Kim Ching) allowed the newly-formed Tao Nan School to conduct lessons in the house before its Armenian Street campus was completed.

Peninsula Plaza 04
Peninsula Plaza

In 1913, the Siam House was sold and subsequently demolished. Businessman Manasseh Meyer, who then owned the land, built a 5-storey apartment block called Meyer Mansions. It was considered the “first flatted residence” in Singapore.

By 1969, Meyer Mansions was taken over by Consolidated Hotels, with plans to develop a luxury hotel called Singapore Plaza. Meyer Mansions was thus demolished in 1970 to make way for the new development. The company soon went into an agreement with the Sheraton hotel chain, and the proposed hotel became known as the Singapore Sheraton.

Following Consolidated Hotels’ acquisition of Peninsula Hotel across the road in 1973, plans for a new hotel were shelved. It then went into an agreement with Bata Shoe (S) Pte Ltd, which owned the adjacent Bata Building, to develop the 2 sites together into a single commercial complex. Thus, Peninsula Plaza was constructed. The 6-storey shopping podium opened for business in 1979, while the tower block was completed a year later. As part of the deal between Consolidated Hotels and Bata, the latter was given retail spaces in the basement and first two floors. Today, Bata’s flagship store still operates at Peninsula Plaza.

Peninsula Plaza 02
The shopping podium of Peninsula Plaza

Peninsula Plaza boasted two “firsts” in Singapore. 3 outdoor escalators were installed, bringing commuters walking along the main road straight into the basement shopping area. The development also featured the first car lifts in Singapore. While the original plans for the development did not feature any parking spaces, complaints from shopkeepers prompted the developer to convert the fifth storey office space into a car park. As there is no space left to fit in vehicular ramps, the two car lifts had to be installed to bring cars up to the car park level.

Peninsula Plaza 03
The car lifts

Peninsula Plaza is connected to Peninsula Hotel via an underpass.

In 1982, Burger King made its entrance in Singapore, opening its first outet at the basement level of Peninsula Plaza. The franchise for Singapore and Malaysia was awarded to Food Systems, owned jointly by Emporium Holdings and two individuals.

Another noteworthy tenant of Peninsula Plaza was the Klasse Department Store, also owned by Emporium Holdings. It was the second Klasse store to be opened, following the first one at Lucky Plaza. It marked Emporium Holdings’ gradual shift from specialising in Chinese-made goods to featuring a wide range of international brands.

Today, Peninsula Plaza is knowned as “Little Burma”. The basement level is occupied by various Burmese eateries.

File Last Updated: November 18, 2017

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