My Holland Village Heritage Tour

Tour Info

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Date
Every third Saturday and Sunday of the month
Time
8:30am to 12:30pm. Please arrive at 8:15am, 15mins before the start time for registration.
language
English
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Start
Holland Village MRT Station Exit A (Ticket Concourse Level).
End
Tanglin Halt Neighbourhood Centre, a stone’s throw from Commonwealth MRT Station.
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Difficulty Level

1/5

  • Expect four hours of walking
  • It is compulsory for a parent/guardian to accompany any child of/under the age of 12
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What should I bring
  • Wear comfortable clothes and suitable shoes for an hour-long walk
  • Bring along EZ-Link card, a bottle of water and an umbrella
  • Asthmatic individuals are encouraged to bring their inhaler.

Description

My Holland Village traces the evolution of Singapore’s first satellite town from a rubber plantation in the 1870s to a bustling military village in the 1930s and a renowned expatriate centre and tourist attraction in the 2000s. Participants will hear a first-hand account of this transformation from colourful figures in Holland Village and Commonwealth and get up-close to stall holders in Commonwealth and Tanglin Halt markets and hawker centres.

Site 1: Chip Bee Gardens

Chip Bee Gardens is a military estate established in the mid-1950s to house British army personnel based in Pasir Panjang, Tanglin and Alexandra. The estate comprised of six blocks of apartment flats, semi-detached houses and two rows of shop houses, which served as mess hall for the British soldiers to socialise, play billiards and conduct meetings.

The development of British military bases after World War II brought about the second wave of Europeans into Singapore. Large military bases in Pasir Panjang were established and thousands of British military officers and soldiers were recruited to staff them. The Tanglin and Holland sub districts became favoured establishments for these military personnel who found the city centre congested.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the double row of shophouses at Chip Bee Gardens were used for residential, social and recreational purposes. With the withdrawal of the British Armed Forces in 1971, the ground floor units of the Chip Bee shophouses were consolidated and subdivided into separate retail outlets whereas the residential estate was rented to new tenants comprising of mainly expatriate teachers. The earliest outlets in Chip Bee Gardens were Jane’s Salon, Peter’s Butchery and Chrisvic Caterers.

Site 2: Holland Village

Holland Village began as a focal point for villagers from Shuang Long Shan, and rubber estates in Ulu Pandan and Holland. They gathered at Holland Village to sell their farming produce such as chickens, ducks and pigs for subsistence. Named after Hugh Holland, an architect, the village expanded quickly after the installation of the British military bases at Alexandra and Pasir Panjang in the 1930s and 1940s.
Early retail outlets at Holland Village were started for the sole purpose of servicing the British soldiers and their families domiciled near Holland Village. For instance, a tattoo parlour, bars and nightclubs, art and crafts shops and tailors who made army uniforms and apparel, dotted the shop houses at Holland Village.

Holland Village expanded throughout the 1950s and 1960s as a consequence of the expanding suburban civilian and military population in Queenstown and Alexandra. Several developments were proof of its rapid expansion.

Firstly, in 1946, itinerant hawkers at the roadside market were relocated to the shabby Holland Road market covered haphazardly by tin and zinc roofing. The market was extended in the early 1960s and comprised of modern market fixtures such as permanent food stalls, toilets and an office.

Secondly, the open-air ‘makeshift’ Eng Wah theatre, located diagonally opposite the roadside market, was established in the mid-1950s. The theatre was popular for its Chinese wayangs.

Thirdly, it was also during this period that the Chip Bee estate comprising six blocks of apartment flats, multiple semi-detached houses and two rows of shop houses was established to house the British army personnel and families based in Pasir Panjang and Alexandra.

The withdrawal of the British Armed Forces and the repatriation of thousands of British soldiers between 1971 and 1976 led to a concerted effort from retailers at Holland Village to reorganise and adapt to the new demographic changes. While retailers at Holland Village and Chip Bee recalled the place as looking like a “ghost town” in the early 1970s, the British withdrawal provided an opportunity for them to reorganise and adapt to the new market, namely the local residents of Commonwealth and Buona Vista estates, the new tenants and inhabitants of the lower-middle class residential estate in Chip Bee and the high-income residential areas in Leedon Park and Oei Tiong Ham Park.

Modern retail outlets were established at Holland Village including Cold Storage, Guardian Pharmacy, The Body Shop, Watsons, etc. These businesses gave the village a more cosmopolitan image of a “mini Orchard” as many of the newly established outlets could also be found in Orchard Road.

Secondly, improved access in Holland Village in the 1970s was provided by the construction of a car park which catered primarily to Buona Vista residents and pedestrian malls.

Today, Commonwealth (Neighbourhood 3) and Buona Vista/Holland Village (Neighbourhood 7) possess distinctive identities even though they are located within Queenstown. The influx of foreigners and tourists, the provision of bigger HDB flats which attracted a higher income group of residents, and the physical transformation of Holland Village from a rural centre to a bustling yuppie area, had separated effectively severed the area from the perceived boundaries of Queenstown.

Site 3: Former Eng Wah Theatres

Established in the mid-1950s, the former Eng Wah open-air cinema specialised in Chinese wayang, which was popular among the local residents. The theatre was created by arranging rows of benches each rented for 50 cents per show.

In the mid-1970s, the theatre was renovated and popular Cantonese films were screened, attracting hundreds of residents every night.

The theatre was closed in 1985.

Site 4: Former Kampong Holland Mosque

Kampong Holland Mosque started as a surau in the mid-1950s serving Muslim villagers from Shuang Long Shan and military personnel from the Pasir Panjang and Alexandra bases.

As the population in Queenstown grew in the 1950s and 1960s, the mosque relied on donations from worshippers to build a permanent prayer hall slightly bigger than a five-room flat at 9 Lorong Liput.

The mosque held its last Friday prayer on 25th April 2014 and most of its 500-strong congregants were absorbed into Mujahidin Mosque in Queenstown.

Site 5: Holland Drive Neighbourhood Centre & Buona Vista Estate

Built between 1970 and 1974, Holland Drive Neighbourhood Centre comprised of two clusters of four-storey shop buildings and a wet market. The shop buildings have exposed red brick walls and are colloquially known as red house or ang chu in Hokkien.

Under the Housing and Development Ordinance and Land Acquisition Ordinance, the Housing and Development Board acquired three burial grounds managed by Ying Fo Fui Kun to develop Queenstown’s seventh neighbourhood known as Buona Vista. Although Ying Fo Fui Kun “objected strongly to the compulsory acquisition,” and requested several concessions from the government including a license for another burial ground, a portion of about 4.5 acres of burial ground for constructing a memorial and reburial of existing graves and permission to keep their ancestral hall, the association did not “stand in the way of progress by the government.”

The clearance of more than 500 squatters and exhumation of graves commenced in 1968 and the construction of Buona Vista estate began in 1969. Bigger flats (four-room and five-room flats) and point blocks were introduced in response to changes in family sizes, incomes and societal preferences, where Singaporeans preferred to pay a higher price to buy a larger unit.

By 1974, 7,000 flats and shop houses were completed.

Site 6: Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Ancestral Hall

The Ying Fo Fui Kun cemetery (Chinese: 应和会管) at Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Ancestral Hall is Singapore’s last remaining Hakka cemetery. The Ancestral Hall and its surrounding cemetery was established in 1887 for Yin Fo Fui Kun clansmen from Jia Ying (Chinese:嘉应) prefecture in Canton, China, to have a place for burial and ancestral worship. The compound comprises of a 4.5-hectare cemetery with over 3,000 tombstones, an ancestral temple, a memorial hall for the clan and a stand-alone columbarium.

Designed in the traditional Chinese architectural style, the Ancestral Temple features a gabled roof with a straight, inclined curvature that is topped with a ridge of ceramic tiles. At the entrance of the Ancestral Temple, a pair of lion statues is arranged in bilateral symmetry to “ward off evil spirits” and a sky well with enclosing halls on four sides is used for temperature regulation. In addition, the Ancestral Hall incorporates concepts from Chinese cosmology such as feng shui (Chinese: 风水; geomancy) by placing Five Element stones in the middle of the altar located right behind the main hall. The Five Element stones are believed to possess mystical powers to keep the devils away.

The Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Ancestral Hall, which was located at the foot of Shuang Long Shan (Chinese: 双龙山; Double Dragon Hill), houses the ancestral tablets since the early 20th century. In 1926, Ying Xin School (Chinese应新学堂) was established at the Ancestral Hall to provide education for the village children. The school had five classes and wooden boards were used as makeshift partitions to create classrooms. The school closed in 1969 in the face of declining enrolment.

In 1966, the Housing and Development Board acquired three burial grounds managed by Ying Fo Fui Kun to develop Queenstown’s seventh neighbourhood known as Buona Vista. Although Ying Fo Fui Kun “objected strongly to the compulsory acquisition,” and requested several concessions from the government including a license for another burial ground, a portion of about 4.5 acres of burial ground for constructing a memorial and reburial of existing graves and permission to keep their ancestral hall, the association did not “stand in the way of progress by the government.”

The clearance of more than 500 squatters and exhumation of graves commenced in 1968 and the construction of Buona Vista estate began in 1969. After the remains in all the graves were identified, exhumed and cremated, the ashes were transferred to urns and placed under the headstones, or at the columbarium in the old Ancestral Hall or the newer Ying Fo Fui Kun Memorial Hall (completed in 1988).

Today, the Ancestral Hall remains a gathering point for former Shuang Long Shan villagers and serves as a lasting reminder of Queenstown’s past.

Site 7: Commonwealth Crescent Neighbourhood Centre

Built at a cost of $180,000, the Commonwealth Crescent Neighbourhood Centre was officially opened on 29th May 1965 by then Minister for Labour, Jek Yuen Thong. The Neighbourhood Centre comprised of 26 shop units arranged around a quadrangle and 84 hawker stalls in the wet market. The neighbourhood centre houses several pioneer businesses.

Sin Palace Hair Dressing and Beauty Saloon
Sin Palace Hairdressing Saloon has been grooming the neighbourhood’s male residents for the past 49 years. Ong Choon Kwee, the bespectacled proprietor of the saloon, is one of Singapore’s last experts in the traditional art of ear cleaning.

Queenstown Poh Pia (Skin)
Popiah or spring roll is a popular snack which originates from southeastern China. Lim Thiam Choo’s Queenstown Poh Pia has tickled the taste buds of numerous Queenstown residents for the past 49 years. He first started out as an itinerant hawker, peddling along the streets at Tanglin Halt, Margaret Drive and Commonwealth Crescent. After ‘retiring’ in 2011, his eldest son Lim Cheng Poh carries on the tradition of making popiah skins by hand.

Hong Kee Congee
Simmered over low heat with constant stirring for over an hour to get the right consistency, Mr Hui’s congee at Commonwealth Crescent Market is a popular way to start the day for many residents. The congee’s smooth texture is typical of Cantonese cooking, as are its ingredients, such as century eggs, pork innards, minced meat and raw fish.

Site 8: Queenstown Lutheran Church

Queenstown Lutheran Church is the second Lutheran Church in Singapore. Built at a cost of $150,000, the Church was opened on 13 March 1966 and dedicated on 1 May 1966 as an extension to the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer at Duke Road. The Church was built with funds from the United Lutheran Church in America.

The façade of the church features a bold, pyramidal roof that allows rainwater to drain quickly and high internal spaces for air to flow effectively. Other design features include a sanctuary with striking geometry and multicoloured strips of glass panels inserted next to the cruciform, which bring light into the sanctuary.

Queenstown Lutheran Church first started as a Sunday school in 1965 when founding pastor, Reverend John Nelson, started evangelistic work in Queenstown. Services were held in both Mandarin and English. After the Church building was completed, a number of other ministries were started to serve the neighbourhood. Among these were cooking, sewin g and language classes, the Boys’ Brigade and recreational sports.

William Wong, 55, was a long time worshipper at the Church. He recalled: “There were few forms of entertainment in the 1960s and children from the neighbourhood would gather at the basketball court for a friendly match every evening. When Bill Bolm, a youth missionary, started the Boys’ Brigade in 1967, my mother enrolled me into the Company so that I could learn to be self-disciplined.

The Boys’ Brigade 26th Singapore Company from Queenstown Lutheran Church took part in many parades and ceremonies over the years. On 13th May 1967, the Company was part of the Singapore Battalion Boys’ Brigade which held their first church parade at Queenstown. Richard Khoo, 76, was an officer with the Company. He recalled: “There were around 1,500 officers and boys at the parade. We marched from the Lutheran Church at Commonwealth Crescent to Faith Methodist Church at Commonwealth Drive before ending at the former Baharuddin Vocational School.”

Today, the church continues to play an important social role in the neighbourhood by providing counselling services and tuition classes.

Site 9: The First Flatted Factory

Block 115 Commonwealth Drive is Singapore’s first Flatted Factory. Built at a cost of $1,500,000, the groundbreaking ceremony of the five-storey factory was inaugurated on 30 May 1965 by then Minister for National Development, Lim Kim San. The Flatted Factory had a gross floor area of around 240,000 square feet and comprised of 30 operating factories.

The idea of flatted factories was first mooted by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to recognise the role of light industries and their requirements. There were several reasons why flatted factories were introduced.

Firstly, small industrial establishments in the metal trade, shoemaking or apparel manufacturing were important sources of employment, accounting for 40% of total workforce.

Secondly, these small developers were in better position than large companies in providing customised services and fulfilling orders of smaller quantities. Hence, the establishment of flatted factories provided a relatively inexpensive work accommodation at rentals within the means of small enterprises. Furthermore, the location of flatted factories within housing estates allowed for a ready supply of labour and encouraged women to enter the labour force.

Noorsia Binte Abdul Gani, 49, was an employee at an electronics factory in the Flatted Factory. She recalled: “It was very convenient for me to work here because I lived nearby at Block 82 Commonwealth Close. I could return home and prepare lunch for my children every afternoon.”

Following the success of the pilot project at Block 115 Commonwealth Drive, the Economic Development Board went on to build 38 more flatted factories across the country. Today, the First Flatted Factory at Commonwealth Drive is managed by Mapletree Investments.

Site 10: MOE Heritage Centre

Opened in 1 September 2011, the MOE Heritage Centre is a repository of memories where the best practices and values of educators have been enshrined.

The first schools in Singapore were Malay vernacular and religious schools found in the early 1820s. Before the British government started English-system secondary schools in the 1870s, Christian missionaries established mission schools whereas the Chinese communities operated its own schools.

The immediate post-war years were characterised by great shortages. In Queenstown, the government established Singapore’s first government Chinese school, Hua Yi Secondary, at Margaret Drive in 1956 and Singapore’s first technical school, Queenstown Secondary Technical School, in 1956.

Policies relating to the home economics, technical and science education were designed to prepare citizens to be productive persons within the national economy. Hence, Baharuddin Vocational Institute, Singapore’s first tertiary school dedicated to manual and applied arts was established in 1965.

Site 11: Blocks 85 & 86 Commonwealth Close - Home Ownership for the People Scheme

Commonwealth was the first precinct in Singapore where the Housing and Development Board (HDB) launched its “Home Ownership for the People” scheme. The scheme was introduced in February 1964 by then Minister for National Development, Lim Kim San, to encourage a “property-owning democracy” in Singapore and enable Singaporeans in the lower middle-income group to purchase their own homes and “a stake in the country.”

Private ownership serves two significant purposes in nation building. Firstly, locally born citizens, with a place to call their own, will identify and possess a greater sense of belonging. Secondly, a lease ownership ties the household into a regular mortgage structure that requires monthly payments. Regular payments can be met only by regular monthly income earned from the formal sector of the economy, effectively transforming a workforce into a regular and disciplined one needed for industrialisation. The availability of such workforce would attract Multinational Corporations and Foreign Direct Investment into Singapore.

For the pilot in Commonwealth, 2,068 two and three-room apartments were made available on 99-year leases. The success of Singapore’s public housing where 82% of Singaporeans reside in HDB apartments and 81% of the population own their homes today can be attributed to the “Home Ownership” scheme.

Site 12: The VIP Block

Block 81 Commonwealth Close is known as the VIP Block in Queenstown. Completed in September 1964, the 16-storey block contained 192 three-room and 64 two-room apartments. The commanding presence of Block 81 and neighbouring blocks 82 and 83 earned the neighbourhood a colourful colloquial name, Chap Lak Lao (“16-storey Building” in Hokkien).

Block 81 was also the fourth block of flats under the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) “Home Ownership for the People” scheme. The scheme was introduced in February 1964 by then Minister for National Development, Lim Kim San, to encourage a “property-owning democracy in Singapore” and enable Singaporeans in the lower middle income group to purchase their own homes. Singaporeans earning an individual income not exceeding $800 per month were eligible to purchase a flat under the scheme. The scheme was piloted in Commonwealth where 2,068 two and three-room apartments were made available on 99-year leases.

The success of Singapore’s public housing where 82 per cent of Singaporeans reside in HDB apartments and 81 per cent of the population own their homes today can be attributed to the “Home Ownership for the People” scheme.

In the 1960s and 1970s, foreign dignitaries were brought to the VIP Block for a panoramic view of Queenstown which showcased Singapore’s success in public housing. Among these distinguished guests include Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1965; Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India in 1968; then Crown Prince of Akihito in 1970; and Spiro Agnew, then Vice President of the United States of America in 1970.

Site 13: Former Baharuddin Vocational Institute (First Campus)

The former Baharuddin Vocational Institute along Queensway was Singapore’s first tertiary school dedicated to manual and applied arts in Singapore. The institute was named after the late Inche Baharuddin bin Mohammed Arif, a PAP assembly who died in April 1965. It was officially opened by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 20 June 1965 to nurture skilled, local designers and craftsmen in advertising, fashion and printing trades.

The school marked a radical change in Singapore’s education policy. There was a new focus on preparing students for better jobs in the increasingly industrialised city-state. Apprentices and craftsmen who were already in the industry also got to upgrade their skills. Courses conducted at Baharuddin Vocational Institute included commercial art, dressmaking, furniture design, pottery and shell crafts.

Low Yee Ming (b.1964) was a former student at the Institute. She recalled: “The graphic design (commercial art) programme was extremely popular among students and it had a large intake. I enrolled in the course so that I could learn ‘more’ practical skills. The lecturers at the Institute were markedly different from those at academic schools as they accommodated more freedom and creativity in their classes.”

The institute relocated to its new site at Stirling Road in 1969. For the next two decades, Baharuddin Vocational Institute was the main institute which helped nurture graphic designers and craftsmen in Singapore. In 1990, the entire applied arts department from Baharuddin Vocational Institute moved to Temasek Polytechnic to start the School of Design. This led to the closure of the Institute.

In 2004, the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) took over the premise at Stirling Road.

Site 14: Ridout Tea Garden (Former Queenstown Japanese Garden)

Ridout Tea Garden (former Queenstown Japanese Garden) was Singapore’s first Japanese-themed community garden. Built at a cost of $500,000, the landscaped garden was opened in 1970 to provide more recreational facilities for flat dwellers in Queenstown. The original garden comprised of a large pool with lights and a fountain, a U-shaped row of shops housed in three verandas and a series of wooden bridges and pavilions.

On 26th June 1978, a huge blaze began at a furniture shop located in the middle of the U-shaped row. The architectural layout of the shops prevented firemen from containing the fire and the entire garden was soon engulfed in flames. As most of the shops were closed when the fire broke out, there was no casualties.

Out of the ashes of the former Queenstown Japanese Garden, the Housing and Development Board built a new garden in May 1979. Reopened under its new name, Ridout Tea Garden, the 1.38 hectare recreation site comprised of a single-storey eating house pavilion, a tea kiosk and a Japanese-styled garden.

Ridout Tea Garden was one of the focal points of Queenstown housing estate. Every weekend, Tay Ah Keow, 69, and her husband would bring her 3 children to the gardens for a stroll. “My son will prepare a bag of breadcrumbs at home and feed the giant terrapins and fishes in the pond,” she said.

Site 15: Ridout and Holland Park Conservation Area

Bounded by Ridout Road, Pierce Road, Holland Road and Queensway, Ridout and Holland Park Conservation Area comprises of 27 good class bungalows designed in Art Deco, Victorian and Black and White architectural styles.

According to architect Julian Davison, the increased military presence in Singapore from the 1920s, brought about by ongoing Japanese aggression, resulted in the expansion of existing facilities to accommodate an increasing number of British military personnel and their families domiciled on the island.

The colonial government bought large tracts of land from rubber estates in Ulu Pandan, Holland and Alexandra between the 1900s and 1920s to construct bungalows and barracks as married quarters for officers and their families. As a result, Ridout and Holland Park became the earliest of the post-war military estates.

23 Ridout Road
Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, 23 Ridout Road is a conserved good class bungalow designed by notable architect Frank W Brewer. The former LW Geddes house featured a distinctive architectural style that include exposed bricks and textured plasterwork. 23 Ridout Road serves as the official residence for the ambassador of the Netherlands Embassy in Singapore.

2 Pierce Drive
Constructed with timber frames, 2 Pierce Drive is typified by the streamlining of classical motifs to simple geometric patterns and designs and interlocking clay roof tiles.

The India House
The India House is a two-storey tropical black and white bungalow located on 2 Pierce Road. The Tudorbethan bungalow was thought to be commissioned by wealthy businessman, Ong Sam Leong, in 1911.

In 1949, the Government of India purchased the bungalow and rebuilt it to reinstate its former features. The bungalow serves as the residence for the High Commissioner of India and it was gazetted for conservation in 1991.