Monday, July 28, 2014

Queenstown Heritage Trail - A walk down memory lane ( Part 1)

I was fortunate to be invited to experience the launch of one of the guided walks of My Queenstown Heritage Trail by volunteers of the civic society group, My Community on Sunday July 27. It rained heavily in the morning but i managed to arrive at Queenstown MRT station which was our meeting point. After a short briefing by Kwek Li Yong (President of My Communty), we started our tours at 9 am armed with a lovely do-it-yourself walking booklet that provides beautiful imagery and detailed explanation of Queenstown and its iconic landmarks that has garnered many memories to the residents who grew up and lived in the first satellite estate or new township built by Singapore Improvement Trust ( SIT ), the British colonial agency in charge of housing which was the predecessor to the Housing Development Board (HDB).

Prior to this, i was under the impression that Tiong Bahru was the first estate built by SIT in the 1930's compared to Queenstown, which was conceptualised in 1953 and named after Queen Elizabeth II.  But i guess it a matter of syntax, the first estate (Tiong Bahru ) vs the first township (Queenstown). Either way, Queenstown estate is an estate of many first and i am excited that in this tour, i get to interact and listen to the stories of the residents as well.

Former Queenstown Driving Test Centre
The heavy rain that threatened the walk subsided just in time for us to start our tour, lead by a passionate and knowledgeable guide, Angela. Our first stop was the former Queenstown Driving Test Centre, located just after we got out the MRT station at street level. I learned from Angela a lovely anecdote that when the learning school first started, literacy among the populace was not high yet and the theory exams encompass the instructor using a toy car and the candidate had to use the toy car to illustrate their understanding of the highway code !
Former Queenstown Driving Centre

Queenstown Cinema and Bowling Alley and Tah Chung Emporium
Queenstown Cinema and Bowling Alley and Tah Chung Emporium were two buildings that did not exist anymore. The blue hoarding you see behind our guide Angela (in yellow) is what's left of the Cinema that was demolished in 2013. Opened in 1977, i could imagine the cinema and its bowling alley attracting young and old alike. The former Tah Chung Emporium was located on the left of the former Cinema (now a vacant land). The Emporium was said to be the first air-conditioned department store located in a public estate, yet another first for Queenstown.
Queenstown Cinema and Bowling Alley 

Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market
The odd shape building that seem to stick out alone now in the open field used to be the old wet market of 38 Commonwealth Avenue. It was build by Singapore Improvement Trust with the intent of moving roadside street hawkers into centralised buildings to improve hygiene standards. The architecture of the building which consist of the odd shape roof and honeycomb wall was designed to helped improve ventilation and keep the place airy.

You may be wondering why i have a picture of a group of people carrying a traditional Chinese coffin in my mosaic of pictures ! This is because a number of residents drew parallels to it, so much so that when this building first opened, the residents nicknamed the wet market "Coffin Market". Prior to it being closed, i do come here sometimes to eat at the chicken rice store that was temporary located in its premise. I am hearten to hear that this building will be conserved as it is the only wet market built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in Singapore, that is still standing.
Former Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market 

Queenstown Public Library
The next stop is a familiar one for me, as i came down to this library in the past many times. I was involved in its interior upgrading back in 2003. It was a time when there were still HDB blocks in front of it and the Polyclinic was still in operation and the famous two storey cook food centre was a place i went for my chicken rice, char kway teow (ground floor) and steam dumpling (2nd floor). Queenstown Public library is the first public library located in a estate and it was officially opened in by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on April 30, 1970. It was the second library to be built after the National Library in Stamford Road, but after National Library was demolished, Queenstown holds now the honors. This public library build is also a conserved building. It was recently repainted grey to reflect its original colors when it opened back in 1970.
Queenstown Public Library 

Queenstown Polyclinic
I was told by Angela that Margaret Drive Road in the past was the main road serving the estate at that time. Residents would call this "New Road" and taxi drivers would know where to go ! Queenstown Polyclinic was officially opened by PM Lee Kuan Yew in January 13, 1963. The premise is now a Dormitory for foreign workers, but in the past it was Singapore's first Polyclinic and a focal point for many especially during a time when subsidised healthcare help increased the reach of medical care to many who could not afford it.
Queenstown Polyclinic 

Venus and Golden City Theatres
From reminiscing about the 2 storey food centre that used to my favourite haunt when i was in Queenstown, we move on to two buildings that are now used as churches (Church of our Saviour and "Fisherman of Christ" Fellowship). This is reflective of the common trend where the decline of standalone cinemas favoring for cinemas that are integrated with malls. This stand alone cinemas were often rented out eventually as places of worship or demolished. It must have been a golden era of movies as major past time, when 3 cinemas were built in close proximity to each other. Venus Theatre was opened by the President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Soon Peng Yam on September 29, 1965 and Golden Theatres a month later. If you look at the old photo below from National Archives you would notice a fountain located in between the two buildings. I can imagine this would have been the meeting point among the Queenstown residents and especially for the young teens out on dates, during a time when one would have not owned mobile phones or pagers. The theatres closed their shutters for good in 1984.
Venus and Golden City Theatres

Stirling Road Terraces
Our next stop are a group of landed houses built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and it was here, we got to interact and chat with one its earliest residence, Mr Mahmood Tamam, 63 years old who moved in here with his parents has a young boy (with 11 other siblings ) in 1963 from Jalan Eunos. At that time, they rented the place for $100 a month and it was two years later they were allowed to buy the place after ownership of managing the estates went from SIT to HDB.
Mr. Mahmood Tamam, 63 years old
(one of the 3 old residents of Stirling Road)
I personally liked the story Mr. Mahmood shared about an Indian Circus Troupe that sat up tentage nearby in the 1960's and there was incident whereby the circus elephant trainer was killed by the elephant. He suspected that the naughty children taunted the elephant and that resulted the elephant to accidentally kill its trainer. I researched a bit more on Indian circus troupes during this period and found one that was owned by a Mr. N.C Balan , 24 years old (in 1961) who took over the rains of a 250 strong-staff from his late father, Mr. P. Shankaran who formed the circus troupe 35 years ago. It is from here, i learned that there was also other local circus troupe in operation in addition to the circus troupes that i am aware off from my experiences in Bukit Brown, the Tai Thean Kew Circus.
NewspaperSG (December 30, 1961)


To be continued
Look out for my next article as i learn and experience more about the history, people and food of Queenstown >>>>>>>>>> Queenstown Heritage Trail - A walk down memory lane (Part II)

Further information 
If you are interested in joining an interactive guided walk- the civic group group, My Community organises guided walks.
I love Queenstown ( Queenstown Public Library )
My Community Tours (updated on 14 Jan 2017)

Tour
Date
Registration
Commonwealth & Holland
Village heritage tour

Every third Sunday


www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.
sg or email
myqueenstown@gmail.com

Labrador & Alexandra
heritage tour

Every 2nd and 4th
Saturday

Tanglin Halt & Margaret Drive heritage tour

Every 2nd and 4th
Sunday



References
Archives Online. [website ] National Archives
NewspaperSG.[website]. National Library Board
My Queenstown Heritage Trail. [website].My Queenstown

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