Sunday, March 20, 2016

Commonwealth and Holland Village Heritage Tour (My Community Heritage Trail) - Part I

The great folks behind My Community invited me yet again for a newly launched trail curated by them called the Commonwealth and Holland Village Heritage Tour which was launched today on March 20th, 2016. My Community have been working hard to promote and document the social memories and heritage of communities in Queenstown, Dawson, Alexandra, Commonwealth and finally Holland area which neighbourhood's are undergoing transformation.

You can read about the other Heritage Tours that My Community organises from my previous post
Dawson & Alexandra Heritage Tour - Part I , posted on April 5, 2015
Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour-Part II , posted on April 5, 2015
Queenstown Heritage Trail - A walk down memory lane (Part I) , posted on July 28, 2014
Queenstown Heritage Trail - A walk down memory lane (Part II), posted on July 30, 2014

Commonwealth and Holland Village Heritage Tour

The meeting point for the tour was the Holland Village MRT Station with another series of different sites to immerse into. What i enjoy about My Community's tour is the fact they get real people who lived in the Community to interact with us when given a chance. Below are some of the places, i got see and learn as well as people i interacted with, which i manage to pen down my thoughts. Our knowledgeable guides,  Huang Eu Chai and Choo Lip Sin were very good in unraveling the stories that i am now able to also share with you.

Thambi Magazine Store

The iconic magazine and newspaper store in Lorong Liput, Holland Village is still standing proud despite mounting pressure from the online media and changing behaviour of people's reading habits. I got to meet Sam ( Mr P. Senthilmurugan ), eldest son of the late Periathambi G who passed away in 2013. Sam shared that his father expanded into providing magazines in addition to newspaper delivery because of the British soldiers and their families who stayed in Chip Bee Gardens requesting for magazines.  Sam's grandfather who came from Indian started delivering newspapers when this area was just a village, so that means Sam is third generation newspaper and magazine vendor !

Sam and his family members of Thambi Magazine Store

Chip Bee Gardens

Chip Bee Gardens was a British Army Military estate established in the mid-1950s to house the British army personnel and their family. The estate comprised of six blocks of apartment flats, semi-detached houses and two rows of shop houses. Before the ground floor of these shop houses were converted for retail in 1978, they served as a mess hall for the British soldiers to socialise, play billiards and conduct meetings. Now, what i see are cafes, restaurants, dentist, galleries mixed with residential. Princess Margaret (sister of Queen Elizabeth) visited this estate in 1972.

Princess Margaret visiting Chip Bee Gardens estate in 1972

Former Eng Wah Open Air Cinemas 

Located at 3 Lorong Liput, the former Eng Wah open-air cinema was established in the mid-1950s 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. The theatre was closed in 1985 and is in the process of being demolished.

Former Eng Wah Open Air Cinema (then and now)

Block 41-43, 45-47 Holland Avenue “ Red Bricks” Blocks

Built between 1970 and 1974, the Buona Vista 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 (Hokkien: 红屋). I remembered this place too before turning to what it is now.

The old market at Holland Village (source: National Archives)
As we continued to make our way through Holland Avenue, the hilly terrain reminded that much of the hills beyond Holland Village was once cemetery grounds as well.

Aerial view of Holland Village with a Chinese cemetery in the foreground
(source: National Archives )

Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Memorial Hall & Ying Fo Fui Kun Cemetery

Located at 9 Commonwealth Lane, the cemetery at Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Ancestral Hall is Singapore’s last remaining Hakka cemetery. The origins of the Ancestral Hall and its surrounding 88-acre cemetery was established in 1887 for Yin Fo Fui Kun clansmen from Jia Ying (Chinese: 嘉应 ) prefecture in Canton, to have a place for burial and ancestral worship.

In  the 1960's cemeteries around this area were all acquired for the development of townships in-line with Government to house its residence in proper homes instead of kampungs and quarters. Other infrastructures including schools, industry and social places (places of worship, hawker centre and wt markets) were the blueprints for the satellite townships, e.g. Queenstown. The only concession given was for this last Hakka cemetery in view of the fact that the Hakka people had “no other cemetery.” 4.5 acres as a reburial site for 99 years was allocated to this place you see surrounded by HDB flats showing that the dead can co-exist in harmony with the living.

Ying Fo Fui Kun Cemetery

Qing Ming 

Ancestral Tablet 

Commonwealth Crescent Neighbourhood Centre

Built at a cost of $180,000 in the 1960's, the  Commonwealth Crescent Neighbourhood Centre was officially opened on 29 May 1965 by then Minister for Labor, Jek Yuen Thong. The neighbourhood centre comprised of 26 shop units arranged around a quadrangle and 84 hawker stalls in the wet market.

Commonwealth Crescent 

One of the long time pioneers i got to meet here is Mr. Ong Choon Kwee, the proprietor of Sin Palace Hair Dressing Salon. He has been serving the grooming needs of the male residents of Commonwealth Crescent neighbourhood for the past 50 years (not only hair cut, shave, nose trimming, fish out ear wax & finally tongue scrapping).

Mr. Ong Choon Kwee (Sin Palace Hair Dressing Salon)
Mr. Lim Thiam Choo is synonymous with Queenstown Poh Pia having served numerous Queenstown residents for the past 49 years. He first started out as an hawker peddling along the streets at Tanglin Halt, Margaret Drive and Commonwealth Crescent. He is now retired and his eldest son i recall sells handmade popiah skin in the double storey hawker of Commonwealth Crescent. You can read his story from My Queenstown's blog.

Lim Thiam Choo (Queenstown Popiah)

To be continued

Look out for my next article, Commonwealth and Holland Village Heritage Tour (My Community Heritage Trail) , posted on March 23, 2016.

My Community Tours (updated on 14 Jan 2017)

Commonwealth & Holland
Village heritage tour

Every third Sunday

sg or email

Labrador & Alexandra
heritage tour

Every 2nd and 4th

Tanglin Halt & Margaret Drive heritage tour

Every 2nd and 4th

Call for Volunteers

My Community is recruiting volunteers who are interested in community heritage and love guiding heritage tours, curating exhibitions or researching on community history. Interested participants can fill in application forms to participate in their volunteers' workshop which takes place from 8.45am to 4pm on 24 & 30 April 2016 at Queenstown Community Centre and email The workshop trains prospective volunteers on basic oral history interviews, basic guiding and research techniques.

Alternatively, participants can join them at an open house from 1pm to 4pm on Saturday, 26 March 2016 at Queenstown Community Centre auditorium where their volunteers will share our experiences on guiding, curating, researching and events organising. Register for the open house:

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