Wednesday, March 23, 2016

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

The folks behind My Community invited me for a newly launched trail curated by them called the Commonwealth and Holland Village Heritage Tour. The meeting point was Holland Village MRT and that portion of the tour experience was covered in my earlier article post, Commonwealth and Holland Village Heritage Tour -Part I. This article continues from where we left off.

The First Flatted Factory & former Tanglin Halt industrial estate

Block 115 Commonwealth Drive is Singapore’s first flatted factory. Built at a cost of $1.5 million, 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 was important infrastrutre light industry and key source of employment especially with its location within housing estates allowing for a ready supply of labour and encouraged women to enter the labour force.

Madam Noorsia who now works as a cleaner in her estate, was one of the women who found work from this light industry which opened in her neighbour. She recollected to us of  her memory working for Wing Heng a company that use to have it office there (probably Wing Heng Plastic Industries Pte Ltd at 115-A Commonwealth Drive #02-01)

Madam Noorisa

The flatted factory under construction
(source: National Archives of Singapore) 

Ministry of Education (MOE) Heritage Centre

Opened in 1 September 2011, the MOE Heritage Centre showcases the milestone of Singapore education from the early 19th Century until present. Located at the site of the former New Town Primary School and Permaisura Primary School at Commonwealth Drive, it is open for public access on Friday's from 9 am-5 pm. Other than the exhibits (both indoor and outdoor), i truly enjoyed the enthusiasm and rich stories from my docent, Mr Goh Bian Koon, 73 years old. A former Principal of St. Patrick ( 1995-1997), Mr. Goh Bian Koon spent 37 years in education and helped reviewed the History Curriculum at the Ministry level.

Mr. Goh Bian Koon , docent at MOE Heritage Centre

Blocks 85 & 86 Commonwealth Close

Commonwealth was the first precinct in Singapore which launched HDB’s “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. Three blocks of new 16-storey and 12 blocks of new 10-storey flats were put up for sale, a total of 1,726 3 room units and 342 two-room units. The three-room units were priced at $6,200 and two-room units $4,900.  By the end of 1964, 2068 units where made available for sale.

Block 85 and 86 Commonwealth Crescent -then and now

Balloting Ceremony for the Home Ownership for the People
(source: National Archives of Singapore) 

The VIP Block 

Block 81 Commonwealth Close, completed in 1964, is a 16-storey ( colloquial name: Chap Lak Lao) block where our guides shared that in the 1960s and 1970s, foreign dignitaries were brought to this block for panoramic views of Queenstown which showcased Singapore’s success in public housing (hence the name, VIP Block). Among these distinguished guests include Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1965; Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, in 1968; then Crown Prince Akihito, in 1970; and Spiro Agnew, then Vice President of USA in 1970. I researched further and manage to find some pictures of the VIP that visited Queenstown as part of their official visit.

Duke in Queenstown ( Prince Phillip with Yusuf Ishak and Lim Kim San)
source: NewspaperSG Straits Times, February 20, 1965
Crown Prince Akihito meets Hanako in Queenstown on February 28, 1970.
With them are Hanako's sisters (from left) Irene, Jean and Grace
(source: National Archives )

Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India (1968)
source: National Archives of Singapore 

Spiro Agnew, then Vice President of USA in 1970

Panoramic view from the 16th floor of 81 Commonwealth Close (VIP Block) 

Ridout Tea Garden 

Ridout Tea Garden (former Queenstown Japanese Garden) was Singapore’s first Japanese-themed community garden. The landscaped garden was opened in 1970 to provide more recreational facilities for Queenstown residents. On June  26,1978, a huge blaze engulfed the entire garden. HDB rebuilt a new garden in 1980 at a cost of $500,000 and reopened it as Ridout Tea Garden (after a road nearby it and to avoid naming confusion of the Japanese Garden in Jurong).

Ridout Tea Garden 
Remnants of the Japanese Garden wall from the 1978 fire

To be continued 

Check out my own research findings on some of the houses in Ridout Estate

Signing up for a My Community Heritage Tour

All tours organised by My Community including this one are available for interested participants to register for the free, through, or call Queenstown Community Centre.

Commonwealth & Holland Village   Every third Sunday
Labrador & Alexandra                      Every 2nd and 4th Sunday
Tanglin Halt and Margaret Drive     Every 2nd and 4th Sunday

(correct as of 10 January 2017)

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