Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Chinese YMCA at Palmer Road by Peter Chan

The old building that was shown in the previous Old Buildings Quiz is called Palmer House. It used to be home to the Chinese YMCA (Young Men Christians’ Association), later renamed Metropolitan YMCA.

I remember this place from 4 decades ago. In 1967, I came here to collect my prize for winning the Inter-School General Knowledge Quiz. I was in Secondary 1. I also came here to play badminton. Today, the badminton courts have been converted into offices (walk in through the front glass door and straight ahead were the courts).

There was a Hainanese canteen operator then who had a signature dish called "Minute Steak" - green peas, French fries and beef. I am not sure about it now, but in front of the building, facing what is the ECP today, was the swimming pool (raised above the ground) and a concrete diving board like the old Chinese Swimming Club. The swimming pool was facing the curved curved end of YMCA which is now occupied by the Keppel Flyover. Under the curved building was the open space for customers to dine. The kitchen was just behind it - the present small door in that building lead to the old kitchen.

Palmer House lies at the end of Palmer Road and is just behind the Singapore Polytechnic. In those days, Palmer Road was very different from what it is today. The road to get into Palmer Road is different from today's direction. You had to pass the temple (on your left) and then drive under a row of wooden houses (imagine going to a cowboy fort). The coolie quarters was also a part of the Palmer Godowns.

Below is a map of the vicinity scanned from my 1963 street directory. You can compare it with that of a recent map. It looks like the present Palmer Road is not the same as the old one – probably has been added on in recent times. As you can see, at that time there was no ECP. That place used to be sea. But, interestingly some of the old places are still there.

1. The Hock Teck See Temple is still there. In the old days, it was spelt Ho Teck Su.

2. The Keramat Habib Nor was built in 1890 by Syed Mohammed bin Ahmed Alsagoff and is still maintained by his descendents. Meaning "a sacred place" in Malay, a Keramat is the traditional burial ground of a revered leader. The Masjid Haji Mohamed Salleh, renovated in the mid-1980s, is located within its vicinity (Source: Singapore Infopedia)

3. The Parsi Burial Ground of course is no longer there. But you can still see some step which presumably led to it from Palmer Road.

For more information about the person after who Palmer Road has been named and the history of this place, please go to the Singapore Infopedia website.


peter said...

People who are in their 70s and alive will tell you this is not a good place to come. There was so much bad connotation with this end of Shenton Way.

There was this SATA building opposite the old Poly. In those days when people contracted TB they came here for their x-rays. If you don't make it thru SATA there was this Parsi (Persian) cemetery next door. SATA is now I think the MAS Building.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter.. Can you pls elaborate on that diving board photo. In whcih direction was it taken. The building in the background; is that the rear of Spore Poly?

passerby said...

Hi, just a teenage passerby who's subscribed to your blog from some time back... Just wanted to say thanks for all the amazing, invaluable posts this far and looking forward to more. I liked this post because of those steps at the end - whenever I see steps leading to nowhere, I can't help but wonder what used to be there and how it was like when people came often.

If there's any old memories of the area between Holland/Clementi I would be very glad to know because I live there right now and I'm interested to know what it used to be like.

Victor said...

Oh that arch is the structure for the diving board? I thought it was part of McDonald's logo.

peter said...

The concrete diving board was facing the curved section of Palmer House. It should be some where at the fence under the Keppel Viaduct and the container yard.

If you look at the photo, it seems that its back was facing the Singapore Poly. No it wasn't. That building was another block of the Singapore Poly which has been demolished to make way for the Keppel Viaduct i.e. the side road that leads up the ramp into ECP from Keppel Road. If you compare the 1963 Street Directory map and the latest, you find one block of the Poly is missing. The missing link went under the ramp.

Chun See, "Passerby" wanted something On Holland/Clementi - there used to be a cemetery opposite Mowbray Camp for the British Servicemen - now is Pine Grove Estate. The Singapore American School (now at Woodlands) was located behind Pine Grove and facing one of the red blocks of Pandan Valley Condominium. There used to be a british Army camp called Colombo Camp at where Clementi MRT Station is located. It was the SAF Staff and Command College in 1968.

Anonymous said...

A little off-topic, but read from that Singapore Badminton Hall at Guillemard rd will soon be torn down. Those who played badminton for schools in the 60s, 70s will know that after the district level, the national level games are played there. Of course, badminton is still a big craze albeit with some "foreign talents". It would good to take some photos of it before it completely disappear

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for the tip. If I am in the area, I certainly would try to take some photos of the Badminton Hall at Guillemard Rd. When young played there a few time. But I am not too worried about prominent places like Badminton Hall or Nat Stadium. Reckon that there are plenty of photos of them around. I am more concerned about the lesser know places which once gone, cannot even find a photo of them. That's the kind of old buildings that I have focussed on so far in my Old Building Quizes.

Lam Chun See said...

Talking about badminton courts, I think I have played at both the court in Chinese YMCA and the one at the old YMCA at Stamford Road (before they rebuilt it). I remember the one in YMCA was much worse becos of the low ceiling and the closeness to the pillars.

Peter; can you remenber anyting?

peter said...

Singapore Badminton Hall - yeah tried that place but for many reasons didn't like the place. Why?
1. Agree ceiling very low and very warm inside. Worse than sauna.

2. The best school players (boys and girls) were selected to be coached by former Singapore Champion Yeo Ah Seng. Feel so "paiseh" bcos our standard was so low compared to those playing on the next court. So many of us who were not selected sat on the terrace and watch the St Margaret School girls training. After some time felt bored and decided to hang up that Silver Gray/Dunlop racket.

If I am not wrong in those days they had schools and all the sports organised by districts such as City District, Bukit Timah, Serangoon, (maybe there were 5 districts but I cant be sure on this). For some reasons NJC was placed in City District although they were in Lindon Drive - not sure why? Chun See u know anything about this?

Lam Chun See said...

Yes, I too remember SBH as very warm and stuffy. But I was asking about the old YMCA at Stamford Rd. Have you played there before? Did I remember correctly about the low ceiling as compared to the Chinese YMCA at Palmer Rd?

As for why NJC was grouped under City district, I too wondered why and don't know the reason. Maybe Wee Kiat will know. Did you know he was in charge of Rugby at NJC?

Brian Mitchell said...

Of course the Singapore Badminton Hall was mentioned last year in comments on my blog piece where I recalled seeing Cliff Richard and the Shadows play - I could not recall the venue but your blog readers soon identified it for me. I would be interested in seeing some pics - including an interior shot if you can get it Chun See.


peter said...

Chun See - I did not play at YMCA Orchard Road.

Aiyoh Wee Kiat ic of NCJ rugby? Was that the year that Raffles walloped NCJ 103-0? I still remember the game we played at NJC ground (just after an afternoon shower) because many Raffles 2nd team players defected to NCJ and suddently in 1970 Raffles faced a shortage of players. Then all the Sec 4 players were drafted in for the game against NCJ. We were told "Spare no mercy", so the results speak. Next year, NCJ did not take part in the game anymore.

Lam Chun See said...

Wee Kiat recently wrote in our NJC Alumni newsletter about the even rougher treatment we got from ACS team. Good thing I not into this 'gentleman's game'.

Lam Chun See said...

OK Brian. I think I will try to take some photos of the SBH. Do you think your friends at Memories of Spore would like to see them? If yes, I will send to Tom O'Brien.

peter said...

Somehow we students then got the message from "hiher authoprities" that teachers also defected over to NJC. Appreciate some one correcting this wrong perception.

Was there also a Mr. Tan Wee Tin in NJC at that time? I thot he was ic of rugby.

Thank good ness Chun See you did not sign up to play that game; otherwise you wont forgive me after all these years!!! I recall that during the scrum, poor NJC players were kicked and knee.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. You forget that by the time you played against NJC, I was already in SU. We had a physics teacher call Wee Heng Tin. I think he is now holding a very senior post in MOE.

peter said...

Chun See
I often get confused between Wee Heng Tin and Tan Wee Tin. Thank goodness Tan Wee Kiat did not enter this topic.

Yah I remember you were the first batch of NJC students and the year was 1969 when NJC was steam-rolled. No wonder many of us stood very little chance of "tackling" NJC girls when our turn came.

noelbynature said...

I remember doing an archaeological dig in the area at the request of the temple. We were trying to ascertain if the age of the temple, as a temple was said to exist in the area even before the arrival of Raffles. Beside the Parsi burial ground there used to be a colonial fort (Fort Palmer). Very little of the burial ground and the fort still exist. Do you remember what the burial ground looked like in the 1960s? I don't think those are the steps to the burial ground, but further up from the steps and to the right, you can actually climb the hill and take a look at the fort's ruins!

Brian Mitchell said...

Chun See

I recall some conversations on another site with someone who also saw Cliff Richard at the hall so I guess a photo of it might well be of some interest to other Brit kids - there might have been a whole lot of concerts there which others attended. It would be a thrill for me - my first gig attended and I well recall the rather strange hall it took place in - would be great to see how it looks.

Anonymous said...

Poor Denmark, they always plays bride-maid when coming to world badminton supremacy in the all England Thomas Cup (since 1949). In the 1955(?) Thomas Cup show- down in the Singapore Badminton Hall, Finn Koberro the Danish Ace fought our local maestro Wong Peng Soon who deliberately lost the second set to the Dane, and in the third set trounced him with a 15-0, delivering a devastating blow to the Danish Team. At first I attributed the loss due to Europeans unable to adjust to the desert-like tropical heat but now with air-cond indoor stadiums still Denmark has not won the Thomas Cup why? But the talented Danes should not be denied forever (5 decades), one day I am quite sure they will bring the cup back to Copenhagen - watch it!

Dogcom said...

Haha Chun See, so many memories reading your blog entries. I did a course of Karate at Chinese YMCA in my teens. The instructor was a short Japanese man Makawa san. Regrettably, I stopped when I reached brown belt, next being Black Belt.