Thursday, October 16, 2008

How well do you know the old Singapore? - Middle Road

Recently, my fellow blogger, Ordinary Guy has been reminiscing about the Middle Road area. He made mention of places like the David Elias Building, Selegie Complex and Middle Road Church. However, he has missed out one important landmark which was located at the junction of Middle Road and Prinsep Street. Do you know what place I am referring to? I give you a hint. It was a government department.

Today, this place is occupied by a new shopping complex called Sunshine Plaza. The photo below shows the Sunshine Plaza viewed from of Middle Road.


But next to it along Prinsep Street, another old building has survived the bull dozers. Can you recognize it? It’s the Elections Department.

Just across Middle Road, nearer to the David Elias Building that Ordinary Guy mentioned was a building which used to be a hospital. This was one of two hospitals that carried an unpleasant stigma with it in the old days; so much so that the other hospital, the Woodbridge Hospital in Yio Chu Kang was recently renamed the Institute of Mental Health. The Middle Road Hospital was famous for treating VD or venereal disease.

Today, the building which housed the Middle Road Hospital is still standing. Below are two photos I took of it. The top one was taken around middle of last year and the bottom one just 3 months ago.

OK. Enough of digression. Have you figured out the name of that government department I mentioned earlier? The answer is: ROV or Registry of Vehicles.

I remember visiting the ROV in December 1980 when I bought my first car, a second-hand Mazda323. Usually buyer and seller would meet at the ROV, do the paper work to transfer the car ownership and hand over the log book and money. My car was only a few months old and had an EM number plate. I think the number was 8641 or 8461. I paid about $17,000 for it.

I believe it was one of the first ‘hatch-back’ cars on the roads. It had only a small engine of about 990 cc capacity although the car body was quite big. I remember one occasion when we had a visitor from a (Philips) sister plant in Argentina. This chap was huge .. weighing easily more than 200 lbs. About 5 or 6 of us cramped into my Mazda323 and the car almost could not make it up the Benjamin Sheares Bridge.

Talking about Mazda cars, do you recall the Mazda Capella with rotary engine? I am sure Peter would know about this car. My colleague at Philips, Bobby Yee used to own one. It was a very powerful and fast car. Once we drove to Kuala Lumpur and Kuantan in his car. When we stopped at a motor car workshop in Kuatan, some people came around to admire his car and somebody remarked that it was even faster than the Alfa Romeo.



This old photo from the collection of the National Archives of Singapore shows a section of Middle Road with many old shops. It looks very familiar but I can't quite identify the exact location. Hope somebody can enlighten me. Thanks.

31 comments:

peter said...

Mazda Capella used the Wankel engine, a rotary technology which allows for bigger horsepower but with a smaller engine capacity. I think the model at that was <1200cc but could outrun those 2000cc cars.

At one time together with the ROV, the POSB HQ was at one corner of the ROV; nearer to Middle Road side before it moved to its own building in Bras Basah Road/Queen Street corner. There was a row of shop-houses across the ROV on Middle Road which made car number plates. I cant recall what was the reason for their existence. Maybe someone can provide some insights.

2ndshot said...

Am I right to say rotary engine cars are notorious fuel drinkers, like the Mazda RX8?

peter said...

I cant say about today as I dont keep abreast of cars these days. When RX5 was launched, it was considered a "guzzler" because owners expected to get great mileage from a <1200cc engine. Like in F1 which has a limit of 2.4l but that fella "drinks" like a 5 liter car.

peter said...

Chun See
ROV had its own "traffic cop" team and its HQ was at Middle Road. They were different from the Traffic Policed which had its HQ then at Maxwell Road. Although they wore the same uniform of white & navy blue, the differentiation was in the motor-bike # prefix. ROV had "ROV" followed by the number. Traffic Police had "TP". Back in the 1950s, the ROV police wore khaki coloured uniforms and not white & navy blue. They used Triumph motor-bikes where as TP used Norton bikes.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter is right about the POSB HQ at Middle Rd. When I did a search at the Nat Archives' Picas website, I saw some photos. But I did not mention it becos I have no memories of it.

Victor said...

This was my territory. You can see my primary school at the top of the map - Selegie School. Back in 1963 when I was in Pr 1, it was known as Selegie Integrated School. (I have written a post on it here.

Sometimes, I would walk to school or back home and I would either traverse the corridors of those buildings in Middle Road shown in your photos or I would take an alternative route, i.e. Albert Street, to my home in Cheng Yan Place (near Queen Street).

Lam Chun See said...

Victor. Since you know this place so well, can you pls enlighten me on the last photo which I just addeed.

peter said...

I am not from "Victor's territory".

The last photo is Middle Road in the direction of Peace Center. It should be opposite to the former VD Clinic......and (on the bottom left of photo)after Prinsep Street. Today, it is an empty piece of space.

2ndshot said...

The last photo actually shows The Straits Clinic with address 239. I mean the multi-storey building between the shophouses. So it is about diagonal to address 234 in the old street directory put up.

Any recollection? Considering it is opposite VD Clinic mentioned by Peter.

Today a clinic by the same name is in IOI Plaza nearby. Not sure same one or not.

peter said...

The 2 storey shop-houses after the multi-storey building was once a left-wing trade union (not sure which one) but I did remember in 1962 there were banners hung across to protest the PAP's unfair referendum to join Malaysia. Still can recollect about cartoons depicting LKY.

Icemoon said...

Must be the cartoons did not paint a flattering picture of our PM. I remember Coldstore was a year after that. Looks like the three in kangaroo shirt did not learn from history, heh.

Zen said...

We have local multi-racial enclaves which speaks volume of the early history of Singapore. Early immigrants settled down in various areas like
Little India, Chinatown, kampong glam, Arab street/beach road (Arab traders) and Jews in Selegie/middle road sector. The Jewish community has since dwindled in size through passing years, whilst other smaller communities located at specified spots have almost disappeared from the scene. It is therefore important for these existing enclaves to be properly preserved and maintained for posterity to understand the history of early Singapore.

phook said...

With heritage investigators like Peter and Icemoon (the former having photographic memory while the latter having keen observation), you don't need people like me. I think Peter is right because the tall Peace Centre building is in the background of the photo.

Frankly, I can't remember this place at all. As a young kid, I was not very observant. However, I do remember a quaint shop at the corner of Middle Road and Bencoolen St. (Fortune Centre now stands at this location.) The shop sold aerated drinks from 3 dispensers which were installed on a white-tiled counter top. The dispensers looked like today's beer dispensers. As a kid, I could only afford to buy the drinks a few times. I think it cost abt 20 or 30 cents for a very small cup of drink. But they were damn shiok.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. If you were to go to NHB's Picas website and do a search under Middle Road, you will find many interesting photos; including the POSB HQ you mentioned, and Barisan Socialis HQ.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor, you are too humble. Haven't we discussed your power of observation in your blog before and came to the conclusion you are extremely observants when it come to certain matters. From some of your earlier posts, I remember even as a kid you noticed many interesting 'professionals' (as in the world's oldest profession)at work near your home.

peter said...

Barsian Socialis HQ was at Victoria Street (not Middle Road); the Victoria Street side going toward MICA.

There was a famous Chinese restaurant at Selegie Complex - second floor - Prince Room or Princess Room. Good for tim-sum. On the ground floor was one shop in the late 70s which sold high-end infant accessories. I think they were the distributors for APRICA. I still got my son's first prambulator, baby cod and bouncing, all something like almost close to 30 years.

Chun Chew said...

Peter - There was this shop (name forgotten) at the junction of Bras Basah road and Victoria street selling laboratory items and chemicals. I did buy something there during my school days. Is it possible for you enlighten us more of this this shop?

peter said...

Chun Chew - I knew of one lab shop but it was at Cross Street; SINNO CHEM Pte Ltd. The corner building at Bras Basah Road and Victoria Street was called VICTORIA Bdlg had a night club ("New Horse....)on the second floor floor. ground floor was always locked (abandoned shop). Are you referring to the laboratory shop that faces the RED HOUSE Bakery? How come I dont know when my school just next door?

Lam Chun See said...

I know there was a (stationery?) shop at Prinsep St, near to Bras Basah called Black Cat or something like that.

BTW, I had simply assumed that the Elections Dept building was an old building. But it was not indicated in the 1981 st directory. Was my assumption correct?

PChew said...

Middle Road is not my territory but I can vaguely remember the girly bar at David Elias Bldg. with coloured neon lights flashing at night to attract customers. My friend was a partner of the Straits Clinic. If I am not wrong, it operated as a pharmacy without a doctor. There was also a camera shop called Tithe (not very sure) who was the sole agent for Yashica camera. From Victori St towards Selegie Rd on the VD hospital side was many shoe shops.Stamford Girls School was also somewhere there.

peter said...

Pchew - that bar can remember also but old ladies as bar girls. We students joked "once inside the bar" need to walk next door to see the doctor on Monday morning.

Tithes Dental & Photo Supply was the agent for Yashica camera. Won a prize back in the late 60s for some talentime contest and came to the shop to collect my prize. I think the shop somewhere between Victoria Street and North Bridge Road (nearer to North bridge Road) - on the side of the now Hotel Intercon maybe. Now u rjolt my memory on the shoe shop - plenty. One of them was Supreme Shoe before it moved to Plaza Singapura.

zen said...

Peter - My memory could have failed me on exact location. It could be one of the shops along victoria street, but it was definitely around this area. I was then in fantasy land trying to buy a few test tubes and a mixture of chemicals to experiment on. Thinking back on it, I really did a foolhardy act which could have undesirable consequences.

peter said...

Yes it was Victoria Street, somewhere near and on the side of the Victoria Hotel...

Ah 9 said...

Last photo, i think that corner is where Sunshine Plaza now stands. I think so...might be more accurate to go on location to gauge distance of the taller peace center / parklane private apartments? :)

Jo9001 said...

The last photo is Sunshine Plaza, just after NAFA, heading towards Peace Ctr.
I'm very sure of it because I grew up in Middle Rd area.

Jo9001 said...

Sorry, I would like to correct my statement earlier... the last pic is just after Sunshine Plaza... the stretch of empty plot of land.
In the pic, you see the the bicycle coming out of that lane, that was the lane coming out from the ROV building/ Election Building... or in my time, that building was a polyclinic.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for that clarification Jo9001. Initially you got me a bit confused when both you and Ah 9 said that it was the Sunshine Plaza.

So the road where bicycle is coming out would be Prinsep St right?

Ah 9 said...

Sorry to add to the confusion. It seems J's right, the corner shophouse is sitting on the now empty field. Meanwhile...some images might provide clues?

Image 1
(the street sign says "Prinsep St", same corner shophouse as in the last image in entry? Dated 1986)

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

Image 6

Image 7

Image 8

Image 9

(all images here from Pica)

Ah 9 said...

to add something interesting..

http://www.flickr.com/photos/crab68/479794633/

Didn't know it was a hospital before. :)

Dogcom said...

Does remember Swee Kee Chicken Rice at Middle Road? http://www.getforme.com/whatsgone_places_SweeKeeChickenRice.htm

Anonymous said...

Hi Chun See, Wish you a very happy new year ahead. Thanks for the pictures which bring back alot of memories. I was born in the same year as you in the now defunct Salmon Hospital which still stands today at the same site. I lived at 92 Prinsep Street which was also my grandma's house from 1952 to 1959 when my family shifted to Margaret Drive in Queenstown. We still continued to visit my grandma at Prinsep Street on a very regular basis right into the 1970s. Keep up the good work.
Freddie