In 1971, the Ministry of National Development met officials from the major oil companies in Singapore to announce a major decision. All petrol stations within the Central Business District (CBD) were to be phased out over a period of 30 years, with some having to quit immediately. In 1970 there were a total of 150 petrol stations throughout Singapore; 30 still remained after 21 were re-sited away from the city area. SHELL the main oil company was the most affected by the government’s ruling to re-site the bulk of its petrol stations away from the city area.
Photo 1: SHELL station at Beach Road, opposite the former Beach Road Camp which would later become the future South Beach Hotel (circa 1968). Site is now occupied by Raffles LaSalle.
Ten years later, a public tender was called in 1982 for a petrol station at the Golden Shoe Multi-storey Car Park - bounded by Church Street and Market Street. The tender went to SPC. I am not sure for the change of heart but I believe this is the only petrol station inside the CBD after the last one at Springleaf Tower closed.
Photo 2: SHELL station after the slip road from Tank Road into Oxley Rise. Later the site was replaced by the Oxley Flyover (circa 1968). In the background is Clemenceau Avenue towards Orchard Road.
There were five key reasons for phasing out all petrol stations.
1) There were too many petrol stations in the city area rendering uneconomic use of expensive and scare land resource.
2) Petrol stations lie along busy thoroughfares and were seen as causing traffic hazards as vehicles move in and out disrupting a smooth traffic flow.
3) Not many were environmentally friendly; waste engine oil went into public drains. The road surfaces were often coated with black oily patches. Many were even aesthetically an eye-sore.
4) Petrol stations were fire hazard candidates because they were used to host the Seventh Month Festival. Something catastrophic could happen when giant size joss sticks and burnt paper offerings stood dangerously close to the fuel pumps.
5) New housing estates were built and it would be better when motorists obtain petrol services nearer to their homes.
Photo 3: CALTEX station was at the corner of Killiney Road and Somerset Road (circa 1975). Now is occupied by ORCHARD CENTRAL.
Petrol stations could be classified in three different categories; stand pump, petrol service station and full service petrol station.
A stand pump was nothing more than a dual gasoline pump offering petrol and diesel. The second type, petrol service station occupied a bigger space and comprised of several pumps and sold various grades of fuel – Ordinary Petrol, Regular Petrol plus diesel. The third type was a full-service petrol station offered lubrication services, sold motor accessories and petrol.
Photo 4: ESSO station at the corner of Mount Elizabeth and Orchard Road (circa 1976). TONG BUILDING has replaced the station.
Geographically petrol stations were located at the city fringe area and those inside the city area, apart from those in the new housing estates and rural areas. There was a George Lee Motors Station at the corner of Clemenceau Avenue (now Clemenceau North) and Peck Hay Road. George Lee Motors can be categorized as the third type. A SHELL station along Tanglin Road, next to St Martin’s Apartment was the second type. A stand pump example was the one at the former site of the Overseas Union House before it was built. Did you know at the corner of Orange Grove Road and Orchard Road there used to be a SHELL station; now it is the Orchard Hotel?
Photo 5: SHELL station at the corner of Penang Lane and Orchard Road, now Doby Gaut MRT Station (circa 1973). Penang Lane is in the foreground. Universal Car Distributors held the distribution franchise for Ford cars in Singapore.
To define the geographical boundaries of the city area and city fringe, I use the “Restricted Zone Scheme” definition. When I attended Raffles in 1967 my friends and I would spend out Saturday afternoons after ECA, walking and exploring the city streets. From memory, I knew the following locations of the petrol stations:
1) Next to the former Orchard Road Police Station
2) Corner of Penang Lane and Orchard Road
3) Corner of Manila Street and Victoria Street
4) At the now Oxley Flyover over Clemenceau Avenue
5) Beach Road, between Raffles Hotel and Seah Street
6) Corner of Mount Elizabeth and Orchard Road
7) Corner of Killiney Road and Somerset Road
8) Corner of River Valley Road and Clarke Quay
9) Corner of Eu Tong Seng Street and Upper Cross Street
10) Corner of Anson Road and Prince Edward Road
11) Former Overseas Union House at Collyer Quay before it was built
Photo 6: Stand Pump petrol station to the right of Clifford Pier in the public car park area (circa 1957). This station sold to motorists as well as water-boat operators. The public car park later became the Overseas Union House – housing the Neptune Theater, Bank National d’Paris and OUB.
Is that all to the above list? Can you help me identify other locations inside the “Restricted Zone”?
Did the government do the right thing in the 1970s? The government had a long term vision but in the early days, many did not agree. Yesterday’s petrol stations are now gone. Replacing them are modern shopping and office complexes and public parks. Most definitely there is less pollution and everything is clean.
Photo Credits to the late Derek Lehrle, Donna Brown and William Rank. Thank you for all those wonderful memories.
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