Monday, September 24, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 5 – Sixth Avenue to Beauty World

I dare say, along the entire length of Bukit Timah Road, going all the way from Serangoon Road to Bukit Panjang Road, this stretch has undergone the most changes. Today, this short stretch of Bukit Timah Road is full of condominiums and more are being added even as we speak. There is even a new side road called Blackmore Drive and a new school, Methodist Girls’ School.

Another condo project coming up no doubt.

A shot of a peaceful looking Bukit Timah Road taken on a late Sunday afternoon. In the not too distant past, this road would have been crowded with lots of punters leaving the Turf Club at this hour. The row of trees in the middle are probably the glam trees that Dr Tan Wee Kiat wrote about here.

Today there are only 4 prominent commercial complexes left; Sixth Avenue Centre, Tan Chong Motors and the adjacent Apple Computer Centre, King Albert Park and Sime Centre on the opposite side at Dunearn Road. But did you know that up to the eighties, this place was home to a number of factories and commercial buildings. Here are a few that Peter and I can recall from memory.

1) Rothmans cigarette factory

I think this was located before Wilby Road at what is now the Tessarina condominium. The compound of this factory was very big and squarish in shape. A big, rather bare garden separated the building from the main road. A huge signboard bearing the name, Rothmans of Pall Mall could be clearly seen by passers-by.

2) Tien Wah Press

This was a printing company. I had occasion to visit it once in the eighties when I was working in NPB. I recall that the factory was very old and I saw a banyan tree growing out from crevices in the front of the building. Today Tien Wah has its own building at Pandan Crescent.

3) General Electric Company

This is not to be confused with the American company GE which incidentally was one of the biggest investors in Singapore’s early days of industrialization. In the mid-seventies when many of my contemporaries were graduating from the university with an engineering degree, GE was one of the most sought after employers. But back to GEC. Peter recalls:

“There's one building called "General Electric House" (2 storey with a showroom) that was after Tien Wah Press factory, I think nearer to Maplewoods condo. It was a UK company that made electrical lightings and appliances. What I remember was in the early 1960s, there were many industrial strikes in Singapore. General Electric Company was not spared and besides workers picketing outside the gates of the company, many workers camped on the Bukit Timah Road. They cooked for other workers who took part in industrial action. There were many placards, usually cartoons blaming government and management for the unfair dismissal of workers or employing Caucasians instead of locals for management positions.”

Photo dated 13/12/1060, from the National Archives’ database Picas with the caption: “125 employees of the General Electric Co (M) Ltd, here went on strike at noon today. The strikers belong to the Singapore Business Houses Employee Union. They are picketing the GEC office in Bukit Timah Road”

4) Borneo Motors and DIY Superstore

These two were relatively new buildings. In 1990, I purchased my first new car, a Toyota Corrolla, from the Borneo Motors outlet here. There was also a DIY Superstore near to it. I think the location of these 2 places would probably be at the present Maplewoods condo or Blackmore Drive area.

In the old street directories that I consulted at the National Library, I saw two other buildings which I am not familiar with. They are Tricity House and William Jack. I hope my readers can throw some light on these two names.

5) King Albert Park

King Albert Park of course is well-known for being the headquarters of the McDonald’s fast food chain and Cold Storage supermarket. Many school children like to hang out here. My youngest daughter and her friends refer to this place as KAP. Previously, this place was a bus depot. Peter has blogged about this earlier.

“Green Bus had its depot at 6½ miles Bukit Timah Road, where the present McDonald’s HQ stands, opposite Bukit Timah Plaza. There were 2 sections. One section was where they kept the buses (nearer to the railway track) and the other section (closer to King Albert Park) was the workshop. When it was time to change buses, Green Bus entered through Clementi Road and stopped at the workshop area, we got down and switched buses, and exit into Bukit Timah Road.”

6) Lam Choon Rubber Factory

The traffic light junction next to King Albert Park used to be a roundabout called Bukit Timah Circus. The place where Bukit Timah Plaza stands today was previously the Lam Choon Rubber Factory and the whole surrounding area was a rubber plantation. Peter recalls:

“The factory was painted red in colour, made from zinc metal sheets and had small windows. The factory emitted a strong stench when rubber was smoked. I saw yellow coloured rubber sheets hung out to dry in the sun. On the right is an aerial photo of the Lam Choon Rubber Factory. Sorry it's quite blur; but let me orientate you. The road to the right of building, coming southwards is Jalan Anak Bukit. Yeo Hiap Seng to the right of this road. At the bottom center (buses) is Clementi Road. To its left was the old Chinese cemetery grounds, now the entrance to PIE. Bottom right is King Albert Park area behind the Green Bus Depot.

Next door was the Bukit Timah Community Centre which is now the Econ Home Nursing Services. Jalan Anak Bukit was already in existence in the early 1960s but the connection to the PIE took place in 1972. Through PIE, I drove along Jalan Toa Payoh - exiting near St. Andrew's School in Woodsville - to the eastern parts of Singapore for dates; never really knowing why so many of my dates lived in that part. Lam Choon Rubber Factory was demolished by the time I ROD. I think Straits Steamship Ltd bought over the rubber factory site. Bukit Timah Plaza opened sometime in 1978 or 1979.

In 1974 there was a bank run at the Chung Kiaw Bank, a subsidiary of the United Overseas Bank. Large crowds, mainly housewives heading to the Jalan Jurong Kechil Market were queuing very early in the morning. I am not sure who started the rumour but my mother was one of those who lined up to withdraw money. The old Chung Kiaw Bank branch is now the UOB branch next to Beauty World Plaza.

I also remember Gimson Boys School which is now the SIM Campus. Every time we passed this way from Pasir Panjang Road to Bukit Timah Road, my mother would threaten that if I misbehaved, she would put me in that place. I remember there were many black-coloured wooden buildings.”

7) The Early Bukit Timah Plaza

Bukit Timah Plaza has been around for such a long time, I think I will include it in this post. I cannot remember the Fitzpatrick departmental store which Peter says was one the earliest tenants. I only remember the Yaohan Departmental Store which was their anchor tenant for a number of years. There also used to be a CPF branch and a POSB branch. I believe it also was one of the early shopping centres with the glass cubicle type of elevators.

8) Yeo Hiap Seng Sauce Factory

This used to be located at the junction of Jalan Anak Bukit and Dunearn Road. In the old days it was call Yeo Hiap Seng Sauce Factory. Later it was renamed Yeo Hiap Seng Foods (or something like that). I seem to recall seeing big billboards advertising the Pepsi cola drinks.

When I was working in NPB, I was involved in producing a training programme called Total Quality Process. We produced a series of videos to support this training programme and one of the series was filmed in this factory. The role of quality manager by the way, was played by the lovely Jacintha Abisheganaden. In the video, there were scenes of the packet drinks production process as well as the goods loading and unloading area.

Residential Areas

Of course besides the commercial complexes, this area of Singapore has many landed housing estates. I will just mention two for the benefit of my British friend Tom O’brien. Tom, in his post about Beauty World mentioned a place called Hua Guan Avenue:

“I used to live at the top of Hua Guan Avenue at No. 70. At the bottom of the Avenue was an estate, I think called Hock Sen Gardens, where there were a lot of RAF Servicemen and their families. The RAF men were mainly based at Tengah. There were some shops there and a cafe, which I used to go to for a coke or soft drink. I was told that these shops are now selling antique furniture etc. I used to go to Beauty World a lot, often walking through the Kilburn Estate, crossing over the railway line and onto Bukit Timah.” (Kilburn Estate of course no long exists today)

In an email, Tom also mentioned that he often visited his girl friend who lived within walking distance at Eden Park. Now, do you know were that Eden Park?

Actually, Eden Park like many of the landed housing estates in this area has not changed much, other than the customary upgrading. It is located just next to the estate where I am staying, separated by a canal. This estate is made up of a number of roads that bear the names of temperate trees; such as Maple, Fir, Redwood, Elm and Cypress. I think in Tom’s days, most of the houses here were single-storey bungalows. But if you were to go there now, as I often do, for my evening walks, you will see that most of them have been ‘upgraded’ to double-storey houses.

This drain separates Lucky Park and Royal Ville on the left and Villa Azura and Eden Park on the right.

Not long ago, on one of my walks, I bumped into my Applied Maths teacher from NJC, Mr Lim Nai Tian. Older Hwa Chong JC students would probably know him because he was their first principal.

Unlike the rest of nearby Bukit Timah Road, this railway station appears to be untouched by time.


Anonymous said...

Besides those factories mentioned, I remembered Caterpillar. They made tractors and I can recall their model No: 955 very well. Reason is that I saw this model uprooting tree and digging earth in our Hillview kampung after the villagers were resettled and new HBD flats built. However the HDB flats in Hillview area is now gone and it it's place are just empty plots of land. New Condominum projects? Your guess is as good as mine.

Lam Chun See said...

Chuck. Are you saying that you saw Caterpillar factory/show room along this stretch of road? Where did you see them?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think it is now Tan Chong Motors. Used to see the factory/showroom almost everyday during my bus journey from Dunearn Tech to Princess Elizabeth.

aiyah nonya said...

Hi ! I am curious to know, where is this quaint railway station ?
I thought the train only stops at Kepple Rd. Without stops in between once it enters Singapore.

Lam Chun See said...

Actually I know very little about this Bt Timah Railway Station. But the NHB's booklet on the BT Heritage Trail has a detail description. I just quote you one section.

"Due to changes in immigration policies in 1993 when the immigration checkpoint at Tanjong Pagar was moved to Woodlands, the BT station is now only used for crossings and there are no longer boarding of passengers or collection of cargo."

The article then goes on to describe an interesting daily routine call 'exchange of key tokens' that take place here.

Anonymous said...

Rothmans is now Tesuarina Condo, next to Tan Chong Motors. Chun See check if the addr is #905, if yes that's the place.

Lam Chun See said...

Eh ... check what address?

Tom said...

Tom said..
Chun see,I remember a rubber plantation I use to pass it
going to the army rifle rang some were along Bukit Timah road, and
the old chinese cemetery to , but Iam just wondering if it is the sane area ?.

Anonymous said...

TOM: Where the present Sime Darby center is located was a small rubber factory, a sort of old smoke house (black in colour) about 4 storeys high. Between Yarwood Ave and Rifle Range Road were rubber trees, albeit a small one.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes Tom. I think it's the same area. The rifle range you mentioned is still there along a road called Rifle Range Road. It's another interesting area which I did not highlight. I believe the range is now operated by the munitions plant belonging to Spore Technologies Group located at the end of Rifle Range Road. Not much change in this area except that the road now passes under the Pan Island Expressway and over the Bukit Timah Expressway.

Anonymous said...

This picture of Dunearn Road/Bukit Timah Road from 1993 clearly shows the factories here... It was part of this 1993 planning report to remove the industries and make it largely housing-only.

Thankfully their plan of cutting up the great swath of green between Old Holland Road and Clementi Avenue there (opposite Ngee Ann Poly) didn't come to fruition. It probably got axed in the 1998 Master Plan I guess.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chun See,

I lived by the entrance of Rifle Range Road from 1985 to 2002 and had witnessed the passing of the sites you mentioned. For the Rothmans factory, I remembered holding my breath every time I passed by it on the bus as the air was saturated with the smell of tobacco. The DIY superstore that you mentioned is called "HANDS". It used to ran a TV commercial with a jingle that goes "let's do it, let's DIY...". There were illegal squatters living beside the rifle range road railway bridge and the canal in the late 1980s and early 1990s until they were evicted by the Police. There was also a tree-house next to the pedestrian bridge beside the railway bridge. There used to be two Yeo Hiap Seng factories at this locality - one is beside Bukit Timah road (now the Sterling condo) and the other along Dunearn Road (just before Rifle Range Road). - Peter Lau

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Peter Lau. Thanks for the inputs. We learn something new everyday.