Saturday, June 13, 2009

There are places I remember – Wyman Haven (by Peter Chan)

There are places I remember all my life
Though some have changed.
Some forever not for better.
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places have their moments………..

(Immortal lines from the Beatles classic, In My Life)

Today, there are not too many seafront bungalows remaining on Upper East Coast Road after land-filling of the sea took place. Many turned into condominiums, a medical center and a church. The few that remain are # 492 which was once owned by Alexandra Brickwork, the Hwa Yue Wee Restaurant, former Shaw Bros Holiday Villa and the Columbus Childcare Center site. Gone was Palm Beach Seafood, former President Benjamin Sheares’ home, the former Pepper King of Singapore’s villa, and the Dragon Inn Motel, all well-known icons of the pre and post-WW2 era. Wyman Haven, my maternal grandmother’s seafront restaurant fell victim to land-filling too.

I lost touch of Wyman Haven whereabouts until recently; although I had been told by my father that the property was acquired by the government. I tried various sources including various government agencies but none could advise me. My maternal relatives also could not tell me much except “it was very far away, somewhere in Bedok”. After my grandmother passed away, I went through all the family photo albums but found difficulties finding appropriate photographs or reminders of that place. Since 2005 I “walked the walk; suspecting that a pair of semi-detached houses at #580-582B Upper East Coast Road was the more likely site. I realized my bad judgment was based on recalling seeing tall palm trees just before coming to Wyman Haven from the city direction. By the way, these same palm trees are still standing there in front of “The Daffodile” but the previous big lawn in front of the estate has been acquired for road widening.

Photo 1: Left: Wyman Haven viewed from the side. It was built in the late 1930s with newer extensions made in the 1950s. Upper East Coast Road is to its right and the sea was to its left. Right: Typical 1960s Chinese “Choy Tan” (Cantonese for menu).

Not too long ago on a trip to a military archive in Scotland, I came across some very exciting aerial photos of Singapore, and found images of land reclamation of the Bedok area. Based on my NS knowledge of map-reading and aerial photo interpretation, I found one particular aerial photo indicated the presence of six (6) large seafront bungalows between Parbury Avenue and the Chinese cemetery at Kew Drive, and the Yuan Ming Si Chinese Temple at Hwa San Road. The military archivist was very helpful, patient and understanding. I obtained a copy and turned that over to ICEMOON ( our local expertise for “second shot” Artificial Intelligence photography. He was able to accurately reproduce the present-day location of Wyman Haven.

So where do you think Wyman Haven was? Here are the results:

Photo 2: Wyman Haven is the dark-shaded box. The “Pilot Site” for the land reclamation project started on the left-side of the property facing the sea. Nothing is prominent except the narrow main road and the forest in the distance. I would sit on the seawall throwing stones into the sea whilst waiting for my favorite roasted pigeon to be ready.

Photo 3: The property boundary is all that space bounded by the blue car to the roundabout (old seawall) and to the edge of the basketball court. Recall that narrow main road and the forest in the background?
Wyman Haven is now Temasek Secondary School main driveway. The row of 6 seafront bungalows now fronts one of the main school buildings. The “Pilot Site” for the first Singapore’s land reclamation is the artificial football turf. The fenced-up small forest behind the bus-stop was once the Chinese primary school; a pair of concrete railings across the drain is evidence of the old road into the school compound. The forest is strongly rumored to be the site of the East Coast Line Kew MRT station by 2020.
PS - Wyman Haven in Chinese, by the way, is 惠文港酒家


Victor said...

Wah, didn't know your grandma owned a seafront bungalow and restaurant in those days.

Couldn't quite make out the prices on the "Choy Tan" but I believe that nothing was over $10, even the large-sized dishes?

jean said...

First of all congratulations on your research.I grew up in Katong so Upper East Coast Rd,Bedok and Changi were our family haunts.In a mere(to me anyway) span of 25 yrs the coastline has been changed almost beyond recognition.The land reclaimed for Marine Parade and then the construction of Changi Airport cast a spell on the area wiping out forever its sleepy seaside village image.It may seem to be an exclusive area but there were a lot of ordinary people living there too.
Eating at places like Palm Beach Seafood,Wyman Haven,La Paloma or a seafront resto at the curb end of Bedok Road (forgot its name)etc were special treats for us.Birthday or special occasions only but the quality of the food,value for money and conviviality seem a far cry from what we encounter today.Sigh!

Unknown said...

Oh! So Jean had dined at Wyman Haven? So how was the food? :P

I gather Wyman Haven is a Cantonese seafood restaurant? I wonder what's its colloquial Cantonese name then. Maybe Peter can shed some light on the origin of Wyman. Peter, was your grandmother English educated?

jean said...

Hello Icemoon!Unfortunately I was being subjective concerning Wyman Haven.I think it was already in semi ruin when I came to know of its existence through family elders' conversations about the post war days and how it was a treat to dine there.I even have a very vague memory of walking past it as a very small child but I never went back there again so I had no idea of its fate.Until reading this article of course and experiancing some flashbacks.Maybe someone who really ate there could enlighten us all.

Unk Dicko said...

In the early 70's I used to dine at a few of the well-known icons in that idyllic area. One was Palm Beach Seafood. Later Kheng Luck sprouted next to it. I knew the founder of Palm Beach personally as he was a memeber of my Travel and Adventure club.We had travelled together... he was always trying out exotic seafood dishes to introduce backhome.
Will blog about this interesting tidbit of Palm Beach seafood history.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks for visiting Singapore 60s Music. Shadows covered True Love Ways and also 4 other singers.

Lam Chun See said...

Actually this is the first time I hear of such a place called Wyman Haven. But then the East Coast has never been 'my territory'. Other than Red House, Long Beach and Kheng Luck, I cannot recall any other names from that part of Spore.

By the way, what is the Chinese name for this Wyman Haven? Is Wyman a Cantonese name? It appears to me to be a transliteration for the Cantonese for 为民 (for the people)

alex said...

A quick Google search yield the following:

Building Plan Details
Building Plan No.: 595
Access: Open access for viewing but permission required for reproduction
Date Submitted: 1964
Remarks: 0/0

Microfilm No.: CBS 165

So the address is indeed 580 Upper East Coast Road.


Icemoon said...

Eh, then why did Peter say:

Since 2005 I “walked the walk; suspecting that a pair of semi-detached houses at #580-582B Upper East Coast Road was the more likely site. I realized my bad judgment was based on recalling seeing tall palm trees just before coming to Wyman Haven from the city direction.

peter said...

The old address system was entirely changed and does not correspond to the actual property layout today - part freehold, part leasehold - when in the old days it was all freehold property. Thanks for the lead Alex. I shall take a look at the building plan to see if my memory is good for the interior as well.

Victor - you are correct, in those days the prices don't seem expensive relative to today's prices. BUT don't forget monthly salary for the average Singaporean was $500 Malayan Dollars (there was no Singapore Dollars then). A wedding table for 10 cost $50-80 in a good restaurant.

Jean - You are right, by then I think 1964, semi-ruin. I remember that because my the time the sea was gone, business went down. The place became so quiet that the indoor dining area was locked off. I remembered there was a Chevrolet always parked in the porch and was always covered with a sheet of cloth, as if nobody was using the car. Yes it's true that in those days, you go to restaurants ONLY when there is a birthday celebration or a wedding, not like today when one celebrates Mother's Day or a child's birthday. The only time I pratised a child's birthday at a restaurant was during a child's "1 month birthday".

Jean was La Paloma Restaurant at Vienna Inn which is today's Bagnall Court? I heard about La Paloma but did not go there. I passed by Vienna Inn quite often and saw a swimming pool there.

Uncled Dick - there is a difference between seafood joint and restaurant. Palm Beach Seafood tried to get into the restaurant business but did not succeed, so they stuck to their winning formula of being a seafood joint. The real competitor to Wyman in those days was Wing Choon Yuen or today's Spring Court which was in the Jalan Haji Salam area but then it was not a seafront bungalow. It was separated from the sea by Upper East Coast Road.

Lam Chun See said...

The Chinese name has just be added.

Lam Chun See said...

The Chinese name is quite interesting. Peter. Do you have any idea how this name came about? I would guess that Wyman (惠文) is somebody's name.

peter said...

Chun See,
I see ???, the Chinese characters are not visible.

Next time I will blog about #82 Branksome Road which was where my maternal grandmother lived, a place I never forgot. It will surprise you that I have put down on a sketch the interior of that place. I approached the present owners and they opened their eyes so wide as to how I could remember so much.

Victor said...

Peter, some time ago I sent you this link with instructions on how to display Chinese characters on your PC. Did you try it?

(Note: This link assumes that your PC is using Windows XP. If it is other OS, let me know and I will send you the appropriate link.)

jean said...

Peter I do believe you're right about the Vienna Inn connection.However my sister thinks there was also a La Paloma next to the Palace theatre in central Katong.Anyway its gone too I believe.
After some thought I now clearly see the Wyman Haven.Coming from the direction of the city it was the very last residence on the right before the sea coastline that led up to old Bedok.What a sad end to a pretty place.Altho abandoned and neglected it had an old world charm about it.

Toh Hun Ping said...

Hi Peter and Chun See,

Just wish to let you know that Wyman's Haven had appeared in two of the early Malay films produced in Singapore.

The first was a 1959 Malay film titled "Korban Fitnah" (translation: Victim of Slander). The neon lit sign board at the entrance was featured, followed by a long sequence of two Indonesian songs being performed in what I assume to be the interior of "Wyman's Haven."

The second was a 1964 Malay film directed by Mat Sentul titled "Mat Tiga Suku". It had included a sequence of Mat Sentul running around with a bus stop post on the "reclaimed land" next to "Wyman's Haven".

Watch the sequence extracted from "Korban Fitnah" in this youtube video:

I also wrote about "Wyman's Haven" and other locations featured in "Korban Fitnah" in my blog. You are welcome to read it.:)

And thanks for sharing your memories of Wyman's Haven.

Hun Ping

peter said...

Hun Ping, thanks for the memories. I sent u a message in your blog to contact me.

Unknown said...

Vienna Inn was at 825 Upper East Coast Road and was operated by my grandfather mr.Quek See Hong and family