Saturday, January 17, 2009

Marked for preservation

It has been nearly a decade since the forlorn Grand Hotel in Still Road South last had a guest to stay, but things are looking up for the distinctive 92-year-old building.

The rundown landmark, now mostly used as storage for unwanted furniture, is among 100 buildings in the Joo Chiat/Katong area that have been marked for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The URA announced the list of buildings yesterday. They join some 700 buildings, mostly shophouses, in that area that have been given conservation status by the URA since 1993.

The Grand Hotel, a massive Victorian-style bungalow with decorative arches and ornate facade decorations, was built in 1917 by Moona Kader Sultan, a wealthy Indian cattle merchant. It was converted into the Grand Hotel in 1947.

The building reportedly now stands on a site worth $300 million and is owned by the Lee Rubber Company, which also owns a similar-looking bungalow across the road that has already been conserved. Both bungalows were part of a site called Karikal Mahal.

Besides this grand dame, the other buildings consist of 95 shophouses and terrace houses in areas such as Onan Road, Tembeling Road and Koon Seng Road, and two other bungalows, in Marine Parade Road and Chapel Road. Also on the list are two familiar churches in the area - St Hilda’s Church and the Bethesda (Katong) Church.

Residents in the area had mixed reactions about the news. Ms Shirley Soh, owner of a two-storey shophouse in Tembeling Road, is pleased her home will be conserved.

‘Old architecture should be preserved, rather than have condominiums dominate our landscape,’ she says. She has been living there for eight years.

But another resident at Chapel Road was not too happy. The owner, who declined to be named, believes that with conservation, her home will fetch a lower price because of its limitations. ‘The house is too big and I want to sell. But now the selling price may be less and I can’t afford the apartment I want.’

However, Mr Colin Chee, a spokesman for the Save Joo Chiat workgroup which was formed in 2004 by residents wanting to promote the area’s Peranakan heritage, was delighted to hear that more buildings will be conserved.

‘The more buildings conserved in this area the better. This enhances the heritage status of the neighbourhood.’

URA’s conservation programme was launched in the early 1980s and so far, more than 6,800 buildings in Singapore have been conserved. Buildings are chosen for conservation based on architectural merits, cultural, social and historical significance and contribution to the streetscape and identity of the location.

The URA says owners of conservation buildings in the Katong/Joo Chiat area need to conserve only the external facades, original structure and key features of the main building.

The rear service block can be demolished to build a new extension of up to the allowable storey height control.

Owners can also modify the interior of their buildings to suit their business and/or residential needs as long as this does not change or endanger the original structure of the building.

25 Still Road South
This bungalow and another bungalow across Still Road South were once part of a larger estate known as the Karikal Mahal. They were built in 1917 by Moona Kader Sultan, a wealthy Indian cattle merchant.

This bungalow was built in the Victorian style, with architectural features such as ornate facade plaster decorations, bay windows and decorative arches. In 1947, it was converted into the Grand Hotel, which closed in 2000 due to poor business. It is now used to store unwanted furniture. The two bungalows are owned by the Lee Rubber Group, which says there are no plans for them.

3, 5, 7-15, 22-32 Crane Road, 64-76, 71-75 Carpmael Road and 169-181 Onan Road
Located on Crane Road and Carpmael Road are two- and three-storey shophouses built in traditional and modern early 20th century styles. They are the gateway between the private developments along Crane Road and the Haig Road public housing estate. Over at Onan Road, the single-storey terrace houses rest on concrete stilts.

St Hilda’s Church, 41 Ceylon Road
Built in 1949, the church is a landmark in this area. It was designed like an English parish church of the time. The single-storey chapel is a charming building with a steep pitched roof and a Victorian-style conical tower.

Source : Straits Times - 17 Jan 2009

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