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May 5, 2010

"Boh Beh Kang" - "River Without An End"

Photo of Blk 81 (known as the VIP Block in Queenstown).

Commonwealth Estate, fondly remembered as chap lak lao chu (sixteen storey tall flats) is the third estate developed between 1962 and 1964 under HDB. One prominent flat, Blk 81, has received numerous foreign dignitaries over the years because it offers panoramic views of the developments in Queenstown as well as Holland Road. Some of these prominent figures include Emperor Akihito of Japan and Prince Phillip.

The junction of Margaret Drive facing opposite Blk 81, Commonwealth Drive

The park at Margaret Drive with the overhead bridge across Blk 81, Commonwealth Drive in the background.


Previously, Queenstown was a large swampy valley with a channel running through in a southeastern direction. On either side of this agricultural area were hills - feng xing and feng ling. The former was a rubber plantation and the latter, a cemetery also known as "Boh Beh Kang. The village in the area, with mainly Hokkien and Teochew-speaking dwellers was also known by this name. Pre-1942, the area was inhabited by hundreds of people in attap-roofed huts, cultivating vegetables, growing fruits and rearing pigs and chickens. (Source: Wikipedia)

The first satellite town in Singapore, Queenstown was named to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. It was one of the earliest housing estates, built before Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio. The Town Centre and the Swimming and Sports Complex are some of the facilities and amenities developed. The Town Centre was completed in 1969 with three cinemas, a shopping complex, a fresh food market, a maternity and child care centre, a bowling alley and clubs and restaurants. In the 1970s, the success of Queenstown led to the development of the nearby Buona Vista Estate and Holland Village with Queenstown held as a model. Towards the 1980s, the estate became more populated by senior citizens as the gradual migration of the younger generation to more upscale places.

This blog on "Boh Beh Kang", my personal nostalgic memories to track back the map circled in No. 1 to No. 4 and updated the photos taken recently.

No. 1: Margaret Close HDB-2 room rented flat (now demolished) which my family and I were allocated immediately after the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961. After a few months later, we were moved to the HDB 1-room "emergency flat" at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee.

Margaret Close HDB-2 room flats under construction in 1961. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Margaret Close HDB-2 room flats completed in 1961. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).


Bukit Ho Swee fire victims moving to Margaret Close HDB 2-room transition flats with the help of military trucks. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

No. 2: The Queensway Secondary School opposite Margaret Close. The school was under construction in 1961.

No. 3: The Venus Theatre and Golden City Theatre. The Town Centre which was the Tah Chung Emporium and shopping complex within the Golden Crown Restaurant in their heyday and popularity. Blk 38 cooked food centre in the vicinity of the Commonweath Avenue Cooked Food Centre.

No. 4: The photos of the NTUC Fairprice supermarket, the entertainment complex of Queenstown and Queensway Theatre, and the Queenstown Bowl.

Whatever little that I knew of Margaret Close and the vicinity within Queenstown Town Centre mentioned in the blog, I must admit that my limited knowledge and parochial personal experience of Queenstown are confined a short period of time while I was staying there. Please discover more from veteran residents of Queenstown at "MyQueenstown Team" which covered a wider area of Queenstown with comprehensive, interesting and informative topics, then and now. Courtesy to their photo credits and contributions.

This trail documents the history and development of the estate since 1960s and will take you through more than fifty years of Queenstown's history through the personal stories of older residents and the buildings and places that still stand today.

"10-stories: Queenstown Through The Years" by Calvin Low.

Map Circled 1: Margaret Close

Map Circled 2: Queensway Secondary School

Map Circled 2: Queensway Secondary School

The vacant plot behind "Margaret Drive" signage located the former Queenstown Polyclinic.

THEN: Former Venus and Golden City Theatres (Map Circled No. 3). Queenstown shopping complex, housing the former popular Tah Chung Emporium, Gold Crown Restaurant and a night club at the top floor. Courtesy of Housing & Development Board.

PENDING: Vacant land of former Venus and Golden City Theatres.

THEN: Golden Crown Restaurant. Photo Credit: MyQueenstown Team.

GONE: Formerly located Golden Crown Restaurant. PENDING: Vacant land beside Blk 38, Commonwealth Avenue.

THEN: Commonwealth Avenue Cooked Food Centre

NOW: Commonwealth Avenue Cooked Food Centre

THEN & NOW: U-Char Kuay [女皇鎮生活公市]

Price list displayed above the shop, now inflated since my last visit. But the tasty and crispy stuff are freshly fried...delicious. The stall owners are friendly. In the past, the whole family affair business, especially in the evening.

THEN: The external building of Blk 38 Commonwealth Avenue

NOW: The external building of Blk 38 Commonwealth Avenue

NOW: Aerial view of Blk 38 Commonwealth Avenue vacant land. Photo Credit: MyQueenstown Team.

NOW: The external building of Blk 38 Commonwealth Avenue. On the rear facing the NTUC Fairprice.

PENDING: Queenstown Theatre, Queensway Theatre for future development.

THEN: Former NTUC Fairprice Supermarket (Map Circled No. 4).

THEN: Former NTUC Fairprice Supermarket (Map Circled No. 4).

PENDING: Queenstown Theatre, Queensway Theatre for future development.

PENDING: Queenstown Bowl for future development.

For forthcoming housing planning and urban renewal of the younger generations of Queenstown heartlanders to look forward to a transformation, vibrant and town centre in a few years soon. Obviously, Queenstown is not a wasteland. Its the "Akan Datang" for the future heartlanders, a "River Without An End".

Update on 7 May, 2010:

Please check out the URA Concept Plan 2011 for public information.

Related Posts:

The "Good Morning Yesterday" blog pioneer of Lam Chun See at: "Places I Remember (5) - Farrer Road" and "Gather Moments While You May" reminiscing Queenstown.

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20 Comments:

Blogger Icemoon said...

James, did they refer to the feng ling cemetery as Boh Beh Kang or was it just the canal now beside Mei Chin Road?

May 6, 2010 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Hi Icemoon,

According to Wikipedia , Mei Ling/Mei Chin is built from the excavation of two hills, Hong Lim and Hong Yin Hill which are used for cemetery purposes. It is also where Queenstown district got its name Boh Beh Kang, or a river with no source.

More information and other sources are welcome to share with us. Thanks.

May 6, 2010 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger PChew said...

I have heard of Boh Beh Kang long ago but did not know its location until now. Thank you James.

May 7, 2010 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger PChew said...

I have heard of Boh Beh Kang long ago but did not know its location until now. Thank you James.

May 7, 2010 at 5:24 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

You're welcome,PChew. I also learnt more about 'Boh Beh Kang' from Wikipedia.

May 7, 2010 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for posting those old photos. I have been cracking my head trying to recall what the area between Venus and Golden City theatres looked like. In fact when I blogged about this area, I wasn't sure about the name of Golden City.

May 7, 2010 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Me too. The old photos of places and events help to trigger our memories over the years. Thanks to everyone for sharing our collective memories at many local heritage-related blogs.

May 8, 2010 at 12:34 AM  
Blogger PChew said...

My fond memory about the town centre has returned. Blk 38 was a market cum food centre built by the Min. of the Environment. Another similar building was at St Michael's Estate. Blk 40A food centre was built by HDB later. Blk 40B was a row of shophouses with a drive way facing Commonwealth Ave. UOB bank occupied one unit. The block had been demolished and is now a vacant land.
Tah Chung Emporium occupied the whole of the upper floor. There was a wide staircase at the centre of the building leading to the upper level. Later 2 emporiums occupied the place, one on each side of the staircase.
At Margaret Drive there was a medium prison and a building for the handicapped (deaf?).
I was working nearby in the 60s and 70s and often had lunch at the town centre.

May 8, 2010 at 6:43 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Your vivid recollection of Queenstown still as clear after so many years, PChew. The "Movement For the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS)...(not deaf) is located opposite the former Hua Yi Government Chinese Middle School towards Margaret Drive at the junction of Tanglin Road.

The old photos of former places we remember are indeed helpful memory aid; unless the whole stretch of the road site is demolished. Margaret Drive as shown now on the map remains unchanged though.

May 8, 2010 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger The Wondering Wanderer said...

James, very interesting and informative post! Looks like Queenstown may be somewhere else that we could have crossed paths. I lived at a rented flat at Block 104 Commonwealth Crescent until I was three and a half and I remember some of the places you mention very fondly. The "chap lak lao chu" was where a friend stayed in and for some reason I referred to the tall blocks that stood prominently up on the hill as the "Windy Flats". I also have fond memories of the Tah Chung emporium ... that was where I got my mum to buy lots of marbles from! :)

May 12, 2010 at 3:54 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

I am going to miss all these familiar landmarks - or what is left of them. The library, the NTUC Fairprice supermarket, the convenient multi-storey car park .......

Can I give your readers a quiz here. What was the name of the bookshop that was above the Fairprice Supermarket at one time?

May 12, 2010 at 8:44 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for sharing your fond memories, Jerome.

Although my sojourn in Margaret Close in 1961 did not have a deep impression of the place. However, both my elder sisters were staying in Mei Ling Street and Mei Chin Street and I often visit them during my young days. I was once working at Tanglin Halt beside the hawker centre for several years before my retirement. Tah Chung Emporium, Commonwealth Town Centre and the library remembered my young days in Queenstown very well. Cheers!

May 13, 2010 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Hi Chun See. Your quiz are found in the blog photo answers. Sorry.

NTUC Fairdeal Book Co-Operative Ltd.
全國機縂公平書箱合作社

Below the bookshop:
Welcome Supermarket
全國機工縂會消费合作社超級市埸 (long name)

May 13, 2010 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Wrong Answer James.

May 13, 2010 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Oops...Chun See. I thought I knew something I didn't know about the NTUC supermarket above the building. Please tell. Thanks.

May 14, 2010 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Let me paraphrase my question in case some readers get confused. Directly above the Fairprice Supermarket are 2 stores; separated by a passageway. Over the years, various establishments have set up shop there; including a shop selling winter clothes.

But at one time there was a bookshop which occupied the section which overlooked the children's playground. What was the name of this bookshop. Quite well-known.

May 15, 2010 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger Victor said...

Chun See, was it Big Bookshop? It was there when I was working nearby in the 1990s.

May 16, 2010 at 11:55 PM  
Blogger Vince said...

Definitely Big Bookshop. I used to like frequent Margaret Drive back in its heydays, mostly because of the Big Bookshop that I usually spent hours in. Also, there used to be a KFC in the Queenstown Bowl building when it was operational.

May 18, 2010 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Big Bookshop is correct. I wanted to say, "there used to be a big bookshop there", but that hint would have been too obvious. I like those big books with lots of pictures and priced very reasonably. I remember buying a couple with pictures of fighter jets for my son. Also they used to have a section on Christian books.

Anyway they must have moved to Clementi Central.

May 19, 2010 at 11:00 PM  
Blogger Mont d'or said...

I often bring my kids to Big Book Store in Clementi. I never know until now that it has a link to my past. No wonder that it has a dated feel and look to it.

But then, I never went up to level 2 by the 90s. I only went up with neighbours to the amusement park in the 70s.

Unlike amusement park nowadays with so many games, we always only play the game with black screen and green cars. Anyone remember the name of the game?

July 2, 2010 at 8:54 AM  

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