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Dec 18, 2019

Memories of schooldays past

In a land-scarce country where urban renewal takes place at a breathless pace and buildings are torn down relentlessly to make way for new developments, lone, unoccupied buildings and houses are as rare as they come.  Melissa Lin, Daryl Chin and Kon Xin Hua go in search of them.

[Source:  Straits Times, 4 September 2011]


Along Short Street, the brightly coloured building, shaded by trees, stands out among its modern neighbours.  It is almost half a century old.

The 10-storey Selegie Integrated Primary School was touted as one of the tallest school buildings in South-east Asia when it was first opened in 1963 by the then deputy prime minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye.  It held that accolade till Pearl's Hill Primary School, now Hotel Rel, took over with 12 floors.

Remembering his schooldays fondly at Selegie is Mr Victor Koo, 55.  The civil servant attended the primary school from 1963 till 1968.

He said it was a "mere 15-minute leisurely stroll" from his home in Cheng Yan Place, near Queen Street.

"The 10-storey building certainly looked huge and imposing.  I also had not seen such big lifts before," he added.

The school building had two lifts.  Each lift was big enough to accomodate a complete class of 40 lower primary, or 30 upper primary schoolchildren.

It also had two canteens - one on the ground floor, another on the sixth and a dental clinic on the seventh floor.

It was said to have an enrolment of up to 4,000 eager young minds in the morning and afternoon sessions.

Today, the school still stands tall, its orange exterior decorated with stripes of blue and red.  The premises are out of bounds to curious onlookers, although a peek from the outside shows that the classrooms were recently furbished.

Mr Koo's teacher, Mr Teo Keng Koon, 65, was one of the 100 pioneer teachers, when he was just a month shy of 17.

He said: "Each time I pass by the school, it gives me a deep sense of nostalgia.  The trees are still standing.  The pioneer teachers were the ones who planted the trees in the building."

A teacher all his life, he is currently teaching at a tutorial centre.

He cited a possible reason for the school's closure, saying that with its "dwindling population of students", of about 200 or 300 pupils, it was "not viable to keep the school going".  He added that the remaining pupils then went to Stamford Primary School.

Though it is unknown when the school closed, the premises were used as the holding campus for Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) for a few years until it moved into its new campus in Bencoolen Street in 2004.

Since then, the school building has been left on its own.  Mr Koo feels it "is a waste" to see his school being left abandoned.  "I would like to see the school converted to a hotel."

A Singapore Land Authority spokesman said the building has been scheduled for tender for arts, dance, and drama studio use.

Please check out a related blog about the Selegie Integrated Primary School   here .

Turning into a junkyard
2 Eng Hoon Street

Nestled between a budget hotel and a church on 2, Eng Hoon Street is a building that, at first glance, stands out for its incongruous appearance.

Its art deco-style exterior looks unkempt, a portion of its white pillars turning black.'

When The Sunday Times did a check, it found that the bottom half of the two-storey house was largely covered with white tarpaulin.  The narrow pathway leading to its front door was filled with trash, metal trays and rusty cylinders.

Its main door was locked and it did not look like it was occupied.

While a background check turned up the name of the owner, a Mr Tay Seng Leong, the address which he is registered under was an empty plot of state land.  Neighbours in the area told The Sunday Times that they do not know of such a person.

Meanwhile, surrounding tenants at Eng Hoon Street said that they sometimes see people depositing items at the seemingly abandoned building.

Without any clues on where its owner is, what lies behind its dusty, tinted windows is anybody's guesss.

A little touch of mystery
Chee Guan Chiang House, Grange Road

Dwarfed by trees and condominiums that have sprung up over the years, the house at 25, Grange Road is barely noticeable from the main road.

For years, photography enthusiasts have been attracted to the Chee Guan Chiang House, so called because it was built by Mr Chee Guan Chiang, the eldest son of the first chairman of OCBC group.

It is now owned by investment firm Lee Tat Development.

Designed in the 1930s by well-known Singapore architect Ho Kwong Yew, it comprises a main house and a smaller house within the compound.  It is not known how long they had not been occupied for.  However, poor maintenance, vandalism and the passage of time have reportedly left the houses in a desolate state.  An "investigation" by the Singapore Paranormal Investigators further contributed to its mysterious aura.  The main house was given conservation status by the Urban Redvelopment Authority in 2008.

When The Sunday Times did a check, consstruction work for a condominium was ongoing beside the houses, which could not be seen from the property's gated entrance.  A red mailbox hung from the gate, alongside two signs warning against trespassers and illegal parking on the private property.

The Sunday Times reported in 2007 that the property could be seen only by residents from neighbouring condominiums who used it as a short cut to Orchard Road.

In 2008, Lee Tat won a legal battle to close off the access road that passes through their Grange Road property.

Lee Tat declined to commend on its future plans for the place.

Old movie studio used to make P. Ramlee film
8 Jalan Ampas

The faded yellow aluminium hoarding fence with a sign that reads "8 Jalan Ampas" attracts nary a glance from passers-by.

Tucked between a temple and a condominium just off Balestier Road, the cluster of buildings beyond the fence is hidden from view.

Other than a plaque that gives a brief history of Jalan Ampas Shaw movie studio, there are barely any clue that this place played a central role during what was dubbed the golden age of Malay films in the 1950s and 1960s.

Over a span of 20 years, more than 160 films were produced here.  This was where the legendary actor-director-producer-singer P. Ramlee made his first film.

When The Sunday Times visited the former studio, a few chickens roamed the courtyard next to what looked like a makeshift junkyard.

A faded neon "Silence" sign and a Shaw Brothers crest at the top of a building provide the first indication of its illustrious past.

A mini shrine of P. Ramlee memorabilia stands next to the room where its caretaker for the past decade, Madam Miz Naya, lives.

The 64-year-old P. Ramlee fan said her first husband had worked as an extra in the late actor's films.  She had first taken up the job to stop people from stealing items, like posters, from the buildings.  But these days, she added, it was more for nostalgia's sake.

While there were no visitors when The Sunday Times checked on two occasions, a hastily sprayed "No Paking: (sic) sign at the entrance hinted that this may not always be the case.

Speaking in Malay with a smattering of English, Madam Naya, a widow - her second husband had died - told of how a bus filled with Malaysians would come by thrice a year to visit the place.  Photography enthusiasts would drop by occasionally too.

While visitors used to be able to come in freely, they now have to first seek permission from Shaw Organisation.

Established in 1937, the studio was used by the Japansese to make propaganda films during World War II.

Post-war, it was reopened by Shaw as Malay Film Production in 1947.  The decline in demand for Malay films brought about the studio's demise in 1967.

Shaw Organisation declined to comment when The Sunday Times asked about its plan for the place.



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