Tanglin Halt is a 52-year old neighbourhood in Queenstown which oozes an old world charm with its old provisions shops, barbers, traditional medicine halls, etc. Unfortunately, Queenstown (Tanglin Halt) will be undergoing huge changes over the next few years. HDB announced on 27 June 2014 that a total of 31 residential HDB blocks at Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive will be redeveloped under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), together with Commonwealth Drive Food Centre, Tanglin Halt Market and about 50 shops and four eating houses in seven shophouse blocks in the Dawson estate.
Hence, civic society My Community and the Queenstown Community have decided to organise special editions of My Queenstown Heritage Trail where the uncles, aunties and shop keepers in Tanglin Halt will share their memories with participants.
Did you know that the Queenstown area is home to the FIRST Block of HDB flats in Singapore?
And that it also played host to a driving centre and Indian circus at one time? These were but some of the interesting facts that were told to us during the Queensway heritage walk. Run on the first Sunday of every month, our trail started off from Queenstown MRT station were we first brought to the former driving centre located there.
Opened in 1969 it finally closed it doors in 1995 and was Singapore’s 2nd driving test centre (after the one at Adam road). We noticed that the building still stood but seemed to be undergoing some kind of renovations, fenced up and closed off to the public. Next up we made our way to the former Cinema and Bowling alley. A landmark to many, it too has been closed down and demolished in 2013. Pity, I never really had a chance to visit it when it was in operation, but I would often recall seeing it driving by.
The same applied to the next location we were brought to, the former Commonwealth wet market and hawker centre.
Our friendly guide informed us that in the past when it was first built , many found the unique shape of the building to resemble that of a Chinese coffin. And thus, the nick name stuck and this red building must have been the meeting point for the surrounding community I’m sure. Fortunately, this building has been gazetted for conservation and the coffin market will be around for generations to come.
The first thing one notices about the Queenstown public library are the distinctive concrete blocks that make up it’s outer walls.
A carry over from when it was first built in 1970 it stands out when you compare it with modern and homogenous looking buildings.
We were brought into it’s walls where we were given a short tour of the library’s history.
By which time, we had already been on the trail for 1 hour and our friendly guide brought us for a breather at the Queenstown Community Center. HDB terraced houses. Yes, you read it right. This little estate filled with quaint terrace houses were the brainchild of the long defunct Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT).
They had deemed that these terrace houses would add variety to the housing landscape. Unfortunately, you won’t find many other terraced HDBs other than these 13 units at Stirling road. In the background, we were told, was also the very first block of flats ever built by the HDB. A stark contrast of 2 very different housing styles. It seemed to be that this was the test bed for the HDB.
We were also met by one of the residents of the area. A Mr Mahmood, 63, who had been living in the estate every since it was built. He reminisced about the facilities (army camps,driving centre,wet market) all being nearby in the area. And also about how he recalls the Indian circus visited the area.
Across the street was another equally historic housing estate. Tanglin Halt.
Slated to be cleared in the near future, I felt a sense of nostalgia as I snapped away.
The saloon and baber shop that looked like it was frozen in time with it’s original tiling and saloon equipment.
The weathered faces of it’s residents lounging at the void decks all spoke of a mature estate.
Another long time resident of the area, Ms Alice, spoke of how she had first moved to the area as a newly wed, eventually forming close ties with her fellow neighbours. She laughed as she said “Most of us do not lock our doors, in fact I help many of my neighbours hold onto their spares keys just in case they ever get locked out of their homes”.
It is sad to think that with the demolishing of these block of flats all these long laid ties will be uprooted and lost forever.
To the modern Singaporean this would be an unthinkable thing to do.
With most of us HDB dwelling citizens seldom saying “hi” or even interacting with our neighbours.
Take a tour one Sunday, have a relaxing walk around the area before it’s too late, and you’ll see what I mean.
Perhaps we all could learn a thing or two from the ORIGINAL HDB residents of Stirling road and Tanglin Halt.
Paul Goh can be found on youtube reviewing camera gear in a pilot’s helmet here. To see more of his pictures and to enquire about the photographic and video services he provides, please visit his Facebook Page: facebook.com/relativelyrelaxedstudio