Category Archives: Heritage

Dakota Crescent – Where time stands still

A SWANKY new National Stadium rises in Kallang. Two years ago, the nearby Goodman Arts Centre opened its doors to a hip young crowd. One street away, a new condominium has been built on the site of Housing Board flats.

But amid these changes, time has passed by Dakota Crescent, one of Singapore’s oldest HDB estates, located off Old Airport Road. The 17 blocks of low-rise flats have hardly changed since being built in 1958.

No wonder, then, that their retro architecture and old-school playground make them a hot spot for photographers and artists.

“It’s rare to see such old flats,” said Mr Renalto Wong, 25, who was there on a Sunday, sketching a 54-year-old provision shop that recently closed down. “There’s something comfortable and nostalgic about this place – it’s almost like a hideout.”

The estate was named after the Douglas DC-3 Dakota, a model of plane that landed at Kallang Airport in the past.

Built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) – the forerunner of the HDB – most of the 600 flats are leased to low-income families under the board’s public rental scheme. The flats are occupied mostly by elderly residents, who pay as low as $26 a month for a one-room flat and $44 a month for a two-room flat.

Scrap-goods buyer Ng Guan Swee, 68, has lived in Dakota Crescent since it was built.

“There was a fire in Cecil Street in the 50s and our house got burned down, so we were allocated a house in Dakota Crescent,” he recalled in Mandarin.

At that time, Mr Ng’s grandmother had bound feet – as was the custom in her day – and the family requested a ground-level unit. Theirs, at Block 20, has been home to Mr Ng and his sister for more than 50 years.

“When we came in 1958, there were no streetlights,” said Mr Ng, sitting amid old laser disc players, hi-fi sets and other vintage items in his home. He remembers traversing the dark streets to go to the nearby Guillemard shophouses for snacks.

But in the 1960s, as more families moved in, a market sprang up opposite the estate.

“Almost every unit in this estate was occupied. Neighbours knew one another and our doors were always open,” said Mr Ng. “Those were good times.”

Madam Yong Fong Keow, 64, who moved there in the 60s, also misses such communal life.

Gesturing at a new condominium, she said in Mandarin: “There was a bakery there. At 3pm or 4pm, we would smell the aroma of freshly baked bread. That’s when you grabbed some money and a neighbour and went to buy bread.”

But now, communal life in Dakota is a shadow of what it used to be. Only about 60 per cent of the units are occupied. Of a row of four shops, only two – both Chinese medicine clinics – remain.

Neighbours started moving out in the 90s, some to live with their children.

Then, a new wave of tenants moved there in 2005 when the HDB leased empty units to private operators, who, in turn, rented them to foreign workers.

“You could hear Thai accents, Filipino accents and Chinese accents around the neighbourhood, it was like a mini United Nations,” Mr Ng joked.

While some residents got used to these new faces, others did not.

Madam Amy De Silva, a long-time resident in her 60s, said: “Some of them were rowdy and you could hear them coming home late at night. Their living habits just didn’t suit ours.”

The HDB’s agreement with the managing agent ended last year and the foreign workers have since moved out of the Dakota estate.

However, at Block 32, an empty unit is littered with cardboard boxes and clothes. Mr Y.Y Goh, 57, a resident, said foreign workers live there but they do not disturb anyone.

One empty unit in Block 12, though, has become a party spot for teens. “They drink, eat, smoke, and mess the place up,” said a resident who wanted to be known only as Mr Zhang.

When The Straits Times visited, there were drink cans, chip packets and cardboard boxes in the unit.

In another vacant unit in Block 16, graffiti was scrawled on the walls. Some residents suspect teenagers sniffed glue there – some were spotted going into the unit with bags over their noses.

The HDB said that it has received complaints about crime and mischief in the area and informed the police.

But Dakota, now somewhat of a ghost town, may soon be more crowded again. The HDB said it is offering empty units as interim housing to needy families awaiting new flats. They were expected to start moving in progressively from last month. It has not indicated any long-term plans to develop the estate, however.

Although Dakota has been dubbed an “old people’s estate”, the few young faces who live there have no complaints.

“It’s a five-minute walk from Dakota and Mountbatten MRT stations, we have the Old Airport Road hawker centre and I hang out with friends at the Kallang Leisure Park nearby,” said Mr Kartigesan Saravanan, 20, who has lived in Dakota for the past 13 years. “It’s really a good location.”

Indeed, resident Bill Koh, who is in his 50s, said: “So many new buildings are coming up around us, it’s hard not to worry what might happen.

“People always come here and say how nice this estate is. There’s lots of green space between these old flats. It’s a pity if one of Singapore’s oldest estates is gone – maybe they should consider conserving it.”
– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/case-you-missed-it/story/suburb-where-time-stands-still-20131104#sthash.FKBJBMLk.dpuf

Istana Open House for Hari Raya Puasa and National Day to be held on Sat, Aug 2

Istana

In view of the close proximity between the Hari Raya Puasa and National Day holidays this year, the Istana Open House for the two public holidays will be combined, said the President’s Office in a statement on Friday morning.

The Hari Raya and National Day Istana Open House will be on Saturday, August 2. The Istana ground will be open to members of the public from 8.30 am to 6pm.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/istana-open-house-hari-raya-puasa-and-national-day-be-he#sthash.M1P6YELk.dpuf

Conservation Status for Pearl Bank

If the 38-year-old Pearl Bank Apartments gets the conservation green light, it could pave the way to preserve other buildings which have played a role in Singapore’s residential architectural history.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has conserved more than 7,000 buildings, mostly shophouses and bungalows.

Now, for the first time, it has received an application to preserve a multi-strata private development.

If it gives its nod to Pearl Bank, architects say this will make it easier to protect other buildings with architectural, historic and social significance – such as the first Housing Board blocks in Queenstown which were built in 1960.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/housing/story/architects-keen-conservation-status-pearl-bank-20140508#sthash.v9vLtZ7i.QqdHWenq.dpuf

Pearl Bank still special after all these years

American architect Ed Poole was so set against a proposal to put Pearl Bank Apartments up for a collective sale in 2007 that he hired a lawyer and rallied his neighbours.

The attempt failed.

“Pearl Bank is irreplaceable,” said Mr Poole, 54, who lives in a penthouse unit in the landmark building along Outram Road. “There is no way you can find another apartment like Pearl Bank in Singapore.”

Indeed, for residents such as Mr Poole, architectural devotees and ordinary Singaporeans alike, the horseshoe-shaped building atop Pearl’s Hill, overlooking Chinatown and as far as Sentosa, is unique and should be preserved carefully.

Most of the apartment owners living there are now seeking a conservation order for the 38-storey Pearl Bank, the tallest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in 1976.

This is part of a plan thought up by the building’s architect, 77-year-old Tan Cheng Siong.

The management committee plans to apply to the authorities to extend its 99-year lease and increase its gross floor area to build a 27-storey residential block above the existing carpark.

If the plan goes through, the new area can be sold and the money collected can pay for upgrading works and a lease extension, without residents having to pay extra.

While some residents of the 272 apartments and eight penthouses had wanted to cash in through a collective sale, most had feared that selling out to developers would lead to the destruction of the beacon-like building.

The conservation order will ensure that the building is kept, while helping to finance the sprucing up it badly needs, say supporters of the plan.

Residents have had to put up with peeling paint, water leaks and even rats sometimes.

“Last year, we caught about three rats in our home. We have no idea how the rats climbed up 37 floors. Maybe through the pipes,” said a penthouse resident in her 40s, who gave her name only as Ms Ling.

Others complained of chipped steps in the stairwells and lifts that break down frequently.

Madam Too Poh Eng, 70, tries to take the newer of the eight lifts there. “Some lifts are so old that I recite a chant each time I take them. You never know when it will stall,” said the resident on the 14th floor.

– See more at: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/pearl-bank-still-special-after-all-these-years#sthash.8JVAXutY.dpuf