The old Singapore Badminton Hall at Guillemard Road
Singapore has a long history of being a sports colony. Following Singapore’s first participation in the Olympics, when Lloyd Valberg represented Singapore in the 1948 Olympic high jump event, achievements were made in a variety of sports during the 1950s. In the late 1800s, several centres were constructed to train and develop sports talents. The Farrer Park Athletic Centre, which was erected in 1956, played an important role in the school’s track and field history, producing athletes like C Kunalan and Heather Siddons. Ang Peng Siong, who was once the world’s fastest man in the 50-metres freestyle at the Farrer Park Swimming Complex, groomed swim stars. Singapore also excelled in badminton courts, where it was a part of the Malaya team that dominated the game for almost a decade – winning the Thomas Cup in 1949, 1952, and 1955.
The Governor of Singapore, Mr. J. F. Nicoll, will formally open the $800,000 hall of the Singapore Badminton Association at Guillemard Road tomorrow in a ceremony that has been dubbed “the Hall of Dreams.” It was finished last week after four months of construction work had begun. On June 6, 1952, The Straits Times called the opening of the Badminton Hall a “block all-party and exhibition badminton matches.”
On 7 June 1952, the Singapore Badminton Hall debuted to signify new aspirations for the decade.
The Singapore Badminton Hall was constructed to host the Thomas Cup in 1952, however, the tournament was ultimately held at Happy World Stadium. Subsequent Thomas Cup matches were, however, held at the Hall. The Singapore Badminton Association proposed the Hall as a location to train and hold matches for their players. Prior to 1949, public fund sourcing was difficult. Construction of the Hall began with donations and a major loan from prominent businessman Aw Boon Haw. In the 1930s, Was Keng Pao (also known as Was Keng Hua or Windmill Hill) was renowned for creating the Tiger Balm Gardens (now Haw Par Villa) on a hillside plot in Pasir Panjang.
The Hall, completed in June 1952, seated 5,500 people and housed four courts, canteens, changing rooms, offices, and a bar. The Hall has hosted a number of important sporting events throughout the years, including the 1955 and 1958 Thomas Cup, as well as the 1983 and 1993 12th and 17th Southeast Asia Games.
The Hall also hosted a variety of non-sporting activities, including concerts. The Rolling Stones performed at the Hall in February 1965, and a number of other bands have played there as well. The arena reportedly became so jam-packed that a barrier intended for the event collapsed.
The Hall was also the place of one of Singapore’s most pivotal moments in history. It was the counting station and announcement point for the national referendum of 1962. The People’s Action Party (PAP) government had urged Singaporeans to choose whether they wanted Singapore to join the Federation of Malaya to form a new unified Malaysia. A total of 590,000 registered individuals, or 90% of eligible voters, cast their ballot. The count took place overnight from 1 September 1962 and was announced the next morning at the Hall, with approximately 71% of the electorate supporting the merger.
Singapore Badminton Hall, is reopened and became Guillemard Village
The Hall continued to host both sporting and non-sporting events after the merger and independence. Although the National Heritage Board granted the Singapore Badminton Hall a Grade I status in 1999, it was closed in 2008 after the Singapore Badminton Association decided not to renew its lease. In January 2008, the group relocated to the Singapore Sports School before settling at the Singapore Sports Hub in 2011. When the Hall reopened in 2009 as a food-and-beverage and leisure centre, it became the Guillemard Village.
Today, Guillemard Village buildings are still grey and unassuming. The former Singapore Badminton Hall, which has since been demolished, was a symbol of the country’s sporting ambitions before independence. The Guillemard Road forecourts were also a political hotspot in the past, with events such as fairs, lectures, community and international musical concerts taking place there. The site of Singapore’s 1962 National Referendum was also where the vote counting station is located.