The majesty of Queenstown is evident. She is also the prototype housing for a large portion of public housing in Singapore. She was also the first to build affordable public housing, such as flats in the Housing and Development Board (HDB) system. She was also one of the first to develop point blocks and curved blocks – appropriately referred to as Butterflies.
Her royal treatment quickly disappears on a walkabout Queenstown. British royalty and colonial governance are frequently represented in the names of many streets and buildings. In 1952, Queenstown was chosen to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II; Alexandra Road honours Queen Alexandra, Edward VII’s consort; and Princess Margaret estate remembers HM Elizabeth II’s younger sibling.
In January 1960, the monarchy of Singapore was established when Sir Stamford Raffles issued a charter to Prince George Eyre. Toa Payoh estate served as the residence for early landlords such as Lim Yean Ah and J. Loke Teck Ghee until it was sold to the Government in 1999 to serve as the site for an underpass. In 2012, the then-Queen Elizabeth II visited Queenstown estate to see her great-granddaughter’s work.
The new Dawson and Alexandra hiking trail in Queenstown highlights Queenstown’s colonial and military history. From forgotten historic sites to famous monuments dwarfed by new construction, Tread Lightly! is a window into the past that makes you feel like you’re there. Make no mistake, though; it is people who make the Queenstown narrative come alive. The insights of locals (both present and previous) and volunteer guides’ experiences make this excursion unique.
Dr Chee Sze Nam, a 42-year-old former resident, entertained us with tales from his childhood and teenage years at Forfar House, the crowning block of Queenstown. He ran Forfar House until 1999. When it opened in 1956, Forfar House was the capital’s tallest public housing building, owing to its zigzag appearance. The building’s 14 stories made it one of the first to employ modern waste technology, with each apartment having built-in trash chutes. Forfar House was subsequently razed in order to make way for the Forfar Heights complex, which is made up of 30 to 40 stories.
In Queenstown, a river rushed through the Hong Lim and Hong Yin hills, baffling the locals. Hence, the area was previously known as Boh Beh Kang (Hokkien for No Tail River). The Boh Beh Kang village was located at the bottom of the hills, which were razed for Mei Ling Manor’s creation in 1968.
Mr Ang Beng Teck, a former Boh Beh Kang resident who now resides in Choa Chu Kang, still visits the site despite its proximity to his current home. He lived in the Ang clan’s village at the 300-household settlement. The Tiong Ghee Temple, which was relocated to Stirling Road in 1973 and is still there, served as a replacement for the older Taoist temple in the hamlet. It is not simply a place of worship. It also serves as a meeting spot for the ex-Boh Beh Kang locals, such as Mr Ang.
Although not all is rosy in the face of development, there are a few rays of sunshine. The demolition of Boh Beh Kang gave rise to 160 and 161 Mei Ling Street, Singapore’s first point blocks. The new model of public housing with more seclusion quickly replaced the older design, which had many apartments spread along a long common corridor.
168A Queensway’s unique curved façade earned it the colloquial name of the Butterfly block.
168A at Queensway was another trendsetter. “We call this the Butterfly block since the structure looks like a butterfly!” says long-time resident Paul Fernandez, 75. The first curved HDB block was 168A. This resident is a trailblazer, having lived in the same block for 40 years. This was his first time living in a high-rise, and many of our pioneer generation would understand, having moved from low- to high-rise housing.
Mr Huang Eu Chai, an outstanding volunteer, when questioned about the greatest part of living in Queenstown, said that it was the feeling of security that everyone was like his extended family. He was born and reared in Queenstown, where he lived the rest of his life. Queenstown was where he had always called home.
Despite its numerous housing honours and plaudits from foreign delegations, it is her people who make Queenstown the jewel in Singapore’s real estate crown. This may be something we can relate to.