Faces of Commonwealth and Holland Village

Iconic History of Hakka Cemetery on Holland Village

To complement their popular Queenstown excursions, my community has launched the new Commonwealth and Holland Village Heritage Tour. Participants will hear first-hand accounts from company tenants, teachers, and residents — current and former — about their personal experiences with the NYCHA property. Some organizations have stayed still as pockets of the Commonwealth and Holland Village estates have been rapidly gentrified. Many faces have remained to offer their personal experiences of living and working in the Commonwealth and Holland Village areas, despite rapid waves of gentrification.

The tour’s final stop is at the Ministry of Education (MOE) Heritage Centre, a museum that explores Singapore’s educational history. Exhibition rooms have been converted from the former New Town Primary School, which was taken over by the MOE in 2007 to construct the current heritage centre. The Heritage Centre’s displays included the free milk distribution that began in the 1950s to give nourishment to undernourished school children.

MOE Heritage Centre travel guidebook. Source (Trip)

“When many teachers visited the MOE Heritage Centre, they were shocked to find that Queenstown, not Toa Payoh, was Singapore’s first satellite town.,” said Mrs Ong.

The MOE Heritage Centre (former New Town Primary School) is an H-style school building, which permitted more communal areas for school pupils. This was a great improvement over the single slab block system, such as Selegie Primary School, where pupils and teachers shared freight lifts to go between the ten floors.

Queenstown’s self-sufficient town planning was Singapore’s first satellite town, according to Mrs Ong. Working mothers may walk to schools such as New Town Primary School from the estate’s light industries and factories, making it convenient for them to send and collect their kids. “During recess, many parents would offer their youngsters food through these fences.,” she said. “That is, until I moved to Queenstown.”

Commonwealth Close HDB. Source (SRX)

The five-story structure at 115 Commonwealth Drive was opened on May 30, 1965, by then Minister for National Development Lim Kim San as part of the Economic Development Board’s plan to bring light industries into residential neighbourhoods to provide employment. It established the design template for light industrial blocks in other housing estates, and it was the first flatted factory block in Singapore.

Mdm Noorsia has lived at Commonwealth Close for 31 years and has worked at Wing Heng, an electronics factory, for ten years on Singapore’s first flatted factory block. “It was really handy since I could drop off my four children at school before going to work the other way.,” Mdm Noorsia added. “I could go home each afternoon to cook dinner for my children.”

Queenstown was Singapore’s first satellite town, serving as a testing ground for public housing. The estate was looked at as a public housing success story after the initial HDB blocks, first point blocks, and first curved blocks were erected in Queenstown. In the 1960s and 1970s, several foreign visitors paid visits to Queenstown. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh received visiting heads of state such as Prince Philip, former leader Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India in 1968, and Crown Prince Akihito in 1970.

Block 81 Commonwealth Close 2. Source (The Lion Raw)

“We had no idea that these people were coming. It was a pleasant surprise for us. But I recall being proud as a youngster.,” Mdm Tham recounted. “I still reside here, although most of the historical residents have departed.”

The block of flats known as the VIP Block is located on Commonwealth Close and is renowned for its list of illustrious visitors. The apartment block was completed in 1964 and has 192 three-room apartments and 64 two-room flats. Otherwise, outside of the foreign dignitaries, the estate also had a more British feel to it. The current name, Bee Hive Gardens at Holland Village, dates from the early 1960s when it was converted to a British military station. British personnel and their families were also housed in the Ridout Road cottages.

Iconic Thambi Magazine Store at Holland Village. Source (Time Out)

The Thambi Magazine Store began in the 1960s when P. Senthilmurugan’s grandfather pedalled around the estate on a bike with papers. The magazine shop was started by his father, Peritathambi G, in 1996 and was one of the most well-known figures in Holland Village.

Thambi Magazine Store. Source (Foursquare)

It’s common to find enduring faces on the Commonwealth and Holland Village Heritage Tour, as the winds of change constantly sweep Queenstown and its adjacent estates. This tour, which is organized by a civic group called My Community and is sponsored by the National Heritage Board, Lee Foundation, and Tote Board takes tourists via iconic landmarks and abandoned places in Commonwealth and Holland Village. On the third Sunday of every month, the Commonwealth and Holland Village heritage walk is available for free. Participants may register at www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg if they are interested.

Sin Palace Hair Dressing Saloon. Source (My Queenstown)
Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Memorial Hall. Source (Roots.sg)
A Hakka Cemetery with a “Good View”. Source (The Straits Times)
The space between Blocks 85 and 86 Commonwealth Close is where this iconic photo of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was taken. Commonwealth was the first precinct in Singapore which launched HDB’s “Home Ownership for the People” scheme in 1964.

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