Oldest Hotels in Singapore: secrets of the nation’s grand dames

Raffles Hotel Singapore


  • The facade of colonial-era Raffles Hotel.

First built as a privately-owned beach house in the 1830s, this long-standing property was converted into a hotel in 1887 by Armenian hoteliers the Sarkies Brothers. The years have seen various expansions and renovations that have turned the original 10-room building into the sprawling, grand edifice you see today. It’s been closed since December 2017 for phase 3 of their three-phase restoration project, and is set to open mid-2019.

Electric City

With the construction of Raffles Hotel’s new main building constructed in 1899, the hotel became the first in Southeast Asia to have electric lights.

The second-most dangerous game

The 1902 saw the last tiger in Singapore hunted down while hiding under the hotel’s Bar & Billiard Room. The animal — which escaped from a nearby circus — was shot by a school headmaster who had a reputation as a sharpshooter and hunter.

Tropical libation

The iconic Singapore Sling was created in Raffles’ Long Bar some time around 1915 by one Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender. Today, the hotel even has its own bespoke gin that gets used in its Singapore Slings: the Raffles 1915. Created in 2015 by the guys that re-introduced the first copper stills to London in 200 years, Sipsmith, the gin is distilled using regional botanicals like jasmine flowers, pomelo peel, and lemongrass.

Buried Treasure

The Japanese occupation of Singapore in 1942 saw the hotel staff bury the all the property’s silver to hide them from wartime looters. One of the pieces included a beautiful silver beef trolley that was still used in Raffles Grill right up till the recent renovations.

East of the Suez

Many an English writer back in the day headed to the Far East for a healthy dose of Orientalism and to explore the reaches of the empire. Literary stars that have visited and stayed at the property include Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, and Rudyard Kipling; with the lattermost writing about having eaten a “turtle steak” in the hotel during his visit 1889. Today, the Writer’s Bar is named in honour of these authors. Fittingly enough, notorious imbiber Ernest Hemingway is also said to have graced the hotel — and probably knocked back his fair share of Singapore Slings.

 

 

Goodwood Park Hotel


  • Goodwood Park Hotel and staff in its early days

This iconic hotel in the Orchard area started life as the Teutonia Clubhouse in 1900, where it was a gathering space for the German expatriate community. World War I however, saw the building being confiscated by the British government, who branded all Germans living in Singapore as the enemy. It found new life as Goodwood Hall after being bought by three Jewish brothers, and was converted to a hotel in 1929. The hotel was purchased by billionaire banker Khoo Teck Phuat in 1968, and its current owners are still the Khoo family.

Deutsche design

The original structure for the Teutonia Clubhouse was fashioned after the castles of the Rhine to reflect its German heritage, and was characterised by a looming tower block. This very block was gazetted as a national monument in 1989.

Spoils of war

The building was confiscated during World War I, when all local Germans came to be considered enemies of the British under a Trading with the Enemy Proclamation in 1914.

Grand ballroom

As Goodwood Hall, the building played host to many balls for the European community in Singapore and the region. It was also the place where legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova, and her troupe of 35 performed for two nights in December 1922. Other performers that have gone through the halls of the site include crooner Cliff Richard, and Welsh songstress Shirley Bassey.

Firsts

Goodwood Park Hotel was the first to have air-conditioned taxis, and an air-conditioned wine cellar in Singapore. They were also the first hotel to have a swimming pool on-premise. In 1957, the hotel’s second Hotel Manager, Lawrence Dunn, broke tradition and began employing women as housemaids instead of hiring room boys to clean and make the rooms

 

 

The Fullerton Hotel

With its prime, strategic location right next to the mouth of the Singapore river, it’s little surprise that the site for the hotel was first home to Fort Fullerton, which was built to defend the harbour — an area integral to Singapore’s status as a hub for entrepot trade in the early days. The fort was eventually demolished to make way for a new building in 1928, which served as the location for the nation’s General Post Office from 1928 all the way till 1996. The hotel itself is a relatively new development: Sino Land (a sister company of Far East Organization) acquired the building from URA in 1997.

Cost and effect

The original building cost $4.75 million to construct in 1928, $21 million to renovate in 1985, and most recently, $400 million to restore and refurbish into the hotel in 1997. The lattermost took three years, and The Fullerton Hotel opened its doors in 2000.

A history of governance

The spirit of politics and government rests in the very foundations of the site. The neoclassical-style structure once housed the Chamber of Commerce,10 government departments, and the Singapore Club, a clubhouse for top British civil servants and officials. It was also once the headquarters of the Japanese military administration during WWII; and the place where the Economic Development Board occupied when it was first formed. The adjoining Fullerton Square was also where the late minister-mentor Lee Kuan Yew — who was then Prime Minister — would make many a rousing speech.

Stone and echo

For the architecture geeks: most of the original building was constructed out of grey Aberdeen granite, and is said to contain the only barrel-vaulted, coffered ceiling in Singapore.The coat of arms and the trophy designs over the main entrance are the works of Italian sculptor Rudolfo Nolli, who’s also responsible for the sculptures adorning the Old Supreme Court Building and the Tanjong Pagar Railway station.

Guiding light

The Fullerton Building once had a lighthouse to guide ships into the harbour. The feature was installed in 1958, and could guide ships that were up to 30 miles away. The mushrooming skyscrapers during the development of the Marina Centre district would see the lighthouse being replaced by the Bedok lighthouse, which is still in operation today.

 

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This article is originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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