Commonwealth & Holland Village heritage tour traces the evolution of Queenstown’s colourful social history from a rubber plantation in the 1870s to a bustling military village in the 1930s and a renowned expatriate centre and tourist attraction in the 2000s.
The first residents in Holland and Commonwealth were gambier and rubber planters who worked on a 2859 acre land holding, purchased by prominent businessman, Tan Kim Seng (b.1805-d.1864) through its limited liability company, Kim Seng Land Co. Ltd., from the colonial government for 6,676 rupees in 1862. These pioneer rubber planters interplanted Hevea brasiliensis sapplings with the existing coffee and pineapple crops and employed a subservient labour force comprising indentured Chinese sinkeh coolies and ‘free’ Indian labour imported under the kangany system. By 1917, there were about 550 coolies working in the rubber plantation of approximately 80,000 trees, each earning up to $20 per month.
Adjacent to Kim Seng Land Co. Ltd’s Pasir Panjang Rubber Estate was an 88-acre burial ground owned by Hakka clan association Ying Fo Fui Kun (Chinese: 应和会馆). Bounded by Commonwealth Avenue and North Buona Vista Road near Holland Road, 5 miles, the ancestral hall and its surrounding cemetery was established in 1887 for clansmen from five townships in Jia Ying (Chinese: 嘉应) prefecture in Guangzhou to have a place for burial and ancestor worship. The Hakka community at Shuang Long Shan (Chinese:双龙山), where the burial ground was located, also set up a hospital, Jia Ying Wu Shu hospital (Chinese: 嘉应五属) near present Block 18, Holland Drive and Ying Xin school (Chinese: 应新) within the single-storey ancestral hall.
Chip Bee Gardens is a military estate established in the mid-1950s to house British army personnel based in Pasir Panjang, Tanglin and Alexandra. The estate comprised of six blocks of apartment flats, semi-detached houses and two rows of shop houses, which served as mess hall for the British soldiers to socialise, play billiards and conduct meetings.
Holland Village began as a focal point for villagers from Shuang Long Shan, and rubber estates in Ulu Pandan and Holland, where they sold their farming produce such as chickens, ducks and pigs for subsistence. Named after Hugh Holland, an architect, the village expanded quickly after the installation of the British military bases at Alexandra and Pasir Panjang in the 1930s and 1940s.
Established in the mid-1950s, the former Eng Wah open-air cinema specialised in Chinese wayang, which was popular among the local residents. The theatre was created by arranging rows of benches each rented for 50 cents per show.
In the mid-1970s, the theatre was renovated and popular Cantonese films were screened, attracting hundreds of residents every night.
The theatre was closed in 1985.
Kampong Holland Mosque started as a surau in the mid-1950s serving Muslim villagers from Shuang Long Shan and military personnel from the Pasir Panjang and Alexandra bases.
Built between 1970 and 1974, Holland Drive neighbourhood centre comprised of two clusters of four-storey shop buildings and a wet market.The shop buildings have exposed red brick walls and are colloquially known as red house or ang chu (Hokkien: 红屋).
The Ying Fo Fui Kun cemetery (Chinese: 应和会管) at Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Ancestral Hall is Singapore’s last remaining Hakka cemetery. The Ancestral Hall and its surrounding cemetery wasestablished in 1887 for Yin Fo Fui Kun clansmen from Jia Ying (Chinese:嘉应) prefecture in Canton, China, to have a place for burial and ancestral worship.
Built at a cost of $180,000, the Commonwealth Crescent Neighbourhood Centre was officially opened on 29 May 1965 by then Minister for Labour, Jek Yuen Thong. The Neighbourhood Centre comprised of 26 shop units arranged around a quadrangle and 84 hawker stalls in the wet market.
Queenstown Lutheran Church is the second Lutheran Church in Singapore. Built at a cost of $150,000, the Church was opened on 13 March 1966 and dedicated on 1 May 1966 as an extension to the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer at Duke Road. The Church was built with funds from the United Lutheran Church in America.
Block 115 Commonwealth Drive is Singapore’s first Flatted Factory. Built at a cost of $1,500,000, the groundbreaking ceremony of the five-storey factory was inaugurated on 30 May 1965 by then Minister for National Development, Lim Kim San. The Flatted Factory had a gross floor area of around 240,000 square feet and comprised of 30 operating factories.
Commonwealth was the first precinct in Singapore which launched HDB’s “Home Ownership for the People” scheme. The scheme was introduced in February 1964 by then Minister for National Development, Lim Kim San, to encourage a “property-owning democracy” in Singapore and enable Singaporeans in the lower middle-income group to purchase their own homes and “a stake in the country.”
Block 81 Commonwealth Close is known as the VIP Block in Queenstown. Completed in September 1964, the 16-storey block contained 192 three-room and 64 two-room apartments. The commanding presence of Block 81 and neighbouring blocks 82 and 83 earned the neighbourhood a colourful colloquial name, Chap Lak Lao (Hokkien: 十六楼; 16 storey).
Ridout Tea Garden (former Queenstown Japanese Garden) was Singapore’s first Japanese-themed community garden. Built at a cost of $500,000, the landscaped garden was opened in 1970 to provide more recreational facilities for flat dwellers in Queenstown.
Bounded by Ridout Road, Pierce Road, Holland Road and Queensway, Ridout and Holland Park Conservation Area comprises of 27 good class bungalows designed in Art Deco, Victorian and Black and White architectural styles.