Goodbye, Blk 25 Owen Road

Building that houses Singapore's first post-war flats will be torn down

Published on Oct 18, 2012

By Lim Yan Liang

SINGAPORE'S first post-World War II flats will soon become another footnote in history.

The squat, two-storey Block 25 Owen Road, built by the Housing Board's predecessor, the Singapore Improvement Trust, is slated to be demolished from next month.

An HDB spokesman said the flats were "no longer offered for letting under the Public Rental Scheme".

The last tenant, Ms Mary Pereira, returned her keys on Monday. "It's a building with so much history," said the 70-year-old. "I think it's a real pity they are demolishing it."

Ms Pereira, whose last neighbour moved out in May, said there was a glimmer of hope that the shophouses would be conserved when the HDB re-roofed the entire block with curved, russet clay tiles in the mid-1990s.

She recalled growing up in her two-bedroom flat with her brothers, and later raising her own family there. As well as old-style fixtures such as high ceilings and a spiral staircase linking the second floor to the street level at the back, her home of 65 years had a spacious attic that she transformed from a rat's nest of wires into a plywood-and-linoleum study and storage space.

When asked about the conservation value of the site, the Urban Redevelopment Authority told The Straits Times that it had to be highly selective in what it conserves because Singapore is land-scarce.

"To showcase the evolution and our success in public housing, 20 Singapore Improvement Trust blocks at the fairly intact Tiong Bahru estate have already been conserved," said a spokesman.

"Block 25 Owen Road is part of a larger Singapore Improvement Trust estate already redeveloped and is not designated for conservation."

He added that the authority has so far conserved more than 7,000 buildings across the island.

People living near the Owen Road flats were surprised at the news of the flats' imminent demolition, which will be completed by May next year.

Gloucester Road resident June Ng said she thought the shophouses were being renovated, given the relatively recent re-roofing. "There was an Indian coffee shop at the corner that used to serve very good prata and milk tea, and yuppies on their Harleys would meet there every Friday and Saturday," said the 39-year-old business analyst. "Residents, expats and students liked to convene here because it's very quiet and very authentic. It reminds you of the good old times, and takes you back down memory lane."

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