This house dwarfed by tall condos, owners refuse to budge

By Ho Lian-Yi

April 14, 2008

ON St Francis Road lies a piece of old Singapore - an old house between two tall, modern condominiums.

The stilt-bungalow is a relic from a time when bullock carts, not cars, plied the roads, and old attap houses, not condominiums, lined the streets.

But its owners have remained deaf to the call of change, even when property developers dangle 'millions of dollars' and a new house elsewhere.

Property, even with the recent slowdown after a boom, is always hot stuff. Last year saw a record-breaking 14,800-plus residential units sold.

Development is relentless in Singapore and huge sums are involved.

Behind the house, a noisy crane hovers, where another condominium is going up. But to the old man of the house, Mr Gerard Clarke, 90, all the development is just noise.

'If this (the new construction) is noisy, how about when they were building this and that,' he said, pointing to the St Francis Court and StFrancis Lodge condominiums.

Mr Clarke, a kindly, sprightly gentleman - the type who refers to women as ladies - is a retired Shell employee. Some 10 years ago, before the condominiums were built, he was approached to sell the property.

His daughter, the bungalow's owner, Ms Louise Clarke, 53, an educational psychologist, said: 'It was terrible. They would just come and badger and badger.'

She recalled how one property agent even turned up at their doorstep with a picture of a terrace house that they could move into.

She said she was offered 'millions' but she would not sell. Not while her father is alive.

She doesn't remember how big her land is (her title deed is in a safe somewhere) but she says the house itself is about 2,500 sq ft, about the size of two five-room HDB flats.

The land area looks to be about three times the size of the house.

Recent transactions on the Urban Redevelopment Authority website showed that properties on St Francis Road and nearby St Michael's Road sold for $500psf to more than $1000psf.

Going by those numbers, the house alone can be worth up to $2.5 million.


But for the Clarkes, it is not about money. Mr Clarke has lived in the house since 1947, when he got married. It is spacious, charming, rustic and cool - though it was cooler before the condominiums blocked out the breeze.

According to Ms Clarke, the land up to St Michael's Road used to belong to her great-grandfather.

He divided it among three daughters (a fourth got nothing as she had moved to the US) and one of them - her grandmother - passed the land to her mother, Mr Clarke's wife.

When Mrs Clarke died last March, she inherited it.

Walking around the house is like taking a trip back in time. You see old pictures, a battered Bible that's older than Mr Clarke, and a wind-up clock.

Though the furniture looks old, there's nothing from before the Japanese Occupation, except a bulky cabinet. 'It was the only one looters couldn't carry off,' he said.

The floor, too, has been changed. There were big holes everywhere after the Second World War.

Maintaining an old house, estimated to be at least 90 years old, is not cheap.

Ms Clarke has had to pay for a new roof and supports under the aging floor. She wouldn't say how much all that cost, only that it was expensive.

Among their former neighbours was one Leslie Hoffman, whom Mr Clarke remembered as a journalist.

MrHoffman was actually the first local editor-in-chief of The Straits Times.

One unusual problem they face is strangers wandering on their property. (Like homeowners in the good old days, the Clarkes leave their gates unlocked during the day).

'Some of them were very rude,' said Ms Clarke.

Despite all that, property agents will likely still have no luck with the Clarkes.

Ms Clarke said she would rather bequeath the property to a relative than sell it.

As for Mr Clarke, what use has he for money at his age?

'I want to stay here till they have to carry me out,' he said.