Thursday, March 12, 2009

History of Joo Chiat Road

Above pictures added on 27 Dec 2010 to show the 'Then, Then & Now' Joo Chiat Road.
Top picture - Joo Chiat Road when it was known as Confederate Estate Road.
Middle picture - Joo Chiat Road in the early days
Bottom picture - Joo Chiat Road now

Joo Chiat Road
The background building on the left is the former Joo Chiat Police Station

Joo Chiat area is well known to those living in the eastern part of Singapore. Its Peranakan houses have motifs not only depicting Chinese and Malay cultures but also European influences. Its rich peranakan culture and yummy food such as nonya bak chang, tua kua pau, laksa and many others have brought people from other parts of the island to shop and to enjoy the delicious food. It has also become a tourist attraction.
But, how many people knows that Joo Chiat Road was originally called Confederate Estates Road. Most of Joo Chiat area was then known as Confederate Estates, owned by the Little Family (see map below).

Map of Singapore in 1898

In 1914 Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Terrace already existed in Joo Chiat area. They were named after Chew Joo Chiat a wealthy Chinaman land owner. Joo Chiat Road then was a short stretch of cart track from Geylang Serai to Joo Chiat Terrace. The cart track continued straight towards the east coast as Confederate Estate Road.

In the early 20th century Chew Joo Chiat already owned a vast piece of land in the area for his coconut plantations. The Little Family was then dividing their lands and sold them away in small freehold lots for building houses. Chew increased his land banks by purchasing some of them and later owned the dirt road as well. In 1916 the Municipality wanted to build a proper road suitable for motor cars from Geylang Serai all the way to the beach where many wealthy people had their holidays houses by the sea. There was no land acquisition law then. The Municipality had to buy land from the land owner, Chew Joo Chiat for the purpose. Chew did not want to sell his land but he saw the benefit of a road infra structure going through his coconut estates. He bequeathed the land to the authority. In 1917 a proper road for motor vehicles was constructed.  The road was renamed Joo Chiat Road after Chew Joo Chiat for his generosity.
First Objection To The Naming of Joo Chiat Road Most residents who had been living in the area for a long time was unhappy that Confederate Estates Road had been changed to Joo Chiat Road. A resident then wrote to the press (ST 29 March 1917).

Second Objection To The Naming of Joo Chiat Road
On 6 October 1948 a person using a pseodonym 'New Gap' wrote to the press as shown below.

Comparing the two complaints, the first appeared sincere but the second had an axe to grind. His remark " who or what was Joo Chiat anyway" showed his true colour.

Reply to New Gap (ST 8 October 1948) from Chew Joo Chiat's grandson

Some years ago an old resident in Joo Chiat was so sad that there was no Katong constituency. He said "Actually Joo Chiat is part of Katong. In the old days, no Joo Chiat is only a road, not a constituency". His statement was not substantiated. Actually the reverse is true. Joo Chiat had been a single ward constituency before and after the PAP came into power. Katong was not even on the map of Singapore. It was only referred to by words of mouth. Joo Chiat/Katong common boundary was at Tanjong Katong Road. The book 'The Singapore House 1819 - 1942' by Lee Kip Lin mentioned in page 119 that by 1928 Katong had grown to the extend that the Inspector-General of Police, H Fairburn, remarked: "The development of the area from Katong to Joo Chiat, which had been so rapid in the past two years, promise to continue, and from every point of view one sees the necessity of providing of a sub divisional station in that suburb. The suburb at present possess no police station."
It is obvious that Katong was then encroaching into Joo Chiat. We can now say that Katong is part of Joo Chiat.



Tony said...

Dear Philip,
I'm very glad that you have posted these newspaper cuttings. In the context of "Place Identity", Katong brings across thoughts of beach side living, bungalow houses, colourful shophouses, good food and Peranakan communities.
So, although its without a doubt that while theres only 1 road which has the name of Katong, the memory of Katong is very strong... so much so that there's plenty of businesses and buildings that contains the Katong name.
Check out this funny podcast from Mr Brown Show that pokes fun at why the East Coast Road section of Joo Chiat is called Katong.

Conversely, in the present, what does "Joo Chiat" convey in terms of Place Identity?
I think you will enjoy this academic article entitled
Ethnoscapes, entertainment and ’eritage in the global city: segmented spaces in Singapore’s Joo Chiat Road.

Take care now, meet up soon.

Unknown said...

I'm a huge fan of the Joo Chiat area. Can you recommend any books on the history of Joo Chiat? Thanks for your narrative on the street name. Spent some time there last month photographying the area. Here's a link

Philip Chew said...

The only book I can think of is titled 'Joo Chiat a living legacy'. In it you'd read about Joo Chiat in its old days, changing landscape, the community and the story of Chew Joo Chiat.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this. Very informative. My daughters from Haig Girls' School have walked and toured Joo Chiat road for their learning journeys. I shall have things to share with them from a primary source!

Unknown said...

Hi Philip,

I wonder if you can help me?

I am tracing my ancestor who used to have a villa on Joo Chiat Road. The problem is the numbering as the number I have goes to almost 1500 and today's Joo Chiat Road does not.

Would you happen to know why?


Philip Chew said...

What was the original house number? Do you have any idea where the house was located?