Monday, January 2, 2012

Joo Chiat Road 1920s

Joo Chiat Road in the early days was a dirt track stretching from Geylang Serai all the way to the east coast beach. It was then known as the Confederate Estate Road. The dirt track was owned and maitained by Chew Joo Chiat. It was made up into a metal road by the Municipality and named the road after Chew Joo Chiat as Joo Chiat Road. Motorised transport made access to the east coast and the beach more attractive. People from other parts of Singapore migrated to the east coast to be nearer the sea. Furthermore, development of the area from Katong to Joo Chiat was very rapid resulting in a land boom. Joo Chiat was not entirely coconut plantations. There was also a rubber estate off Joo Chiat Road. It had a factory with machines processing rubber from latex into rubber sheets. As land values increased, housing in Joo Chiat Road expanded rapidly. Large coconut plantations fragmented and about 53,000 square feet of rubber estates came under the hammer.

1920s saw Joo Chiat Road having colourful rows of Perankan terraced houses and bungalows with fanciful names like Noel Villa, Sandy Point Villa, Mafeking House and others. Most of the residential buildings were occupied by the Peranakans except the shophouses nearer the Joo Chiat Market. Some coconut trees and fruit trees by the roadside were untouched by housing development.

Gei Hin Kwan Hotel, Happy Hotel, Katong Hotel, Japanese Koyakan Hotel and a few others lined sporadically along Joo Chiat Road. They were popular with clubs, associations and other organisations that held their meetings, anniversary and celebrations there. In those days some hotels also operated illegaly as brothels. Some was caught by the law and fined at a Magistrate Court.

Besides prostitutions at the hotels there were triads and gangs in the area. They collected protection  money from the shopkeepers and hawkers, and extorted money from the rich and wealthy. One extortion incident was reported in The Straits Times on 22 November 1923. The articles stated:

"The maximum sentence of six months' rigorous imprisonment was passed on a Chinese who was found guilty of attempting extortion in the second Police Court yesterday.
The complainant, a Hokien trader of No 246 Joo Chiat Road, stated that he discovered a letter in his house early on the morning of November 11 which was to the effect that he would have to pay a certain amount of money over at a shop, No 30 Joo Chiat Road and if within 3 days the money was not paid, he would meet with some trouble. Two days later a Chinese called at the shop and said that he was the man to collect the money deposited by the complainant. He was told to wait and in the meantime the complainant was informed. The latter went to the shop and conducted the accused to a coffee shop, where he was subsequently arrested by a police corporal who had already been informed."

The newspapers report did not mention the name of the Hokien trader. Chew Joo Chiat was a Hokien trader at that time and his obituary stated that he died at his residence No 246 Joo Chiat Road. The Hokien trader wth the same address as Chew could not be a coincidence. Therefore, could the person in the attempted extortion be Chew Joo Chiat himself?

Sunday, January 1, 2012