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May 26, 2016

Relaunch of Old Catholic High School Building (222 Queen Street & 51 Waterloo Street)

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street

From its sprawling seven-hectare campus in Bishan which housed both primary and secondary sections since 1992, one could not have imagined Catholic High School's more humbled beginnings in town from 1935 when French missionary Reverend Father Edward Becheras started "Sino-English School" as an extension of the Church of St. Peter and Paul. Rapid expansion saw a new three-storied building block erected on the church grounds in 1936, one that would become the familiar face of Catholic High School at 222 Queen Street for more than 50 years. On 21 May 2016, I was honored to be invited by 222 Queen + 51 Waterloo to witness the relaunch of the Old Catholic High School building on its 80th anniversary celebration.

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
Original name of the school at the 51 Waterloo Street building
Its 80th anniversary celebration would not have materialized if not for the hard work of one old boy of the school, property developer and philanthropist Daniel Teo who in 2009 successfully bidded for the government-owned site and pumped in at least $2.5 million to convert it to a centre of the arts and private museum. This was after the building laid vacant for more than 15 years; an Auditor-General's report in 2008 flagged out the rental revenue lost, as a result of unsuccessful attempts by the National Heritage Board to come out with a proposal to develop the building by itself or with the private sector when it was allocated to the Ministry of Information, Communications and Arts from 2000. In contrast, its primary school wing across the road erected in 1951 was successfully converted to become 8Q SAM in 2008 after the Land Authority repossessed the 4-storey building in 2007 when the Kim Yan Cantonese Methodist Church ended its tenancy.

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
Church of St. Peter and Paul adjoining 51 Waterloo Street with 8Q SAM in the background. I recall reading students used to run around the church due to lack of open space in the school. The boundary wall would have been added later.

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
The school that was born inside the church. The sounding of church bells will be familiar to the old boys back for a visit.

For the 80th anniversary event, Daniel Teo was the distinguished guest. Daughter Rachel Teo and Andrew Lau, a director of 222 Queen Street and part of the team who developed Old School @ Mount Sophia, played host to the event. The guest of honor was Member of Parliament Mr Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary, Minister of Culture, Community and Youth, also an old boy of the school who wore, for the special occasion, four of his old Catholic High School badges that he has kept for the last 30 years. Other special guests among the alumni who turned up include Chao Hick Tin, an appellate judge in the Supreme Court of Singapore and former Attorney-General of Singapore.

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
Old boy Baey Yam Keng with his personal collection old Catholic High School badges (normal, prefect, monitor and librarian)

The relaunch of old Catholic High School building took the form of the unveiling of a series of heritage murals commissioned for the event by the guest of honor, painted over what could have been the doors of a series of classrooms, and done by our very own artists, Yip Yew Chong and Yuen Kum Cheong. Yip, if you are not aware, is the amazing muralist who made a name for himself decorating Singapore's neighborhoods. The colorful murals depict notable landmarks in this part of town where the old school was located, like Odeon Cinema which had one of the guests exclaiming that was where he watched Star Wars, as the group stopped in front of the mural and the John Williams score from the movie started playing in the air as if on cue; disappearing trades, like the ice-ball tantalizing displayed beside the image of two schoolboys slurping the snack from their palms; and image of the school's founder Father Edward Becheras with two students, reproduced from the statue now standing in the school's Bishan campus, in front of a rail corridor to illustrate his philosophy for the school, "The way of the Catholic High School is a way made of two rails - Chinese and English, free from any entanglement, straight to its end. Happy are those who follow. They shall obtain the scope of a sound education".

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
The heritage murals unveiled by the Guest-of-Honor Mr Baey Yam Keng

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
Mural of Army Market supplier at Beach Road, one of the endangered trade

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
Mural of Odeon Theatre with Star Wars playing. Many watch their first Star Wars film (A New Hope) in this cinema.

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
The irresistible ice-ball for school children from the olden days 

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
School founder the late Father Edward Becheras showing the way of Catholic High School


Murals from yesteryear was another highlight of the guided tour for the guest of honor, which also had the rest of us in the media team covering the event tagging along. As an old boy, he would not be surprised by the murals uncovered during restoration of what was once the school hall added vertically to the building in the 1960s as Lee Kuo Chuan Hall. These murals by old Catholic High students are preserved, painstakingly restored to their former glory; and the Hall, partitioned off into a series of rooms, is now home to the Singapore Ballet Academy. Unfortunately unlike the modern murals by Yip and Yuen, not much is known about their older counterparts, who and why painted them and the painters' whereabouts; the Catholic High Alumni welcomes any information on the murals from their page.

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
Old school corner in Lee Kuo Chuan Hall at one end of the building

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
The murals by Old Catholic High School students near the ceiling

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
The Guest-of-Honor with students from Singapore Ballet Academy

In keeping with the theme that is now obvious, the organizers arranged for vendors to prepare snacks and refreshments more commonly associated with the era when Catholic High was located in Queen Street. There was the kacang-puteh man, not to be missed when you were catching a movie in the old theatres; the ice-kacang lady who served delectable dessert that day in a bowl and not a ball, but still delicious and worthy of food-porn nevertheless; the satay lady who set up shop beside the staircase landing and whose skewered meat must have filled many stomachs that morning; and last but not least, the guy who distributed glass-bottled Vitamilk to thirsty guests who needed no reminder that the bottle is to be returned after drinking.

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
Delectable dessert from the event

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
The satay lady

Relaunch of 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street
Vitamilk bottled drink

Do check out the building's website where you'd find the list of tenants at 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street (222+51) and also ongoing events. Admission to them is free. The relaunch and 80th anniversary celebration that I have blogged took place in 51. Due to time constraint, I did not explore 222. If you happen to be in the area, do consider hopping over next door (55 Waterloo Street) for your meal. Crossings Cafe is a social enterprise serving up delicious comfort food at affordable price.

Click here for the rest of the photos taken during the event



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