Jul 26, 2008

When was 7th Storey Hotel Usurped?

I hope you enjoy reading my on-site coverage of 7th Storey Hotel.

Today we will look at another question - when was 7th Storey Hotel usurped?

From the October 27, 2002 Sunday Times:

But 49 years ago when it was first erected, the hotel was the tallest protrusion on the southern skyline. "If you got the roof, it had the best views of the beach," says Miss Shirley Fong, 26, its operations manager.

Regarding this tallest protrusion on the southern skyline, the February 22, 2004 Chinese newspaper Xin Ming Ri Bao (新明日报) carries such a picture:

The title tells us that in the 1950s, the hotel was like a "crane among the chicken crowd" (鹤立鸡群). Pardon my crude translation.

The crane of the 1950s is now a chicken among its neighbors. On the southern skyline, we have The Gateway designed by I .M. Pei, Suntec Towers, Parkview Square, amongst others, all lording over the hotel.

To add insult to injury, Parkview Square even declares itself as The Crane.

At Parkview Square, in the center of its open plaza, there is a statue of a golden bird. A crane that is because on the pedestal is a Chinese poem:



Sorry, no pictures from me because I just read that from Wikipedia.

So when was the crane dethroned? When was 7th Storey Hotel usurped from its position as the tallest protrusion on the southern skyline?

For a quick guess, we can look at the developments along Beach Road:

A stretch of Beach Road called The Golden Mile includes building developments of the 1970s and 1980s; Golden Mile Complex (1973, former Woh Hup Complex), 36-storey Shaw Towers with cinemas, shopping and offices (1976), Plaza Hotel (1972, former Singapore Merlin Hotel which was completed in late 1973).

If I'm at 7th Storey Hotel, the no. 1 candidate will be Shaw Towers. It is tall and aged (1976).

But when you consider how much has changed since the 1950s and how puny the hotel is compared to its neighbors today, you begin to have second thoughts.

7th Storey Hotel
View of 7th Storey Hotel from National Library Building. Can you find the hotel?

Shaw Towers was built 20 years after the hotel. Many buildings could have been built in this time gap, and usurped the hotel.

One such building hides behind the shadow. I missed it during my initial coverage of the hotel.

Beach Road Police Station
A candidate hiding behind the shadow.

The shot was taken when I went to the hotel again. If you read my blog, I did go back to check out the lift numbering.

So how did I "discover" the building? I didn't, actually. By a stroke of luck, I found the following picture on our National Archives website while idly surfing for non 7th Storey Hotel material.

The picture shows not the building, but 7th Storey Hotel!

Tan Quee Lan Street
Source: National Archives of Singapore

The picture couldn't have arrived at a better time. I blogged about Farquhar Street few entries back and wondered how it looked like. Now I have my answer.

The archive states the record date as 1970. Assuming this is correct, the picture was taken in the late 60s or 1970.

By this time, the hotel has a contender at the Tan Quee Lan Street-Beach Road junction. Look at the left foreground. I think it is called Premier Center today. Count the storeys carefully. It is still not tall enough to usurp the hotel.

A little diversion into the history of the contender leads to something interesting. Look at the picture from the Chinese newspaper at the beginning of this entry again. It is not clear, but will still do. Pay attention to a landmark at the bottom right of the picture.

The landmark should be Sultan Mosque. With the hotel at 10'o clock position, the orientation of the picture is such that the sea will be outside to the left of the picture.

An interesting question arises - where is our contender? Today the two buildings are at stone throwing distance from one another. In the 1950s picture, surrounded by a field of shophouses, the hotel does look like a "crane among the chicken crowd" (鹤立鸡群). The contender is nowhere to be found.

Or is it?

Look at this aerial view from the 1950s, oriented as a top-down view of the Archives picture. The contender stands out, almost like a twin to 7th Storey Hotel!

7th Storey Hotel with the vertical running Tan Quee Lan Street and Rochor Road. North Bridge Road is on top and Beach Road at the bottom.

Both mirrored-L buildings stand out prominently in this aerial view. You can see both are tall buildings by the shadow they cast on their neighbors.

Thus the picture from the Chinese newspaper is misleading. Before 1960, there were actually two cranes in close proximity on the southern skyline. I've not seen before the source picture used by the Chinese newspaper. Perhaps the other crane is really missing in the source, which led to the use of the Chinese idiom. Or perhaps, the other crane was deliberately left out to justify the idiom.

Of course there is the possibility that the other crane was only a small crane and relegated to the chicken brood. In my blog comments, Victor replied that in countries like China, owners can easily add more floors to a completed building. Maybe like the citadels of Europe, the building took decades to reach its current height.

But looking at the shadow created by the twin crane in the aerial view, this is not likely. The building looks tall from its shadow.

With a 100m advantage to Beach Road, the building should offer a pretty good view of the beach if you are on the top floors. But 7th Storey Hotel, while 100m back, is taller and has a roof view. This was highlighted by the hotel's operations manager Ms Fong, "If you got the roof, it had the best views of the beach" (see beginning of this entry). Notwithstanding that by the 1950s, the coastline has shifted from the original 1843 coastline beside Beach Road to beyond Nicoll Highway. The highway was completed in mid 1950s.

The above picture comes from the same Chinese newspaper. Beach Road (美芝路) and Nicoll Highway (尼浩大道) are labelled. The hotel is circled.

Back from the little diversion into the pseudo-contender. The contribution of the 1970 Archives picture is to lead us to the real contender. Somewhere on this contender, the Archives picture was taken.

So how does our contender look like?

At the Tan Quee Lan Street side of Beach Road, the building is partly blocked by trees, as shown in the "teaser" picture further up. I have to cross the road to get a clearer view.

Beach Road Police Station
Former Beach Road Police Station

This looks like some hostel building inside the former Beach Road Police Station. I'm not sure when it was built, but clearly it has usurped 7th Storey Hotel.

An usurper before Shaw Towers has been found. But is this the earliest usurper? When was 7th Storey Hotel usurped and by who?

I end this topic with another picture of the usurper. The picture is courtesy of my friend Christine, who works in that de-facto crane building. I've asked her to take some shots of the scenery from her tall vantage point. Thanks Christine!

Beach Road Police Station by Christine
Today, the building in the former Beach Road Police Station is dwarfed by her neighbors.


Anonymous said...

The high rise flats behind the Beach Road police Station were for married senior police inspectors working at the police station. I came to visit my friend in 1969. At that time the flat faced the sea off Nicoll Highway; a really good sea breeze. Today the sea is now Marina Center.

The corner building between Beach Road and "I forgot the name of that street" and opposite to Beach Road Police Station was the branch office of the British banking giant, Mercantile Bank or the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (one of them I ams sure).

Icemoon said...

Wow, the flats have so many units. Were there so many senior police inspectors at the station? lol

The street is Tan Quee Lan Street. Yup, you are absolutely right. It was the Mercantile Bank.

That corner building, the occupants upstairs must have enjoyed the sea breeze too from the 1950s ..

Icemoon said...

Adelin, who reads my blog, has the following to say regarding this entry.

Her blog is here.

Henry Koh S.K. said...

Here is the old Singapore photo of the 7th Storey Hotel at Rochore Road or popularly known in hokkien as "Lor Pan-jang" (literally the long road: 'Lor'is hokkien for 'road', 'Pan-jang' is malay for 'long').

In the 1970/1980s one of my elder sister worked at this 7th Storey Hotel reception counter. I used to lived at Queen Street (San-malu) in 1950/1960s/1970s/1980s until our shop-house was demolished to make way for government re-development in 1980s.

I do have a old B&W photo of the 7th Storey Hotel but cannot post it here.

Henry Koh SK (Singaporean)