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Last bungalow standing in old Eurasian enclave

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The house of retired education psychologist Louise Clarke and her father, Mr Gerard Clarke (both above), was built around 1920. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The area around St Michael's Road in Kolam Ayer has witnessed a sea change in the past century. What was once a Eurasian enclave is now a densely built neighbourhood of high-rise condominiums and public housing.

But tarry in the neighbourhood for longer and you might just notice some of the last vestiges of the past - a bungalow tucked away in 96 St Francis Road that has belonged to the same family for a century.

"This is the only one left on this road," says retired education psychologist Louise Clarke, 65, who lives there with her 99-year-old father, Mr Gerard Clarke.

"The area has changed. We have to accept it, we are living in Singapore. But it's the intangibles that people don't realise," adds Ms Clarke, who says many old neighbours started selling off their homes in the 1960s.

Because the bungalow is now dwarfed by tall buildings, she laments that its garden now receives less morning sun. Its forget-me-nots are all gone and the rain lilies do not grow as well as they did before.

The neighbourhood area near the Kallang and Whampoa rivers was swampy and prone to flooding, but the close-knit Eurasian community who lived there appreciated its countryside-like vibe and the fact that it was not too far from the city.

The brother-in-law of Ms Clarke's grandmother bought land in the area in the early 1900s and sold parcels of it to her and another sister-in-law, which allowed the relatives to grow up side by side.

Ms Clarke's family house was designed by architect J.B. "Birch" Westerhout and built around 1920.

Anthropologist and local historian Julian Davidson describes the bungalow as a stunning example of "East Coast vernacular" style.

The house, with elements reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts style that flourished in Europe over a century ago, has a timber frame with brick in-fill. A "Gothic" finial and decorative bracketing adorn its exterior.

Meanwhile, high ceilings, jalousie windows and raised piers help keep the place cool in the tropical heat.

Ms Clarke's father used to work in the shipping department of Shell company, while her mother was a director at automotive company Inchcape. Her elder brother now lives in the United Kingdom.

The bungalow has stayed true to its original spirit. As in the 1920s, a wooden ornamental screen divides the living room area in two.

And if you look closely at the wooden posts, "you can tell they have been hand-cut with an axe", says Ms Clarke, who adds that the oldest trees on the compound are a jambu and nam nam from Ceylon planted by her grandfather.

Up until the 1930s, her maternal grandparents and their three children lived here. "Then the war disrupted everything. My mother and grandmother evacuated to India on a boat. My grandfather died - he wasn't able to evacuate on a ship because he was male," says Ms Clarke.

Their house was looted during the war and suffered damage - such as a "crater-like" hole at the top of the front steps - but some things from yesteryear remain. These include a huge wooden Art Deco cupboard, and old ceramic plant pot stands.

Ms Clarke, who is single, hopes the house she grew up in will stay in the family. Still, anything could happen in the future, she says. "I am a pragmatic Singaporean."

 

This story first appeared in The Straits Times. Click here to read the original story