7 things about the Fullerton Building, now a Singapore national monument

The Fullerton Hotel all lit up.
The Fullerton Hotel all lit up. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The Fullerton Building has just been gazetted as Singapore's 71st national monument

The building, now home to the posh Fullerton Hotel, has a storied past. And the site the building sits on has an even longer history. 

Here are 7 things about the Fullerton Building. 

1. Fort Fullerton

Before the Hotel, before the General Post Office, there was Fort Fullerton. 

In 1825, a fort was built at the waterfront. Equipped with a few pieces of ordnance, the fort had a bungalow for officers and a row of barracks for soldiers. It was named after Robert Fullerton, the first governor of the Straits Settlements. 

 

The Singapore Stone, an ancient sandstone relic bearing about 50 lines of an undeciphered script, was located nearby. The Stone was blown up in 1843 to widen the mouth of the river and make room for an expansion of the fort. 

The fort was demolished in 1873. By 1879, the Exchange Building had taken its place. This too was demolished in 1923 and a bigger building planned in its place. 

2. Four years to build

The new Fullerton Building took four years to build, from 1924 to 1928. 

During the construction which required excavations, the gun casements of the old fort were discovered. 

The new building was designed by Shanghai-based architects Major P.H. Keys and F. Dowdeswell. 

Built on reclaimed land, the construction required pilings between 20m and 30m deep to support the the grey Aberdeen granite. 

A Straits Times report on June 27, 1928, said that the building cost $4,750,000. 

3. Opening and naming

The building was officially opened by the then Governor Sir Hugh Clifford on June 27, 1928. 

In his speech, he suggested that the building be called Fullerton Building. 

4. Post office moves in

Within two weeks of the opening, the General Post Office (GPO) had moved into the premises. The GPO was the building's anchor tenant till March 1996, giving generations of Singaporeans fond memories of visiting the building to post letters and parcels. 

There was a 35m-long subway that connected the sub-ground floor in Fullerton Building with the Post Office Pier to facilitate mail delivery by sea in the days before airmail became common. 

Letters dropped into the post box would fall into the sub-ground floor onto a band conveyor which delivered it 60m along the basement to the sorting room. 

5. Club for colonial elite

The Singapore Club was an exclusive club that took up almost 7,000 sq m of the upper floors. There were recreational facilities such as a billiards room as well as more than 30 bedrooms for members and their families. 

Membership in the club was dominated by the ruling colonial elite. The space it commanded in the Fullerton Building came under heavy criticism because there was unhappiness that a private club was being housed in a public building funded by taxpayers' dollars.

6. The war years

During World War II, the Fullerton Building became, by turns, a hospital, a bomb refuge and posh quarters for the Japanese army. 

In 1942, as World War II escalated, some rooms in the building were commandeered as makeshift operating rooms for wounded British soldiers. 

British Governor Shenton Thomas and his wife moved to the Singapore Club's rooms on Feb 13, 1945, after Government House was bombed. On Feb 14, Governor Thomas was told in his room by Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Percival that the British military would surrender to the Japanese. 

When the Japanese occupied Singapore, the building became the headquarters for the Japanese Military Administration and the Singapore Club's rooms were occupied by senior military officers.

This was also where Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita received a cheque for $50 million, demanded by the Japanese from the Chinese in Singapore and Malaya as recompense for crimes committed by the Chinese against the Japanese. 

7. Political hot spot

In the post-war period, the area around the building became a popular location for political rallies. The fiery speeches from young politicians, including Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, were so popular that people would climb onto the roofs and parapets of the Fullerton Building to catch the goings-on. 

In 1998, the building reopened after a $400-million renovation and refurbishment by Sino Land. 

Now the building houses the Fullerton Hotel and is one of the best spots from which to catch the annual Singapore Grand Prix night race.  

Sources: National Library Board, The Straits Times, thefullertonheritage.com