Automobile Association of Singapore relocates after nearly 50 years in River Valley

Consultant orthodontist Sim Wee Kiat, 77, who has been an AAS member since 1981, is sad that the association is moving. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Consultant orthodontist Sim Wee Kiat, 77, who has been an AAS member since 1981, is sad that the association is moving. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
The AAS's new premises in GB Point in Kallang Bahru. It will be operating from the rented premises for the next three years until it finds a permanent location. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN
The AAS's new premises in GB Point in Kallang Bahru. It will be operating from the rented premises for the next three years until it finds a permanent location. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Amid the gleaming condominiums and shophouses along River Valley Road, a 14-storey beigebrown tower stands out.

For almost half a century, the building's location has been synonymous with the Automobile Association of Singapore (AAS), which was set up in 1907.

But not anymore.

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Last week, the association vacated its long-time headquarters at AA Centre and relocated to GB Point in Kallang Bahru.

The move is tinged with nostalgia for veteran AAS members like Dr Sim Wee Kiat.

''It's a bit of a heartache,'' said the 77-year-old consultant orthodontist, who has been a member since 1981.

''When people say AA, they only remember River Valley.''

Private school lecturer Christine Keung, 53, agreed: ''That building was unique. It had its own identity. I would always use it as a landmark when giving directions to others.''

The AA Centre began as a humble two-storey colonial-era house in 1967, when the association acquired the premises. AAS had previously operated from rented office spaces in Battery Road, and later Orchard Road.

After it caught fire thrice - twice in 1978 and again in 1979 - AA House, as it was then called, was later rebuilt and renamed what is now known as AA Centre.

AAS owned the first six floors, three of which comprised offices and guest facilities such as a jackpot room and a theatrette, while the rest of the building housed apartments occupied by private owners.

Far East Organization, which bought over the six floors for close to $62 million, plans to renovate the place and house its own offices there.

Affiliated to the Federation Internationale de'l Automobile in France, the motoring club provides car-related services such as emergency roadside assistance and organises various social activities for its members.

''AA Centre wasn't merely just a venue for members to settle motoring issues but a haunt for many Singaporean families and lovebirds alike to gather and enjoy one another's company,'' said Mr Lee Wai Mun, AAS' chief executive officer.

Many who frequented the place to pay their road taxes and car insurance would agree.

''It was three-in-one. You could go there and play jackpot, have makan at the canteen, and buy accessories like car mats from the store,'' said Mr J. S. Chew, 71, who has been an AAS member for about 20 years.

Mr Dennis Wee, 61, chairman of real estate agency Dennis Wee Realty, said: ''The home-cooked food at the canteen was cheap and good.''

Others like the building's location for its accessibility.

''It was convenient because it was quite near town,'' said Mrs Keung, who has been a member since 1981. ''After going to AA, I could just pop into town and do my shopping.''

Long-time AAS employees have found it even harder to leave what has been their second home for decades.

Madam Lee Sok Kuan, 56, a membership services executive who has been with the association for 32 years, recalls playing handball, badminton and table tennis with her colleagues in the centre's multi-purpose hall after office hours. ''That's how we fostered team spirit and learnt more about each other,'' she said.

Employees also said they will miss the range of food choices in the vicinity.

Madam Lee said: ''We used to travel to nearby areas with good food for lunch, including Great World City and Tiong Bahru market.''

Jackpot manager Jeremy Wong, 63, who has worked with AAS for 40 years, said: ''There's a good porridge place nearby which my colleagues and I have grown attached to over the years.''

''There's certainly a part of me that cannot bear to leave it behind,'' he said.

The association, which currently has about 83,000 members, will operate from its new rented premises for the next three years, until it finds a permanent location.

The move was prompted by a need for more space for services, and a revamp of the association's image to cater to younger members.

The association hopes to eventually combine its office operations at its current headquarters with those at its Kung Chong Road branch in the Redhill area, where it offers roadside assistance and technical services. AAS also has a branch at Pearls Centre in Eu Tong Sen Road.

Meanwhile, others living and working in the River Valley area said they will miss the bustle that AA Centre once brought to the area.

''It's quite sad that the old things are moving away from here, and all the new condos are popping up,'' said business owner Ng Chiew Ann, 58, who prays regularly at the Lok Kar San Temple located across the road from the centre.

The sentiment was echoed by 50-year-old security guard Raman Arumugam, who has worked at the nearby Claremont condominium for the past 13 years.

He said: ''Last time, at 8am and lunch hour, there would always be a lot of people walking past, some in their AA uniforms. Many would also say hi and wish us ‘Happy New Year' and ‘Merry Christmas'.

''But now all the familiar faces are gone. It's very quiet.''

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg


Through the years

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  • The Automobile Association of Singapore acquired the humble two-storey colonial house at 336 River Valley Road in 1967. Before that, AAS had operated from rented office spaces in Battery Road and later, Orchard Road.

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  • The AA House caught fire thrice: twice in 1978 and again 1979. The tower was built after the last fire.

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  • The building underwent a massive overhaul and in 1984 was renamed the AA Centre.

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  • The building was given a revamp again in 1994. The first six floors of the building were owned by AAS, and some floors were used for its offices and guest facilities like a jackpot room, a theatrette and swimming pool. The rest of the building housed private apartments.