””

HOME IN FOCUS

Farewell, Woodlands, gem of the north

Uniquely retro Old Woodlands Town Centre will make way for extension of checkpoint

Once hailed as the gem of the north, the Old Woodlands Town Centre boasted a bustling bus interchange, 24-hour eateries, a Shaw Brothers-owned cinema, and a huge department store.

They disappeared at different times: the bus interchange relocated in 1996, while the cinema ceased operations in the mid-2000s and has been vacant ever since.

Today, the town centre is a sleepy, old neighbourhood, drawing mainly nearby residents going about their daily shopping for necessities, and Malaysian workers, as the first populated centre past the Woodlands Checkpoint.

Two weeks ago, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) announced an extension of the checkpoint which would absorb the old town centre.

Business is slow during the day at Romeo Hair Studio at Block 1A, with most Malaysians heading straight back to Johor after work, and residents in this and neighbouring blocks having moved out under Sers. But things brighten up somewhat in the evenin
DISTINCTIVE LOOK: Circular planters line the stairs that lead to what is now a carpark – the site once housed the bus interchange until it was relocated in 1996. The architecture of the Old Woodlands Town Centre has remained relatively unchanged since the early 1980s, when the four-storey blocks consisting of shops and residential units were completed. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The upgrade is to meet growing traffic needs, while ensuring that immigration clearance remains secure, said the Singapore Land Authority in its joint statement with the ICA. Two lots of private land - 268 and 270 Woodlands Centre Road - will be acquired for the extension, said the SLA.

In June 2012, the Housing Board announced that Blocks 1A to 6A of Woodlands Centre Road - located right smack in the old town centre - were bound for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers).

Business is slow during the day at Romeo Hair Studio at Block 1A, with most Malaysians heading straight back to Johor after work, and residents in this and neighbouring blocks having moved out under Sers. But things brighten up somewhat in the evenin
DISTINCTIVE LOOK: A spiral ramp linking the overhead bridge across Woodlands Centre Road to the Old Woodlands Town Centre. The design dates back to the early 1980s and is one of the iconic features of the estate. Little upgrading has been done over the past four decades and, with residents having moved to new flats in Woodlands Drive 70, the town is now a shell of its former self. When it was first established in the 1970s, the town centre – the first stop for visitors crossing the Causeway – was a bustling place, boasting numerous money-changers, a Shaw Brothers-owned cinema and an Oriental Emporium. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Residents of these six blocks, completed between 1980 and 1986, have already relocated, turning the town centre into a quiet, laidback area in the day.

Straits Times executive photojournalist Seah Kwang Peng explores the heart of the once-bustling border town.

Business is slow during the day at Romeo Hair Studio at Block 1A, with most Malaysians heading straight back to Johor after work, and residents in this and neighbouring blocks having moved out under Sers. But things brighten up somewhat in the evenin
DISTINCTIVE LOOK: Row upon row of motorcycles line the road and carpark next to the hawker centre at 5.55am as Malaysian workers who have just crossed the Causeway stop for a quick bite before going to work. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Business is slow during the day at Romeo Hair Studio at Block 1A, with most Malaysians heading straight back to Johor after work, and residents in this and neighbouring blocks having moved out under Sers. But things brighten up somewhat in the evenin
80s CHARM: The former Woodlands Cinema in Woodlands Centre Road will be acquired for the expansion of the Woodlands Checkpoint. A relic of the past, the old Shaw Brothers-owned cinema was one of the earliest cineplexes in Singapore. The popularity of Woodlands Cinema declined after a Cathay Cineplex opened in Causeway Point in 1999. The opening of the shopping mall also precipitated a similar decline for the old town centre. The cinema finally ceased operations in the mid-2000s and has been vacant since. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Business is slow during the day at Romeo Hair Studio at Block 1A, with most Malaysians heading straight back to Johor after work, and residents in this and neighbouring blocks having moved out under Sers. But things brighten up somewhat in the evenin
BORDER TOWN BUSINESS: Madam Wee Cheu Boi, 61, a drinks stall assistant at the Old Woodlands Town Centre hawker centre, serving Malaysian workers who come over the Causeway at 5am or before, and stop for breakfast before their day begins. She believes business will not be affected by the centre’s relocation to Woodlands Street 12, about 10 minutes away, as the pre-dawn crowd will still need sustenance. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Business is slow during the day at Romeo Hair Studio at Block 1A, with most Malaysians heading straight back to Johor after work, and residents in this and neighbouring blocks having moved out under Sers. But things brighten up somewhat in the evenin
BORDER TOWN BUSINESS: Business is slow during the day at Romeo Hair Studio at Block 1A, with most Malaysians heading straight back to Johor after work, and residents in this and neighbouring blocks having moved out under Sers. But things brighten up somewhat in the evenings as customers from other nearby estates trickle in. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG


Even with walls covered with mould, the architecture in the Old Woodlands Town Centre remains relatively unchanged since the early 1980s when the four-story blocks consisting of shops and residential units were completed. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG


Mr Chong Choon Foh (left), 73, and his wife Mrs Lum Chiew Keng, 70, opens for business at 5:30am. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG


Money changers at Old Woodlands Town Centre do brisk business at 6am as Malaysians arrived for breakfast or a brief stopover after crossing the Woodlands Checkpoint. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG


Mr Wong Woon Shan (in white), 55, who owns a shop selling fruits, offers cashcard and autopass top-up, as well as money changing service to Malaysians. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG


Residents who have moved out discard household items on the staircase landing of Blk 1A Woodlands Centre Road. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG


A shopkeeper selling ribbons, laces and buttons as well as providing sewing services tends to his shop during a quiet weekday afternoon. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Farewell, gem of the north'. Print Edition | Subscribe