Heritage Gem

Heritage gem: Jurong Town Hall a symbol of Singapore's Industrial Push

An aerial view of the iconic Jurong Town Hall building. Completed in March 1974, the almost 27,000 sq m white-washed compound stood out starkly against a backdrop of lush vegetation and fish and prawn farms in the early 1970s. Jurong Town Hall served
Jurong Town Hall served as the headquarters of the Jurong Town Corporation (now JTC Corporation) from 1974 until 2000. JTC said in 1969 it was intended to be "a landmark symbolising Jurong Town and will be remembered for posterity". The building, considered a symbol of the success of the industrialisation programme in Jurong, was gazetted as a national monument in 2015. PHOTO: JTC CORPORATION
An aerial view of the iconic Jurong Town Hall building. Completed in March 1974, the almost 27,000 sq m white-washed compound stood out starkly against a backdrop of lush vegetation and fish and prawn farms in the early 1970s. Jurong Town Hall served
An aerial view of the iconic Jurong Town Hall building. Completed in March 1974, the almost 27,000 sq m white-washed compound stood out starkly against a backdrop of lush vegetation and fish and prawn farms in the early 1970s.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
An aerial view of the iconic Jurong Town Hall building. Completed in March 1974, the almost 27,000 sq m white-washed compound stood out starkly against a backdrop of lush vegetation and fish and prawn farms in the early 1970s. Jurong Town Hall served
A panoramic view of the Jurong Industrial Estate site in 1962. As part of early independent Singapore's push towards industrialisation, JTC was officially formed in June 1968 to develop Jurong's industrial, residential and recreational facilities.. ST FILE PHOTO

From places of worship and educational institutions to the former residences of prominent figures, 72 buildings have been gazetted as national monuments. This is the latest in a weekly series revisiting these heritage gems. Each is a yarn woven into the rich tapestry of Singapore's history.

In 1976, Mr Roland Ng San Tiong started working life as a civil engineer for the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), then just an eight- year-old outfit.

For three years, the young professional worked at the imposing white concrete building, the Jurong Town Hall, which dominated the landscape around it.

Today, Mr Ng, 64, is a veteran businessman. The managing director and group chief executive of crane supplier Tat Hong Holdings is also president of the 59th council of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) .

He is also back at the Jurong Town Hall, which he left nearly 40 years ago, now that it has been revamped into a hub for trade associations. The SCCCI is one of the 12 that have taken up residence there so far.

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Mr Ng credits the JTC's former headquarters as a launching pad that ignited his entrepreneurial knack and sense for business.

"We learnt a lot, since as young engineers, we had the opportunity to design some projects, supervise them, call the tender and make progress payments before handing them over to the client.

"We could learn the entire process, so this place managed to produce a lot of good entrepreneurs," he recalls.

As part of the early independent city state's push towards industrialisation, JTC was officially formed in June 1968 to develop Jurong's industrial, residential and recreational facilities.

In 1969, plans were under way to build its headquarters. JTC wanted a building that was "a landmark symbolising Jurong Town and will be remembered for posterity".

Completed in March 1974, the 27,000 sq m white-washed compound stood out starkly against a backdrop of lush vegetation, and fish and prawn farms in the early 1970s .

The five-storey building, which cost about US$3 million (S$4.2 million at current rates) to build, was also home to one of the largest clock towers in South-east Asia at that time.

Dr Chang Jiat Hwee, 44, an assistant professor in the department of architecture at the National University of Singapore, said: "JTC did commission for the existence of a clock tower in its original design."

He added, tongue-in-cheek: "Perhaps it was a subtle hint in making the workers aware of the notion of time and productivity."

True to its name, the iconic and imposing structure was a formidable sight to behold.

Ms Chen Lee Wa, 59, who has worked at JTC Corporation, as it is now known, for more than three decades, reminisces about the lasting impression the seemingly impregnable fortress left on her.

"The first time I came here it was for an interview... When I drove up the hill to get here, I was surprised, pleasantly surprised... It had that kind of awe-inspiring grandeur to it," said the deputy director in the innovative space division of JTC Corporation.

MEMORABLE PLACE

I've been very fortunate... This is the place where I first started work and now, as the president of the SCCCI, I'm back at this place again. This is a very memorable place for me.

MR ROLAND NG SAN TIONG, who started at the Jurong Town Hall in 1976 as a young, industrious civil engineer with the Jurong Town Corporation.

JTC called the modernist building that overlooked the Jurong estate home till 2000.

For 26 years, bonds were formed as colleagues relaxed over snacks amid the green surroundings.

A principle executive who has worked at JTC Corporation for the past 40 years remembers: "My colleagues and I would take plain blank paper and lay it on the grass under the shady trees during lunch time and have a rest and chit chat or have a little picnic."

"I'm still in contact with old colleagues who have left," said Ms Sereena Joy Osman, 59, who joined JTC in 1977 as a stenographer.

"We still meet for tea or coffee or sometimes go for a swim."

A figure that was central to Jurong Town Hall was a tea lady affectionately known as Ah Fong.

Ah Fong, according to long-time staff, would go round the town hall twice a day with a push cart loaded with snacks.

"She would push the cart to the atrium, and then she would shout and everybody would gather there and buy snacks from her. We didn't mind the queue. We would just stand around with our snacks and chit chat," said Ms Chen.

AWE-INSPIRING GRANDEUR

The first time I came here, it was for an interview... When I drove up the hill to get here, I was surprised, pleasantly surprised... It had that kind of awe-inspiring grandeur to it.

MS CHEN LEE WA, who has worked at JTC Corporation for more than three decades, reminiscing about the lasting impression the "impregnable fortress" has left on her.

Beyond everyday teas, the town hall also played host to various foreign dignitaries and delegates over its 43-year-old existence .

Mr Deng Xiaoping, then senior vice-premier of China, visited it on his first and only official trip to Singapore in 1978.

In 2000, JTC relocated to its new premises at the JTC Summit and the vacant town hall was renamed iHUB in 2004, serving as office space for local technology start-up companies for the next decade.

After a period of upgrading that began early last year, the Jurong Town Hall is slated to officially reopen towards the end of this year as home to more than 25 trade associations across various industries.

The reopening represents a homecoming of sorts for Mr Ng.

"I've been very fortunate... This is the place where I first started work and now as the president of the SCCCI, I'm back to this place again. This is a very memorable place for me," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Jurong Town Hall a symbol of S'pore's industrial push'. Print Edition | Subscribe