Man who built structure aimed to leave behind legacy: Grandson

Isaac Ellison built the Ellison Building for commercial purposes and to embody the Jewish community's entrepreneurial spirit.
Isaac Ellison built the Ellison Building for commercial purposes and to embody the Jewish community's entrepreneurial spirit.PHOTO: JOAN BIEDER

The Ellison Building, at the junction of Selegie Road and Rochor Canal Road, was commonly believed to have been constructed in 1924 by Isaac Ellison, a leading member of the Jewish community here, for his wife Flora.

But the grandson of the late Ellison has told The Straits Times that this is not true. Instead, his grandfather, who arrived here from Romania, had built the two-storey structure for commercial purposes as well as to embody the Jewish community's entrepreneurial spirit.

"It was also meant to leave behind a legacy for Singapore, contribute to the culture and heritage of the area, and shape the city," Mr Steven Ellison, 66, a development consultant, told The Straits Times over the phone from Australia.

He also shed more light on the conserved building, which has a Star of David on its facade.

He recalled how the neighbouring Rex Cinema, then owned by the Shaw Brothers, had utilised the Ellison Building's roof to display their lit movie signs in the early 1960s.

In 1989, the Ellison Building was sold by the family to property developer Dennis Aw. Mr Steven Ellison said the Rent Control Act did not allow the Ellisons to raise rentals and they could no longer afford the upkeep of the building. It was sold to another firm in the mid-1990s, before it came into the hands of the Government.

Ellison died abroad at 65, and is buried in Vienna, Austria. According to an obituary, he was reputed to be very wealthy. Mr Steven Ellison recalled how he owned Iky's Bar near Raffles Place, for instance. Iky was his grandfather's nickname.

Mr Steven Ellison said his grandfather also built a mansion for his wife, an Iraqi Jewess from Myanmar's former capital Rangoon, now called Yangon. This was at 87 Wilkie Road, next to Mount Emily. Some of the Ellisons are still based in Singapore. They include Mr Steven Ellison's aunt and two children.

On the authorities' initial decision to demolish and reconstruct the structure, he said: "It has historical value which money can't buy. My family hopes that it can be retained as it is."

Melody Zaccheus

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2016, with the headline 'Man who built structure aimed to leave behind legacy: Grandson'. Print Edition | Subscribe