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Still Road's old Grand Hotel gets new life

Mr Ahmad Sultan Ali Mohd Jinnah, 64, remembers trying to sneak into the Grand Hotel in Marine Parade as a boy in the 1960s, only to be chased away each time by its eagle-eyed security guards.

Now, the two stately bungalows that housed the hotel - both nearly a hundred years old - are opening their doors to children.

The colonial-style buildings have been converted into pre-schools, following a $5 million makeover of their interiors. They now accommodate the Still Road campus of Odyssey The Global Preschool, and Pat's Schoolhouse Katong.

"As heritage buildings, these architectural landmarks came with a lot of history and old-school charm," said Ms Rabiatul Adawiah, director of business development, curriculum, audit and compliance at Busy Bees Singapore, which owns both pre-school brands.

Both buildings were once part of the massive Karikal Mahal, built in 1917 by Indian cattle merchant Moona Kader Sultan as a house for himself and his many wives.

In 1947, it was converted into the Grand Hotel which, despite its name, was a 20-room budget outfit. Guests enjoyed a direct walk from the compound to the seashore.

But, when Marine Parade was reclaimed, Still Road was extended into Still Road South in 1973, cutting the property into two.

In the 1990s, according to reports, the hotel charged $70 a day, or $50 for a few hours, for a room with air-conditioning, a colour TV set and a mini-fridge. But it closed in 2000 due to poor business.

The two buildings at 25 and 26 Still Road South, owned by the privately owned - and very private - Lee Rubber Group, lay quiet for years. In 2007, 25 Still Road South was reportedly being used to store unwanted furniture.

Busy Bees Asia is leasing both sites from Lee Rubber.

The ornate facades of both conserved buildings are preserved in the latest renovations.

Ms Rabiatul added: "We don't see many buildings like these today. It would be interesting to bridge the old and the new, and refurbish it to become a place for our children to learn and flourish in."

The buildings were particularly suitable as they come with expansive grounds as well as "rooms and nooks" that could be converted into learning areas, she added.

At the Odyssey campus - named The Odyssey Heritage to reflect its history - children have facilities such as a "Little Chef's Lab", a music and dance studio, and indoor art galleries.

The green grounds include interactive music gardens, herb gardens, an outdoor playground and an outdoor water play area. The campus opened earlier this month.

The Pat's Schoolhouse campus, which opened in March, includes gardens, an outdoor sandpit area, music rooms and reading corners.

Renovations for both campuses cost close to $5 million in total.

"We've managed to secure a long-term lease, so this was a necessary investment that we wanted to make," said Ms Rabiatul.

Busy Bees Singapore is no stranger to transforming places into pre-schools, having previously created campuses out of a police driving school, a bowling alley, post offices and a swimming pool.

But to Mr Ahmad, a marine surveyor, the property will always remind him of his childhood days.

"The Grand Hotel was just behind my house. I used to play football with my neighbours in the hotel's field. One of them was (former national footballer and legendary goalkeeper) Wilfred Skinner," he said. "But it's been so many years; those days are all gone now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'New life for two grand dames'. Print Edition | Subscribe