Don't demolish historically significant house

It is disheartening that 77 per cent of Singaporeans polled support the demolition of 38, Oxley Road ("Poll: Most people back demolition of 38, Oxley Road"; last Wednesday).

The private residences of great statesmen around the world are often of great historical significance. These are the places where the men and women of history made decisions with immense ramifications on the lives of many others.

For instance, the Sun Yat Sen Memorial House in Macau was a base for Dr Sun's revolutionary activities, while the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat was where Mahatma Gandhi began his famous Salt March in 1930. In Kuala Lumpur, Tunku Abdul Rahman's residence was the site of many official dinners and extraordinary Cabinet meetings.

All of these private residences were conserved due to their governments' recognition of their vast historical significance.

38, Oxley Road is no different.

While many prefer to respect Mr Lee Kuan Yew's wishes, it is indisputable that the historical significance of the house is at least equal to or exceeds that of the other private residences cited above.

It was where the founding members of the People's Action Party discussed setting up a political party which has gone on to run one of the most successful governments in history.

This precious intangible heritage belongs to all present and future Singaporeans, and preserving the house would serve as a reminder to Singaporeans to always aspire to the founding values of the country that Mr Lee was so instrumental in building.

Furthermore, under the Preservation of Monuments Act, the National Heritage Board has a clear legal obligation to identify monuments that are of historic, cultural, traditional, archaeological, architectural, artistic or symbolic significance and national importance as to be worthy of preservation.

Clearly falling within this definition is 38, Oxley Road.

Allowing it to be demolished would set a dangerous precedent for other private owners of buildings that are worthy but have yet to be gazetted as national monuments to demolish them for commercial gain or other reasons.

Singapore has already lost much of its heritage to development.

Let us not lose this precious symbol of our political history and a witness to the work of our founding fathers.

Dennis Chan Hoi Yim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline 'Don't demolish historically significant house'. Print Edition | Subscribe