Ministerial Committee report on 38, Oxley Road

Bungalow has a rich and colourful history

Only an estimated 16 bungalows - of the more than 200 in Singapore conserved to date - belong to the same style and era as 38, Oxley Road, said the National Heritage Board (NHB).

That detail was among various findings in a 31-page research report by the NHB on the historical and architectural significance of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's house, released yesterday.

The bungalow, whose architectural roots date back to 18th century colonial India, has distinctive, rare and well-preserved features, said the report.

The Lees moved into the house after the war, in 1945 or 1946, renting it until 1965, when they bought it in order to make changes to enhance its security. Built around 1898, the house was commissioned by Dutch merchant Hermann Cornelius Verloop. The Oxley Road area was a middle-class European area, until the Japanese took over the houses during the Japanese Occupation.

The house is associated with key events in the nation's history, said the report. Mr Lee held meetings there with Chinese-educated unionists Fong Swee Suan and Lim Chin Siong. The house was also where Mr Lee, a lawyer, got to know students from the Chinese Middle School, who asked him to defend their friends arrested for rioting in 1954.

Individuals like Dr Goh Keng Swee and Dr Toh Chin Chye also joined Mr Lim and Mr Fong in secret discussions in the basement dining room in the lead-up to the People's Action Party's (PAP) inauguration. They became "key players in the politics of that era, and altered the destiny of the country". The house is thus notable for its rarity, said the report, as it is the only venue of discussions that led to the PAP's formation.

Unionists and postal workers prepared posters and manifestos on the house verandah ahead of the PAP's first election in 1955, while the study was where Mr Lee worked on the contents of his iconic red box - a 14cm artefact holding his speeches, letters and readings throughout his political career. Former Malaysian prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was also hosted to dinner at 38, Oxley Road.

 
 
 

By 1955, the home was the de facto PAP headquarters, according to Mr Lee's wife, the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo. Over time, it has become a symbolic landmark in depicting a cultural identity, or perpetuating a collective memory, said the report - its "architectural simplicity" standing for the values of frugality and discipline that the Lees exemplified in their public and private lives.

In 1964, a police constable was found dead with a gunshot wound to his chest in an unoccupied house just behind Mr Lee's home, in a likely case of suicide. This house was absorbed to secure the back of Mr Lee's property.

The bungalow is also notable for its authenticity, as no major structural changes were made in the past 30 years. It has unique local influences, setting it apart from the Anglo-Indian bungalow style introduced here by the British in the 1800s.

It can be classified as an "Anglo-Malay bungalow" that bears features borrowed from Malay architecture, such as elevation of the house above ground on arched masonry, said the NHB report. The first record of this new type of bungalow was in 1865.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2018, with the headline 'Bungalow has a rich and colourful history'. Print Edition | Subscribe