Grand old family villa in Kovan to be demolished

84-year-old Kovan property too costly to maintain, family in tie-up to build condo

Just off Kovan Road sits a grand old dame which has housed four generations of a Tamil family.

The Lakshmi Villa was built 84 years ago by Mr Doraisamy Kuppusamy, then the Civil Superintendent of the Singapore General Post Office.

There is a love story behind the 22, Hillside Drive home.

"This is like the story of the Taj Mahal," said Mr Sivakumar Kuppusamy Ragunathan, one of the property's five trustees.

He is Mr Kuppusamy's grandson.

  • New lease of life for historic bungalows

  • The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has given historic bungalows conservation status since 1991.

    According to URA's official website, there are 24 such conserved bungalows, with construction dates ranging from the 1900s to the 1950s.

    Restoration guidelines for conserved buildings state that owners have to adhere to the "3R" principles of "maximum Retention", "sensitive Restoration" and "careful Repair".

    Below are examples of old bungalows finding new uses.

    MATILDA HOUSE

    This bungalow was built by Mr Joseph Cashin, a descendant of one of Singapore's oldest Irish families, in 1902. It is named after his mother.

    Located in Punggol Central, it was used as the family's weekend resort, complete with massive fruit orchards.

    After the house fell into disuse, it was gazetted for conservation by URA in 2000. Since 2015, it has become a clubhouse for the residents of A Treasure Trove condominium.

    SEA BREEZE LODGE

    Constructed in 1898, this bungalow was owned by wealthy businessman Choa Kim Keat, after whom Kim Keat Road in Balestier is named.

    The Marine Parade property was sold by his descendants for $103.8 million to Orchard Mall, a member of Far East Organisation, on June 7, 2011.

    According to heritage blog Remember Singapore, the house was granted conservation status in 2009 and may be turned into a clubhouse.

    ALKAFF MANSION

    A noted member of the Yemeni Arab Alkaff family built this two-storey bungalow in 1918. In the 1930s, the house was known for gatherings of prominent members of local society.

    It was renovated and reopened as an Italian restaurant in December 2011.

    Nathasha Lee

The family home was named after Madam Lakshmi Krishnan, Mr Kuppusamy's wife, who died in the 1970s.

Mr Kuppusamy died in 1983.

Unlike the Mughal emperor's mausoleum, Lakshmi Villa will be demolished by the middle of this month to make way for two condominium blocks.

The family decided on a joint venture with Mr Benson Ho, 60, a property developer from Invest-Ho Property, to redevelop the 20,000 sq ft plot of land.

It was out of concern that younger generations of the family would not be able to maintain the property which can cost up to $150,000 a year, said Mr Sivakumar.

The two-storey bungalow, which was designed by a Dutch architect, was surrounded by jungle until the surrounding land was developed in the 1950s.

Lakshmi Villa, which includes a shrine and outhouses for servants, now looks tired with a faded coat of red and white paint.

The bungalow's facade has been unchanged since its construction.

Mr Sivakumar, 45, said only two of the 23 members of the third generation of the Kuppusamys were interested in actively maintaining the bungalow, including himself.

"The rest have all moved overseas and started their own families," he added.

Mr Kuppusamy had 22 children but some died in childhood.

Mr Sivakumar said there are now six surviving children, includinghis aunts Raja Lechimi and Vasantha, both in their 70s, who live in Lakshmi Villa.

Mr Kanagaratnam Ragunathan, 84, a son-in-law of Mr Kuppusamy, also lives in the house. The retiree is Mr Sivakumar's father.

This a far cry from the property's heyday in the 1940s, when as many as 20 family members lived there, together with five domestic servants from India.

The spacious courtyards were used for outdoor parties and badminton games, and sported a wide track for horse carriages.

Lakshmi Villa has one of the last functioning water wells in Singapore. It is still used by its residents for showers and washing clothes.

The water was also commonly used for prayer ceremonies by devotees of the family's private Hindu shrine, which is dedicated to Lord Murugan. "When you have water that comes from a well that is so clear, it is a sign that the land is blessed," Mr Sivakumar said.

Despite the bungalow's rich history, the family had long decided on redeveloping the property.

They held off until this year as they "wanted to get approval from a high priest" on an auspicious time to relocate the deities in the family shrine.

The family was reluctant to approach the Urban Redevelopment Authority to gazette the bungalow for conservation as they did not want to relinquish their autonomy.

"It's disheartening to leave the house," said Madam Kuppusamy Kamala, Mr Kuppusamy's youngest daughter. The housewife in her 60s had her marriage solemnised at the family shrine.

However, she added: "Redeveloping is inevitable. It has to be done."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Grand old family villa to be demolished'. Print Edition | Subscribe