New heritage trail offers a peek at Orchard Road before it was a shopping district

Starting from Dhoby Ghaut and stretching all the way to Tanglin, the self-guided trail features 71 heritage sites and 10 colourful markers.
Starting from Dhoby Ghaut and stretching all the way to Tanglin, the self-guided trail features 71 heritage sites and 10 colourful markers.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Nicky Yeo and his wife outside the Visual Arts Centre along Penang Road.
Nicky Yeo and his wife outside the Visual Arts Centre along Penang Road. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
An Emerald Hill informative poster along Orchard Road.
An Emerald Hill informative poster along Orchard Road. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Before Orchard Road transformed into the glitzy shopping street it is today, agriculture used to be what it was known for.

Its fertile soil gave rise to many gambier plantations and nutmeg orchards, the latter of which the district was named after.

The area was also once flanked by various hills such as Emerald Hill, Claymore Hill and Cairnhill - names that continue to exist on street signs even if the hills themselves are gone.

The lesser-known sides of the shopping precinct feature in a new Orchard Heritage Trail launched by the National Heritage Board (NHB) on Wednesday (Aug 29), as part of the Our SG Heritage five-year masterplan.

Stretching from Dhoby Ghaut to Tanglin, the self-guided trail features 71 heritage sites and 10 colourful markers.

Among the heritage sites are the Cathay Building, which housed Singapore's first air-conditioned cinema in 1939, and House of Tan Yeok Nee, the last remaining Teochew mansion in Singapore, completed in 1885.

Other heritage sites include Masjid Al-Falah, Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), Goodwood Park Hotel and Emerald Hill.


A map showing heritage trail routes along Orchard Road. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

To cater to different interests, NHB developed three shorter thematic routes: Orchard Road's Historical Gems, Communities and Cemeteries, and From Orchard to Garden.

The public can download the trail brochure and map from NHB's website Roots.sg or pick them up from places such as the Singapore Visitor Centre, located at the foot of Emerald Hill.

The trail took 18 months to develop and includes many personal memories and photographs from current and former residents in the area.

 
 

"Stories allow the public to find out more about the people who have lived at these sites and the memories that these places evoke in them. It gives a deeper meaning to the trail - it's not just the history but also a sense of community," said Mr Alvin Tan, assistant chief executive (policy and community) of NHB.

Those who remember the "old" Orchard Road said they are glad its history is now being highlighted.

Long-time Emerald Hill resident Nicky Yeo recall $1 "kok kok" noodles and satay sticks grilled right on his doorstep - two of the many things he misses in his neighbourhood.

"Last time, there was always a lot of hawker food right outside the house, even at 1am. I also used to fly kites on the streets," said the 60-year-old, who grew in the three-storey shophouse which his mother bought it in 1939.

Former resident Ismail Kassim, 79, whose dad served as the postmaster at Tanglin Post Office in the 1950s, cited the former Pavilion Cinema as his favourite spot.

"There were so many interesting stories in the past. Sometimes, I relive my childhood days by taking a walk down Orchard at night," he said.

Another former resident, Mr N.I. Narayan, 90, who lived in the Dhoby Ghaut area in the 1940s, said: "The future is built on the past. Places will change but it's only when you grow older that you start to realise that memories are all that's left. For the average man, it's the roots that count."