History of Joo Chiat
Joo Chiat is still an old charmer. Its rich cultural heritage stands unique in Singapore's eastern shores. The ever present salt-sea breeze that wafts gently through the neighbourhood often colours its personality and activities.
It's hard to imagine what Joo Chiat was once like when it was no more than an eastern agricultural and fishing outskirt of the city. Hectares upon hectares of coconut plantations then. But dig beneath today's bitumen and concrete, or unearth a garden, and old Joo Chiat reveals itself in the rich grey-brown fine sandy soil that had enriched coconut plantation owners in the early 1900s.
One of them was China-born Chew Joo Chiat. Chew, also known as "King of Katong", eventually gave his name to the neighbourhood. Indeed, the road that bears his name - Joo Chiat Road - has become the community's main street. It was once a dirt track that cut across Chew's coconut plantation.
Chew himself built a three-storey family home on 69-73 Joo Chiat Road, opposite a wayang stage.
In the community inspired book by Lily Kong and T.C. Chang, Joo Chiat - A Living Heritage, Chew's grandson Lee Beow Guan described the house.
"It was a three-storey building. He built three houses in a row with unique architecture. At the front was a fenced-in garden where they put flowerpots - the old type of flowerpots with stands. And on the third storey, there was a balcony facing the road. That was where he would have dinner with his friends on his birthdays, and where he could look across the road where there was a wayang stage and they performed Chinese opera -Teochew hee."
It is today an unbuilt plot of land that acts as a small green lung along this very busy and colourful community main street. Across the road, where the old wayang stage once stood, you now find Joo Chiat's unique pre-war terrace shop-houses and their unique five-foot way.
Joo Chiat's architectural heritage has not changed. In part this is owing to the government's successful attempt to preserve the pre-war shop houses and homes that line Joo Chiat Road and Koon Seng Road. In 1993, 518 buildings were gazetted for conservation, with more since added to the list.
Joo Chiat has been designated a conservation area along with other historic sites such as Chinatown, Little India and Emerald Hill.
Indeed, Joo Chiat is full of nostagia as much of its friendly old world charm
is still intact to this day. It is still the same old laid-back Joo Chiat
of a century ago although new condominiums have risen in place of its stately
bungalows that were once the holiday or family homes of Singapore's wealthy.
Even so, weekends will find new families slowly picking through Joo Chiat's
conservation terrace shophouses and pre-war houses for gems to buy, restore,
refurbish and to move into.