Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Adis Road, A-changing

The gate pillars, all that was left of the Eu Villa when this picture was taken in 1982. The building itself was torn down in 1981.
The entrance to the old Eu Villa from Sophia Road (1982).

This is my impression of Adis Road and its surrounding area, as captured in my interview with residents and photographs of the area in 1982:

ADIS Road, you can play badminton or even "police and thief" on this short street once. Traffic hardly existed. But now, it is dyed red with earth. Lorries carrying great loads of clay rumble along its length every hour of the day.

During weekends, families in saloon cars zoom by, pet dogs sticking their heads out of the windows. A showflat has attracted these visitors. Development is certainly the name of the game now.  The Eu Villa once stood on this lofty point. But in its place, a condominium of some 200 units will be built on this sprawling 20,230 sq metres site. The villa built in 1915 was demolished in June 1981 and foundations are being laid for the new development.

All that is left of the villa now are the two grand gate pillars standing at the end of Adis Road, on top of Mount Sophia. It had an entrance at Sophia Road as well once -- and was the grandest landmark of the area.

Though none of the houses round the area could beat the grandeur of the Eu Villa, charming residential houses are not lacking. Rambling bungalows, pre-war terraced houses with interesting motifs moulded on their walls -- they have a nostalgic charm of their own.

But these houses are fast disappearing too. Various constructions are taking place. Down the slope of Adis Road where it meets Sophia Road, a lawyer's pre-war bungalow had been knocked down to make way for a modern one. And below at Sophia Road, in a pocket of land sandwiched between old houses, a caterpillar drone among the rubble.
105, Adis Road (1982).

Interesting pre-war terraced houses along Adis Road (1982).
 A teacher, Mr D Vijayalakshmi, 27, living in one of the pre-war terraced houses said: "The changes that are going on here are fantastic. I have been here for only four years and the scene here is quite different already."

Of the remaining old-world houses, No.105, is currently occupied by the Ho family. Its imposing pillars at the entrance reach upwards to support a balcony. Perched on each pillar is a huge granite receptacle, apparently for flowering shrubs.

A narrow garden with steps leading up to the old
terraced house which is really quite spacious inside,
with five rooms (1982).
Sophia Road in the 19th Century was on the jungle fringe. It was named after Sophia Cooke, a missionary who came from England in 1853 to work in the Chinese Girls' School which later became St Margaret's at the nearby Wilkie Road.

There is now a mixture of Jews, Indian Christians, Sikhs and Chinese living in Sophia Road. The small Sikh community occupies the lower section of Sophia Road towards Selegie Road. It was a bigger community before but many have moved out. In a pre-war two-storey bungalow previously occupied by Sikhs, 13 Indian families from different ethnic background are now the tenants.

Mrs Mary Sandena, 43, came with her family from Penang in 1956. Living conditions in the bungalow have not changed, she said, except for the rent. She now has to pay $63 a month for a cubicle and shares a communal kitchen with other tenants. But there is refrigerator and colour TV.

The landlord is one Gian Singh, but the plaque at the gate says: Mehewan Singh, Accountant, Auditor, Secretary. Nobody seems to know the connection.
The pre-war bungalow that houses 13 families in its two storeys (1982).

Adis Road, an off-shoot of Sophia Road, was named after N N Adis, a Jew connected with the Hotel Del' Europe of old. It has the quiet residential charm of Sophia Road, though its houses are less splendid.

Nine units of pre-war terraced houses line one side of the street. The other side overlooks building tops of Sophia Road. Two-storey high, the houses each has a narrow garden with a short path leading from the gate to a cosy porch. They look narrow from the front, but inside is really rather spacious with five rooms and high ceiling. The upper storey has wooden flooring.

Said Ms Janice Lam, 21, a clerk who has been living there since she was born. The Eu Villa was for her, the greatest attraction of their childhood. It was only one house away from hers.

"We used to sneak into its premises because we knew their jaga (watchman).. One could get lost in the premises. It has big lawns, a fountain and marble statues. And there was even a lift inside the house!"

When the Eus moved out, there were a number of thefts. Most of the stained window panes were stolen, Janice added.

The Eu Villa was built by Eu Tong Sen, a philanthropist (1877-1941) at the cost of $1,000,000. Song Ong Siang who wrote "One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore" described the villa thus:

"It was built on an ideal spot and occupies a very conspicuous position. The handsome furniture was supplied by well-known firms in Paris and London, while the marble statures are fine examples of Florentine art."

It was certainly built on an "ideal sport" as Janice and her friends could testify. One National Day, they had sneaked into the compound again and had a splendid view of the fireworks.

Other pictures of buildings in the area, taken in 1982:

Sophia Flats built in 1930 at junction of Niven Road and Wilkie Terrace. 1982.

The Church of Christ of Malaya at Sophia Road. 
Peace Restaurant at Peace Centre was  a rather popular restaurant in the 80's.
Peace Centre and Sophia Road (with the oncoming traffic) in the 80s.

Peace Centre today. Pic taken Jan 2015.

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