The Heritage of Old Beach Road Camp Lives On In South Beach
A nation that does not look back
Singapore is a nation-state that has come a very long way from its past, and has developed into one of the richest countries in the world. According to a Global Finance report published early this year, Singapore ranks 4th as the richest country in the world, just behind the ‘Vegas of China’ – Macau.
But this has come at a cost.
Through economic prosperity, the Singaporean heritage seems to be forgotten in the face of towering skyscrapers and smart technology. In recent times, there has been much ado about the land reclamations by the Singapore government of modernising the cityscape.
From the Bukit Brown debacle to the recent closure of the Sungei Road Thieves’ market, it has become apparent that the current crop of Singapore citizens is aware of the importance of heritage conservation and the Singaporean history.
But are history and progress mutually exclusive?
A nation that builds her future on the past
South Beach, Singapore’s newest lifestyle destination, challenges that question with a resounding ‘no’.
History and progress can go hand-in-hand, and this is exactly what the South Beach Project is about – building Singapore’s future on the foundations of her past.
From Beach Road Camp to South Beach
Located along Beach Road, the old Beach Road Camp was the enlistment site for the very first batch of National Service enlistees.
While most of the facilities from the old Beach Road Camp have long been torn down, three pre-war buildings, Blocks 1, 9 and 14, still stand. Together with the former Non-Commissioned Officers’s (NCO) Club, these four blocks have been revamped into a sprawling modern compound – South Beach.
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Here, we track each of the four heritage buildings’ progress from ‘then’ to ‘now’.
Heritage Building 1:
Then – Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) NCO Club
Now – The NCO Club
Opened in 1952 as the Britannia Club, it was dubbed ‘the Far East’s most luxurious club’ for the British armed forces.
Perched across the iconic Raffles Hotel Singapore, this three-storey building served as a clubhouse for British servicemen and their families. It had facilities that were considered lavish in that era: an air-conditioned pub, a polished teak dance floor, a billiards room and a music room with a piano.
It was then reopened in 1974 as the SAF NCO Club – a place where many soldiers then enjoyed the cheap beers, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and many other recreational activities. Many would also remember the SAF Enterprise (SAFE) Superstore, which offered affordable merchandise and payment schemes for the NCOs.
Retaining most of its building façade, The NCO Club at the South Beach today will soon be transformed to house new F&B concepts. So keep your eyes peeled.
Heritage Building 2:
Then – Block 14
Now – Assembly
Block 14 first functioned as quarters for the Malay companies of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, and it was later converted into a HQ building for the People’s Defence Force (PDF).
After its revamp into Assembly, the building now holds several meeting rooms that are, interestingly, named after military call signs like Alpha, Delta and Lima. Patrons can now find Court Martial Bar, which used to be the SAF Court Martial Centre for military servicemen, in the former Block 14.
The Court Martial Bar has preserved certain elements of the old building, such as the old vehicle maintenance pit. As patrons drink on the ground level, they can have a glance down into the pits that were once the home of Singapore’s old armoured vehicles.
Helmed by Navin Raj – a Wine Ambassador Champion at JW Marriott Singapore South Beach – the watering hole is a must-go for local wine connoisseurs and cocktail aficionados.
Heritage Building 3:
Then – Block 9
Now – The Grand Ballroom
The Grand Ballroom is housed in a former drill hall called Block 9. It is the best preserved of all four buildings, with little external modification over the years.
The building had been home to the Singapore Volunteer Corps (SVC), and its second floor was said to have hosted dinner-and-dances (DNDs) and team-building exercises.
The building was designed in 1930s in Art Deco style, and was later refurbished to sport a Modern Style facade.
The courtyards flanking the Grand Ballroom are called Kiri and Kanan, serving as a nod to the Malay military commands of one’s left and right respectively, and used in army drills even till today.
Stepping into the Grand Ballroom opens up views of a majestic piece of artwork – the ‘Forest of Light’ – that consists of a sea of light tubes hanging from the ceiling. The artwork now serves as a grandiose backdrop for weddings and business gatherings, a stark contrast to the confines of the drill hall which served as HQ for the Straits Settlement Volunteer Corps back in the day.
Heritage Building 4:
Then – Block 1
Now – South Beach Quarter
Block 1 is the oldest of the four blocks and was once an armoury for weapons storage. Now, we know it as South Beach Quarter – a pristine two-storey building that is currently home to two restaurants.
The renovation works done to South Beach Quarter is similar to what was accomplished for the former Block 14; part of the second floor was removed to create a spacious, high-ceilinged grand entrance to sweep visitors in.
Food lovers often flock to Vatos Urban Tacos, a popular diner serving signature Mexican dishes (think Tacos & Burritos) with a unique Korean twist.
Another haven for food and wine lovers would be The Armoury. Boasting a wide array of international beers, it presents a lively gastrobar atmosphere that would prove to be a hit with beer-lovers.
As you explore South Beach – a modern lifestyle destination of historical significance, you would surely stumble upon many Insta-worthy moments. How can you not stop to smell the roses and ake a #OOTD amidst the four captivating conserved buildings?
For the entire month of August, you stand a chance to win a 2D1N stay at the uber-luxe JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach. Simply pose and take an #OOTD at one of the four conserved buildings and upload it onto your Instagram. Remember use the required hash tags; more details on this super-attractive #OOTD contest can be found here.
*Terms and conditions apply for these promotions. More details on the parade of great deals at South Beach Avenue are found here.
South Beach Avenue
26 Beach Rd
Hotline: +65 6672 5722 (Mainline 9am – 6pm)
Hotline: +65 6702 1429 (Management Office – 24 hours)