This little-known property, prominently located close to the Istana grounds, has contributed significantly to the nation’s progress in the educational sphere since its construction over 80 years ago.
Though situated adjacent to the Istana grounds, few, perhaps, are aware of its existence. The unoccupied building simply marked ‘107A’ in plain, embossed letters.
Two buildings occupy the site: it is fronted by an Art Deco three-storey building, joined to a ‘C’-shaped two-storey mansion at the rear. Architecturally-distinct, both buildings were erected at separate period: the latter in 1939 and the former in 1953.
In 1939, the two-storey mansion was built to serve as the compound of City High School — a highly sought-after English-medium school that prepared students for the Cambridge examinations — and hence was designed as a ‘C’-shaped block surrounding a central courtyard. The school was later closed during the Japanese Occupation.
The building was subsequently occupied by San Shan School in 1947. Funded by the Foochow Association, the Chinese-medium school purchased the premises from City High at the cost of $80,000. At the time, it had over 500 students and its own kindergarten.
Due to a steady increase in student population, a three-storey Art Deco building was added and completed in 1953. It joined both ends of the original ‘C’-shaped school block to form a squarish-plan building with a central courtyard.
Designed in Art Deco style, the most prominent characteristic of the new building is its impressive central feature adorned with strong vertical bands and centre flag pole. It has a flat roof and horizontal concrete ledges which surround the building’s perimeter continuously, and an extended cantilever canopy above the front porch. A library and canteen were later added in 1956.
Following a subsequent decline in enrolment during the 1960s and 1970s, San Shan School moved to another location in 1982. For a nominal fee of $120 a year, the premises were rented to NAFA between 1982 and 1993.
In 1996, the school building was acquired by the government for the development of the Northeast MRT line. Though slated for demolition, sections of the building continue to be rented out. Following the recent departure of its latest tenant, Cornerstone Training Centre, the building is currently unoccupied.
Not many people know that the site was a private European property in the early 1900s, before the current buildings were constructed. Archival records described it as a luxurious house with bedrooms, veranda, private bathroom, living quarters for the servants, as well as tennis courts and garage.
Buildings and sites featured on Roots.SG are part of our efforts to raise awareness of our heritage; a listing on Roots.SG does not imply any form of preservation or conservation status, unless it is mentioned in the article. The information in this article is valid as of December 2019 and is not intended to be an exhaustive history of the site/building.