Raffles Hotel



Raffles Hotel is a Singapore landmark located at No.1 Beach Road.1 Established in 1887, the award-winning colonial-era hotel with a rich history is well known for its period architecture and decor, luxurious accommodation and fine cuisine. The hotel is particularly known for its popular Tiffin Room buffet2 and for the Singapore Sling cocktail created in 1915.3 Raffles Hotel was first gazetted as a national monument in 1987 and again in 1995.

Origins
Raffles Hotel began as Beach House, a private home built in the 1830s by Robert Scott. In 1878, Charles Emmerson leased the building and opened Emmerson’s Hotel. After his sudden death in 1883, the hotel closed.4 On 1 January 1884, it reopened as Hotel Des Indes, owned by a “W. F. Van Erp”.5 Later on, Raffles Boarding School took up tenancy until its expiry in September 1887.6

The Armenian Sarkies brothers Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak (who joined later), already established hoteliers at the time, then leased the building from its owner, the wealthy Arab merchant Syed Mohamed Alsagoff, and announced their intention to turn it into a hotel offering fine accommodation and cuisine.7 On 1 December 1887,8 Raffles Hotel commenced operations as a 10-room hotel.9 While the facilities in its early years were still under development, its prime seafront location near town made it very popular with European residents and travellers.10

Building and development
Under the Sarkies brothers, Raffles Hotel grew as a commercial enterprise and became known as a first-class establishment that attracted guests of stature.11

Tigran Sarkies, in particular, was closely involved in the hotel’s development.12 He established the popular Raffles Tiffin Rooms at Commercial Square (today’s Raffles Place)13 and undertook major building projects, adding three buildings to the original Beach House in the hotel’s first decade. A pair of two-storey wings containing 22 new suites was completed in 1890, followed by a new Billiard Room located at the junction of Beach Road and Bras Basah Road. In 1892, the brothers leased the site at No. 3 Beach Road and built the Palm Court Wing, which was completed in 1894.14

The main building of the hotel was designed by Regent Alfred John Bidwell of the architecture firm Swan & Maclaren and built on the site of the original Beach House. Completed in 1899, it was considered a state-of-the-art building at the time. It was designed with tropical architectural features such as high ceilings and extensive verandahs, and also included modern conveniences like powered ceiling fans and electric lights. The Dining Room, which featured pillars and a white Carrara marble floor, could seat up to 500 people.15 In 1904, the Bras Basah Wing was added16 and the ballroom opened in 1920.17 The Grill Room, which joined the main dining room, was opened in 1923.18

Unfortunately, with the onset of the Great Depression, the Sarkies brothers accumulated debts of $3.5 million and by 1931 were declared bankrupt.19 However, the hotel survived and was incorporated in 1933 as Raffles Hotel Limited.20

Japanese Occupation and postwar years
The impending war prompted the Raffles staff to bury the hotel silverware, including the silver beef trolley, reportedly in the Palm Court.21 The Japanese renamed the hotel Syonan Ryokan (Light of the South Hotel), and its main entrance was moved to face east to catch the morning sun.22

After the Japanese surrender, M. S. Arathoon, whom the Japanese had retained as assistant manager, reopened the hotel in September 1945. Many of the local staff had remained with the hotel during the war years, and other displaced staff returned. The silverware was duly retrieved from its hiding place. The hotel became a temporary transit camp for prisoners of war who were to be repatriated.23 

After the war, Raffles Hotel regained some of its former fame, remaining a colonial landmark that drew expatriates and foreign visitors. During the 1950s and ’60s, the hotel faced new challenges due to changing political, economic and social circumstances. With the withdrawal of the British colonial administration, the Singapore government actively promoted tourism to earn revenue. Raffles Hotel became a tourist attraction because of its reputation as a historic hotel, though it encountered competition from more modern hotels that had sprung up along Orchard Road. By the 1970s, some of the hotel’s former glory had faded and its buildings were in need of refurbishment.24

Restoration
Raffles Hotel was gazetted as a national monument in 1987.25 In 1989, the hotel closed for large-scale restoration lasting two years26 and reopened on 16 September 1991. The S$160-million restoration was undertaken by Architects 61,27 with interiors by Bent Severin and Associates,28 based on the original building plans and old photographs. Taking 1915 as the benchmark year, the restoration process involved replacing the 1920s ballroom with the original cast-iron portico; repairing decorative plasterwork; and reinstating the large timber staircase. Also added was a new block featuring an in-house museum, a shopping arcade and the Jubilee Hall theatre, a reproduction of a 19th-century playhouse.29 Raffles Hotel was gazetted again as a national monument in 1995, superseding the 1987 gazette boundary.30


Ownership and accolades
In 1990, Jennie Chua was appointed general manager of the hotel, the first Singaporean and woman to manage the hotel.31 In 2005, the hotel was sold to US investment fund Colony Capital.32 A subsequent merger with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts led to the creation of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI).33


In April 2010, Raffles Hotel was acquired by Qatar Diar, the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar.34 The following month, Raffles Hotel received Ultratravel magazine’s Ultimate Luxury Travel Related Award for Best Hotel in Asia/Australia for the fourth consecutive year.35 In 2015, FRHI was bought over by Paris-based AccorHotels.36

Guests and visitors
Over the years, Raffles Hotel has developed a long list of distinguished guests that includes members of royalty, political figures and celebrities such as King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Indonesian president Suharto and entertainer Michael Jackson.37 The Writer’s Bar is named for the numerous literary figures that have visited the hotel, such as Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Noël Coward. There are suites named after early hotel guests like Charlie Chaplin and Somerset Maugham, who is reputed to have spent his days writing at the Palm Court.38

In addition, the hotel has seen some more unusual visitors including a python and a wild boar.39 In a well-known incident in 1902, early one morning an escaped circus tiger found its way under the hotel’s Billiard Room, which stood on stilts at the time. Charles McGowan Phillips, then principal of Raffles Institution and a member of Singapore’s rifle team, was summoned to the hotel, where, still dressed in his pyjamas, he shot and killed the tiger.40



Author

Joanna HS Tan



References
1. Fairmont Raffles Hotels International. (n.d.). Raffles Singapore. Retrieved 2016, April 3 from Raffles Singapore website: http://www.raffles.com/singapore/
2. Belly-buster of a breakfast. (1995, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Fairmont Raffles Hotels International. (n.d.). Long Bar. Retrieved 2016, April 3 from Raffles Singapore website: http://www.raffles.com/singapore/dining/long-bar/; Kok, M. (2015, May 10). Singapore Sling turns 100. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4.
Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU); Fortnight’s summary. (1877, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 14; Untitled. (1883, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Untitled. (1883, December 15). The Straits Times, p. 2; Untitled. (1884, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU); A new hotel in Singapore. (1887, September 21). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. A new hotel in Singapore. (1887, September 21). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 4; Sarkies Brothers failure. (1931, August 26). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 17–18. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
8. Untitled. (1887, November 26). The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Ee, J. W. W. (2009, July 12). Who built Raffles Hotel? The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
10. Untitled. (1887, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
11. Travel and adventure. (1893, June 15). Daily Advertiser, p. 2; Raffles Hotel. (1894, December 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3; Untitled. (1896, January 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
13. Untitled. (1892, May 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
14. Singapore news from Penang. (1889, August 15). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 19, 24–25. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU); Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1997). Raffles Hotel preservation guidelines. Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 RAF)
15. The Raffles Hotel. (1897, July 1). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2; Raffles Hotel. (1899, November 15). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 44, 57, 60. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
16. Raffles Hotel. (1904, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Untitled. (1920, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrireved from NewspaperSG.
18. Raffles new grill. (1923, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Raffles Hotel cookbook. (2003). Singapore: Raffles Hotel, p. 43. (Call no.: RSING q641.5095957 RAF)
19. Sarkies Brothers liabilities. (1931, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 12; Sarkies bankruptcy sequel. (1931, September 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Raffles Hotel Limited. (1933, July 26). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21.Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU); The empress’ old clothes. (1990, March 31). The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 93, 128, 162. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
23. Two thousand by air in five days. (1945, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 128, 157. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
24. Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 128–133. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
25. National Heritage Board. (2015, July 2). Raffles Hotel. Retrieved 2016, April 3 from National Heritage Board website: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/places/sites-and-monuments/nationalmonuments/raffles-hotel; Raffles Hotel gets official protection. (1987, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tan, E. S. (1989, March 16). It’s goodbye, Raffles… until 1991. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Lim, S. T. (1991, September 15). A grand old lady returns, more beautiful than ever. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singh, G. (Ed.). (1991). Raffles Hotel, Singapore: A masterpiece reborn. Singapore: Al Hilal Pub. (Far East) Pte Ltd, pp. 3, 11. (Call no.: RSING q647.945957 RAF)
28. Goh, H. L. (1995, July 8). Grace under pressure. The Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Singh, G. (1991). Raffles Hotel, Singapore: a masterpiece reborn. Singapore: Al Hilal Pub. (Far East) Pte Ltd, pp. 4, 11. (Call no.: RSING q647.945957 RAF); Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 137, 162. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
30. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1997). Raffles Hotel preservation guidelines. Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 RAF)
31. Tan, E. S. (1990, May 4). Jennie makes history as Raffles’ first Singaporean at the helm. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 137. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU)
32. Raffles Hotel’s new owner takes over. (2008, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. FRHI confirms in-principal sale of Raffles Hotel. (2008, May 9). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34.
Teo, E. (2010, April 8). Raffles Hotel ‘sold for $384m’. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Raffles Hotel honoured ‘Best hotel in Asia/Australia’ for four consecutive years. (2010, May 11). Targeted News Sevice. Retrieved from Factivavia NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/  
36. Sold: Raffles Hotel goes to French chain Accor. (2015, December 11). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
37. Take a few tips from expert. (1956, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 12; Asean must stand together on Indochina. (1976, January 24). The Straits Times, p. 12; Rosamund Kwan seen with middle-aged man outside Raffles Hotel. (1993, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Untitled. (1905, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 5; Reliving the past at Raffles. (1980, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 29–30, 89–91, 170, 189. (Call no.: RSING q915.9570613 LIU); The Raffles Hotel cookbook. (2003). Singapore: Raffles Hotel, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING q641.5095957 RAF)
39. On the margin – Boar hunt. (1953, February 23). The Straits Times, p. 6; Python at Raffles. (1903, January 20). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. A tiger in town. (1902, August 13). The Straits Times, p. 4; He shot a tiger in Raffles Hotel. (1955, August 15). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resource
Yasmine Yahya. (2015, December 10). Singapore’s Raffles Hotel: A look at the iconic landmark through the years. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Tourism and hospitality
Commercial buildings
Hotels--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Commercial Buildings
Historic buildings
Historic buildings--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Historic Buildings
Singapore--History--1867-1942