Great Southern Hotel and Nam Tin building



Also known as Southern Hotel or Nam Tin, the Great Southern Hotel commenced operations in 1927. Occupying a building named Nam Tin at the junction of Eu Tong Sen Street and Cross Street, it was the first Chinese hotel in Singapore with a lift. Nam Tin was the tallest building in Chinatown when it was built.1

History
The Great Southern Hotel was situated at 70 Eu Tong Sen Street.2 It occupied a building constructed in 1927 and owned by Lum Chang Holdings. The building was called Nam Tin, which means “southern sky” in Cantonese.3 Lum Chang Holdings leased the building to several tenants who operated shops and other businesses, including the Great Southern Hotel.4 Unlike the upmarket hotels then such as Raffles, Goodwood Park and Adelphi which accommodated English-speaking visitors, the Great Southern Hotel was operated by the Cantonese and catered more to Chinese travellers, including celebrities from Hong Kong and China.5


In 1993, Lum Chang Holdings sold Nam Tin for about S$25 million to Yu Kwok Chun. Head of a multinational business empire based in Hong Kong, Yu made his flagship store, Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium Limited, into a household name. Consequently, existing tenants vacated Nam Tin and were paid a compensation sum. The Great Southern Hotel made its exit from the building in February 1994. After renovation works, the building was converted into a departmental store, Yue Hwa Chinese Products.

As Nam Tin had been gazetted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for conservation, Yu was asked to preserve the building’s façade, though no restrictions were placed on its interiors. As a result, Nam Tin’s rooftop garden and quaint balconies facing Eu Tong Sen Street were retained.7
 
Description
Built and designed by architectural firm Swan & Maclaren, the building was designed after the “functional” and “rational” Modern Movement style. As such, designs such as strong horizontal lines with angular arches and simple cornices were applied to the building, complete with an ordinary looking facade. The building’s standout features include its special metal railings and grills, which were considered fashionable in the 1930s. The six-storey building was the highest in Chinatown when it was built, while the Great Southern Hotel was the first Chinese hotel in Singapore equipped with a lift.8

Shops were located on the ground floor and hotel rooms on the second and third floors. The popular Nam Tin Restaurant was housed on the fourth floor, while the fifth floor was occupied by the famed nightclub, Southern Cabaret. A tea house was located on the roof terrace.9 Once considered the Raffles of Chinatown, customers visited the building for its shops, entertainment outlets and cabaret.10 Dance hostesses dressed in colourful cheongsam with thigh-high slits used to greet guests at the Southern Cabaret. These girls were called “taxi dancers”, because like taxis, they could be hired for dances.11
 
By the time of its closure in 1994, the Great Southern Hotel was operating only 40 rooms, with each room equipped with a double-bed and ceiling fan for as little as S$40 a night.12

After Yu bought over Nam Tin, the building’s interior was revamped to accommodate an open layout suitable for a departmental store.13 A three-storey extension was also constructed at its rear.14 Yue Hwa Chinese Products invested nearly S$100 million to set up the store, including the building acquisition costs.15 Most of the main building’s original architectural features were retained and carefully restored.16 In 1997, the building won the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Architectural Heritage Award for its conservation and restoration work.17



Author

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References
1.
Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 403. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 82. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Sit, Y. F. (1994, April 16). New life for old Chinatown hotel as retail store. The Straits Times, p. 10; $25m spent to restore, extend building. (1997, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 37; 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1990, September 9). 昔日的香格里拉南天走过63年. 《联合早报》 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2.
Oon, D. (1997, July 10). Well-preserved winnersThe Business Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3.
Sit, Y. F. (1994, April 16). New life for old Chinatown hotel as retail store. The Straits Times, p. 10; 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1990, September 9). 昔日的香格里拉南天走过63年. 《联合早报》 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4.
Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 82. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Sharp, I. (2009). Path of the righteous crane: The life and legacy of Eu Tong Sen. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 152–153. (Call no.: RSING 338.7616151092 SHA)
5.
Three inns that were forerunners of five-star hotel establishments. (1994, April 22). The Straits Times, p. 53. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6.
Sit, Y. F. (1994, April 16). New life for old Chinatown hotel as retail store. The Straits Times, p. 10; Lam, J. (1996, October 10). HK-based Yue Hwa opens $100m department storeThe Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7.
Sit, Y. F. (1994, April 16). New life for old Chinatown hotel as retail store. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8.
Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 403. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 82. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Sharp, I. (2009). Path of the righteous crane: The life and legacy of Eu Tong Sen. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 152–153. (Call no.: RSING 338.7616151092 SHA)
9.
Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 403. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 82. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Sharp, I. (2009). Path of the righteous crane: The life and legacy of Eu Tong Sen. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 152–153. (Call no.: RSING 338.7616151092 SHA); Sit, Y. F. (1994, April 16). New life for old Chinatown hotel as retail store. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10.
Koh, B. P. (2000, July 14). Chinatown’s history lives onThe Straits Times, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11.
Sit, Y. F. (1994, April 16). New life for old Chinatown hotel as retail store. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12.
Sit, Y. F. (1994, April 16). New life for old Chinatown hotel as retail store. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13.
Sit, Y. F. (1994, April 16). New life for old Chinatown hotel as retail store. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14.
$25m spent to restore, extend building. (1997, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15.
Lam, J. (1996, October 10). HK-based Yue Hwa opens $100m department storeThe Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16.
Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). No. 70 Eu Tong Sen Street. Retrieved 2017, May 17 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1997/70-Eu-Tong-Sen-Street
17.
Oon, D. (1997, July 10). Well-preserved winnersThe Business Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2004 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
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Commercial Buildings
Hotels--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Tourism and hospitality
Historic buildings--Singapore
Commercial buildings