Alkaff Lake Gardens


 

The Alkaff Lake Gardens, part of the vanished landmarks of our national heritage, was located off MacPherson Road, what would be now the Willow Avenue area. Slight vestiges of this once magnificent garden can be found on the grounds of the Cedar Girls' Secondary School (the former Willow Avenue Secondary School). The Gardens was only a short distance from the still elegant Masjid Alkaff mosque. Literary, the well-frequented garden would fill the pages of journals and novels of visiting authors and prominent residents of Singapore of the inter-war years. The Gardens was named after Syed Shaik bin Abdulrahman Alkaff (b. 1880 - d. 1948), a famous merchant and landowner, and head of the famous Singaporean Arab dynasty of the Alkaffs.

History
The Alkaffs

The Gardens was but one of the several legacies attributed to the illustrious Alkaff family that originally hailed from Southern Arab. Others include the palatial home of Alkaff Mansion and the Masjid Alkaff mosque. As with other rich Arab families in Singapore like the Aljunieds and the Alsagoffs, the Alkaffs were merchants-cum-landowners. Following the proven path of hard work and thrift to success, compounded with sound commercial vision and inter-community self-help, the Alkaffs made a significant difference to the economic and cultural landscape of colonial Singapore. Also noted for their philanthropic deeds, the Alkaffs' generosity was felt by all communities and religions in Singapore.

Pre-War Years
The Alkaff Lake Gardens was opened to the public in 1929. A Japanese landscape expert was called in by the Alkaff family to develop a Japanese-styled natural setting. This flamboyant park was glorified with a picturesque lake where families rowed boats and a series of man-made hills, making the park an excellent picnic site for families and couples. Expensive trees and shrubs from all corners of the globe were planted in the Gardens. The Alkaff Lake Gardens became, in colonial Singapore, a place of attraction, a Mecca, that both visitors and residents would want to visit. A Japanese teashop was added, and so was an open air stage which was graced by drama performances. The heyday of the Alkaff Lake Gardens was short, not really more than a decade and a half, but the old photos and newsreels of the 1930s' attest to a "haven of repose" that was the Alkaff Lake Gardens. The winds of war would change this.

The Japanese Occupation and Post-War Years
The Alkaffs, like many Arab families, did not fare so well during the Japanese occupation of 1942 to 1945. The Japanese authorities though liked the Alkaff Lake Gardens and physically the garden survived the occupation quite intact. But harsh realities surfaced with the ending of the war, and the Alkaff family decided to sell much of its property (especially in the Serangoon area) to get back to its core business of trading. The Alkaff Lake Gardens was closed, dismantled and gradually disappeared.

The Alkaff Gardens was bought over by H. Sennett Realty Company in 1949 for $2 million dollars. Subsequently, the sunbathed lawns made way for private houses. The residential neighbourhood came to be known as the Sennett Estate. Even after the development of houses, vestiges of the gardens remained for some years before the lake was filled and the artificial hills levelled in 1964. The Willow Secondary School (now the Cedar Girls' Secondary School) was constructed on the main site of the once sumptuous Gardens. But the memory of this garden flickers vividly in those who have read about it in journals or seen it in old family photos. Such a treasure it was to those, now fewer, who really lived those balmy days and nights in the Alkaff Lake Gardens.



Author
Gary Maurice Dwor-Frecaut



References 
Azizah Sidek (1993). Prominent Singaporeans-sources of Information (p.19) Singapore: NLB.
(Call no.: RSING 016. 92005957 AZI)

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (p. 77). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW)

Freitag, U. (2002). Arab merchants in Singapore Attempt of a collective biography. In Huub DeJonge (Ed.) Transcending borders: Arabs, politics, trade and lslam in Southeast Asia (p.125). Leiden: KITLV Press.
(Call no.: RSING 305.8927059 TRA)

Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2003). Toponymics: A study of Singapore street names (p.35). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV) 

Singapore guide and street directory with sectional maps [map 57]. (1959). Singapore: Survey Department .
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)

Singapore guide and street directory with sectional maps  [map 82]. (1969). Singapore: Ministry of Culture.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57SIN)

Singapore's 100 Historic Places (p.118). (2002). Singapore: National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)

Clarence-Smith, W. (2002) Middle Eastern entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia c.1750-1940. Retrieved September 6, 2003, from www.eh.net/XIIICongress/cd/papers/10Clarence-Smith301.pdf



The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Arts>>Architecture>>Landscape architecture
Streets and Places
Gardens--Singapore
Urbanization--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Arts>>Architecture>>Residential buildings
Law and government>>National development>>Urban development
Historic sites--Singapore

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2004.