Former Thong Chai Medical Institution


The former Thong Chai Medical Institution is also known as the old Thong Chai Building. Located at 50 Eu Tong Sen Street (formerly 3 Wayang Street), it was gazetted as a national monument on 28 June 1973, one of the first eight buildings in Singapore to be gazetted for preservation. It is considered a historical landmark not only because the institution symbolised the spirit of mutual assistance among early Chinese settlers, but also because the building is a rare surviving example of Southern Chinese secular architecture. In 1976, the medical institution relocated to a new building at Chin Swee Road.1

History
Thong Chai Medical Institution began in 1867 as a free clinic called Thong Chai Yee Say. Operating out of a rented shophouse at 31 Upper Macao Street (now Upper Pickering Street), it was set up by a group of Chinese immigrants to provide free Chinese medical treatment to the poor and needy. The name “Thong Chai” is derived from the Chinese words 同 (tong), meaning “same” or “equal”, and 济 (ji), which means “to help or relieve”.2


In the third quarter of the 19th century, the growing prosperity of many wealthy Chinese, particularly the philanthropic merchants and businessmen, brought about generous support for benevolent causes such as schools, hospitals, cemeteries and religious festivals. Thong Chai Yee Say was one of the beneficiaries, whose most noteworthy patron was Gan Eng Seng.3 The new building at Wayang Street was made possible through his contributions and funds raised through public subscription, though the British colonial government provided the land. In 1892, the building was completed and Thong Chai Yee Say was renamed Thong Chai Medical Institution.4

The new building not only served as a hospital, but also as a centre for activities for the early Chinese community. It was the headquarters of Chinese guilds and the venue for various public meetings. The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce operated from an office there until 1906.5

After Thong Chai Medical Institution vacated the building in 1976, the government spent almost S$500,000 on extensive restoration and renovation works before it was re-opened as an arts and crafts centre in 1979. It has since been used for various other purposes, including a discotheque.6

Description
The old Thong Chai Building has a long, narrow structure. The front faces what is now Eu Tong Sen Street and the back entrance faces New Market Road. There are four halls arranged linearly along a central axis. A courtyard separates the entrance hall from the second hall, which is in turn separated from the next hall by an airwell. A second courtyard separates the last two halls. Two of the halls are single-storey structures, while the other two have an upper level.7


The roof exhibits a Chinese-style design that is one of a kind in Singapore. The pitched roofs that cover each hall are made of green-glazed Chinese tiles, and each roof is capped with a concrete ridge frieze on which brightly painted reliefs depict Chinese culture and scenery. Gabled walls or “fire walls” extend above the roof in a cloud-like pattern.8

The main entrance is a solid timber double-leaf door with two timber bars that bolt the door shut. Notable features inside include decorative screens made of carved timber, carved timber panels and fascia boards, granite columns with sculptured bases, and many Chinese calligraphy panels.9



Authors

Vernon Cornelius & Valerie Chew




References
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). Thong Chai Medical Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p.1. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 THO); Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 198. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
2. Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution. (2015). Our history. Retrieved August 15, 2016, from Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution website: http://www.stcmi.org.sg/history.asp.htm; National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former Thong Chai Medical Institution. Retrieved August 11, 2016, from https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-thong-chai-medical-institution; Thong Chai goes a long way back. (1998, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 69; Leong, W. K. (1978, July 7). Thong Chai Medical Institution. The Straits Times, p. 35; It all started in a shophouse in 1867. (1995, August 16). The Straits Times, p. 3. Lim, A. (1997, September 15). Thong Chai clinic celebrates 130th anniversary. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 198. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Lee, E. (1990). Historic buildings of Singapore. Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 59. (Call no.: RSING 720.95957 LEE)
4. Thong Chai Medical Institution. (2015). Our history. Retrieved August 11, 2016, from http://www.stcmi.org.sg/history.asp.htm; National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former Thong Chai Medical Institution. Retrieved August 11, 2016, from https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-thong-chai-medical-institution; It all started in a shophouse in 1867. (1995, August 16). The Straits Times, p. 3; Thong Chai goes a long way back. (1998, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 69; Leong, W. K. (1978, July 7). Thong Chai Medical Institution. The Straits Times, p. 35; It all started in a shophouse in 1867. (1995, August 16). The Straits Times, p. 3; Lim, A. (1997, September 15). Thong Chai clinic celebrates 130th anniversary. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). Thong Chai Medical Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 THO); Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
5. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former Thong Chai Medical Institution. Retrieved August 11, 2016, from https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-thong-chai-medical-institution; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). Thong Chai Medical Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 THO); Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS]); Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 198. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU).
6. It all started in a shophouse in 1867. (1995, August 16). The Straits Times, p. 3; Loo, D. (2005, June 2). Old Thong Chai gets new US owner. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.  
7. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). Thong Chai Medical Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1) Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 THO); Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 199. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU).
8. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). Thong Chai Medical Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. I). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 THO); Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 199. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU).
9. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former Thong Chai Medical Institution. Retrieved August 11, 2016, from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-thong-chai-medical-institution; Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 199. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)



Further resources
Beamish, J. (1985). A history of Singapore architecture: The making of a city. Singapore: G. Brash, p. 75.

(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 BEA)

Pugalenthi Sr. (1999). Singapore landmarks: Monuments, memorials, statues & historic sites. Singapore: VJ Times International, pp. 133‒135.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 PUG-[HIS])

新加坡同济医院 . [200-]. <<新加坡同济医院135周年纪念特刊: 1867­-2002>> [Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution 135th year anniversary commemorative publication: 1867-­2002]. [出版地缺: 出版社缺 ].
(Call no.: Chinese RSING 610.951 SIN)



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
Public health
Health and medicine>>Health services
National monuments
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Monuments
Historic buildings--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Politics and Government>>Health
Monuments--Singapore