Former City Hall


Located in the heart of the civic district, the former City Hall served as an important government office in Singapore. The impressive building bears witness to Singapore’s colonial past and the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) as well as several milestones on its way to independence.

Background and history
The Municipal Council was formally established in 1856 to oversee the maintenance of public infrastructure in Singapore and the provision of public utilities such as water, electricity and gas.1 Its offices were located in the Town Hall until January 1893 when they were moved to rented premises on Finlayson Green.2 When the lease was up, the municipality purchased a part of the Hotel de l’Europe to use as its new office.3 Hotel de l’Europe was located opposite the Esplanade (the large open field also known as the Padang) on St Andrew’s Road, where the Supreme Court Building and the new municipal building were later constructed.4


By the early 1920s, the municipal departments were located at different parts of town, and the offices near the Padang were deemed insufficient and inadequate. A special committee of the Municipal Commission, which was established in 1887, was formed on 18 July 1923 to study and report on the plans for a new municipal building that would house all the departments under one roof. One of the initial ideas was to demolish the Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall and build new offices on that site, while another suggestion was to locate the offices at Fort Canning Hill.5 However, it was eventually decided that the building would be erected on the land bounded by Coleman Street and St Andrew’s Road, where the existing municipal offices were.6 The offices were moved to a temporary site near the former Telok Ayer Market on Robinson Road while the construction was underway.7

The building was planned and designed by the municipal architect – first by S. D. Meadows and then Alexander Gordon, who took over the position in 1925 and saw the project to completion.8 The cost of the development – approximately two million Straits dollars – drew ire from some quarters: There were criticisms that the money could have been better spent on improvements to public infrastructure such as the sewage system.9

Construction, undertaken by London firm Perry and Co. (Overseas) Ltd., began in 192610 and was completed in 1929. The municipality moved into its new home by April that year.11 The new Municipal Building was officially opened on 23 July 1929 by then Governor Hugh Clifford.12

Description
Prior to land reclamation in the 20th century, the Municipal Building was part of the waterfront that could be viewed by vessels approaching or sailing past the harbour.13 Referred to as the Municipal Building or Municipal Offices, the new structure was said to have cut an impressive figure on Singapore’s waterfront.14

When designing the building, the architects took into consideration its prime waterfront location by creating an imposing facade. Facing the Padang, the neoclassical facade of the Municipal Building spanned 370 ft – the longest in Singapore at the time – with 18 fluted Corinthian columns built entirely of reinforced concrete. The four-storey edifice was erected on a solid plinth and has a grand stairway leading to its main entrance. Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli, an Italian architect and a sculptor based in Singapore, was commissioned to supply the columns and granolithic stone cladding. Nolli was also appointed to decorate the Supreme Court constructed next to the Municipal Building a decade later.15

The building combines both neoclassical and modernist architectural elements in its design. Behind its symmetrical faux stone facade, colonnade and entablature is actually a steel structure. The windows and interior are stripped of the usual treatments and decorations typical of neoclassical architecture, and instead adopt a simpler, modernist design.16


Japanese Occupation
When the Japanese began attacking Singapore in January 1942, the Municipal Building was opened to the public for shelter from the air raids.17 A bund was constructed around the building to protect it from bomb blasts.18 After the fall of Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February, the building became the municipal headquarters of the occupying forces.19 At the start of the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese gathered Allied prisoners-of-war in front of the Municipal Building and marched them to the Changi internment camp.20


It was also in this building that the Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Command, Louis Mountbatten, accepted the surrender from General Seishiro Itagaki of the Imperial Japanese Army on 12 September 1945.21

A few months later on 13 January 1946, a funeral service was conducted for Singapore’s war hero, Lim Bo Seng, outside the Municipal Building.22

City Hall and the post-independence era
The building was renamed City Hall when King George VI granted city status to Singapore on 22 September 1951.23 After the victory of the People’s Action Party in the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election, the first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and his eight cabinet ministers were sworn in at City Hall, forming the first fully elected government in Singapore.24 On 3 December 1959, large crowds congregated outside City Hall to witness the installation of Yusof bin Ishak as Singapore’s first Malayan-born Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Malay for “Head of State”). The state anthem, “Majulah Singapura”, state crest and state flag were also unveiled to the public then.25

On 16 September 1963, Lee recited the Proclamation of Malaysia from the steps of City Hall, announcing the end of colonial rule and the formation of the Federation of Malaysia with Singapore as a member state.26 After Singapore became a sovereign state on 9 August 1965, the edifice housed various government offices such as the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Culture and offices of the Judiciary. It also remained the venue for swearing-in ceremonies of high government office-holders.27

Recent developments
Currently, the former City Hall and the former Supreme Court form the National Gallery Singapore, which opened on 24 November 2015. It is Singapore’s largest museum, with a focus on Southeast Asian and Singaporean art from the 19th century to the present day.28



Author
Preservation of Sites and Monuments



References
1. National Archives of Singapore. (2016). Municipal Council. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

2. Page 4 advertisements column 1. (1893, March 7). Daily Advertiser, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tues, May 15, 1900. (1900, May 15). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Supreme Court to be chief feature of Singapore’s new civic centre. (1937, April 2). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Municipal building. (1924, July 29). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; New municipal offices. (1921, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. A ‘town hall’ hall. (1925, May 14). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Municipal Commission. (1923, July 17). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Municipal temporary offices. (1925, May 26). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; An anniversary. (1925, July 4). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Proposed municipal offices, Singapore. (1923, July 25). The Straits Times, p. 9; Municipal Commission. (1925, September 18). The Straits Times, p. 12; Former municipal architect dies. (1941, June 28). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Proposed municipal offices, Singapore. (1923, July 25). The Straits Times, p. 9; New municipal offices. (1923, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 10; Municipal Commission. (1923, August 29). The Straits Times, p. 10; ‘Ostentatious buildings’. (1923, August 2). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. The city hall. (1926, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. New Municipal Building. (1929, April 30). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. The new municipal offices. (1929, July 24). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Lim, K. C. (1929–1934). The Europe Hotel (left), Municipal Building (right) and the Singapore waterfront [Photography no. 19980005111-0060]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 374–375. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)
14. New Municipal Building. (1929, April 30). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 61–62. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); New Municipal Building. (1929, April 30). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 62. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
17. Municipal Building open to public. (1942, January 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Public can shelter in Municipal Building. (1942, January 31). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. ‘Bund’ shelter for municipality. (1941, February 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
20. Frost, M. R., & Balasingamchow, Y.-M. (2009). Singapore: A biography. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Museum of Singapore, p. 282. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 FRO)
21. Singapore Tourist Promotion Board. (1975). Historical research on the surrender ceremony at City Hall on 12 September 1945. Singapore: Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 HIS-[WAR]), Japanese in Malaysia surrender at Singapore. (1945, September 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Remains of Col. Lim Bo Seng laid to rest. (1946, January 14). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Ramachandran, S. (1953, September 20). The story of the two city halls. The Straits Times, p. 4; The king sends congratulations. (1951, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. The cabinet to be sworn in today. (1959, June 5). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Frost, M. R., & Balasingamchow, Y.-M. (2009). Singapore: A biography. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Museum of Singapore, pp. 382–383. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 FRO)
25. Our task now – unity. (1959, December 3). The Singapore Press, p. 1; Cries of merdeka at the Padang. (1959, December 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; A memorable week ends. (1959, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 1; Keep up the spirit of loyalty and unity – Mr Rajaratnam. (1959, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Lee’s proud moment. (1963, September 17). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 63 (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
28. Huang, L. (2015, November 23). PM Lee Hsien Loong unveils National Gallery Singapore. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.



Further resources
A civic centre. (1920, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Another bomb. (1920, November 3). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Formal opening of the new Municipal Offices. (1929, July 27). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Fort Canning schemes. (1921, September 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Municipal Commission. (1900, June 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Municipal Commission. (1900, July 5). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Municipal Commission. (1923, July 28). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Municipal offices. (1923, July 18). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 26 January 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive and complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Streets and Places
City halls--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Public buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Civic and Administrative Buildings
Municipal buildings--Singapore
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore

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