House of Tan Yeok Nee



The House of Tan Yeok Nee is situated at the junction of Clemenceau Avenue (formerly Tank Road) and Penang Road.1 Constructed between 1882 and 1885 as the residence of businessman Tan Yeok Nee, it was one of four residences built in Singapore at the end of the 19th century in the traditional southern Chinese style, and the only one remaining today.2 The building was gazetted as a national monument on 19 November 1974.3

History
Tan was a wealthy Teochew businessman who invested in gambier, pepper, spirit and opium farms in Johor and Singapore.4 Regarded as a distinguished gentleman by British officials, he often represented the Chinese business community in official events.5

The House of Tan Yeok Nee was built at a time when nutmeg plantations and fruit trees along Orchard Road were giving way to residential development as more people moved to areas closer to town.6 While waiting for his new house to be completed, Tan lived in colonial engineer G. D. Coleman’s residence along Coleman Street.7

By 1902, Tan and his family had moved out of the house because of the din and dust from the railway construction at Tank Road. The building later became the station master’s residence.8 When the railway was relocated, the government gave the house to the Anglican bishop of Singapore, Charles James Ferguson-Davie, in the form of a trust.9 In 1912, it became St Mary’s Home and School, which catered to Eurasian girls.10

The house was acquired by the Salvation Army in 1938, and officially became the organisation’s central command headquarters on 28 May 1938 – the third anniversary of its first official meeting in Singapore.11

During World War II, the house was occupied by the Japanese army, who inflicted considerable damage to it.12 After the war, the Salvation Army spent a considerable sum to restore the house before it was officially reopened on 6 July 1951 by then Governor Franklin Gimson.13

In 1991, the Salvation Army relocated its headquarters to Bishan.14 The House of Tan Yeok Nee was then sold to hotelier Teo Lay Swee who had also acquired the nearby Cockpit Hotel.15 In 1996, the house was bought over by a consortium led by Wing Tai.16 It was restored in 1999 and became the Asian campus of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.17 The house was sold to Perennial Real Estate Holdings in 2013, and it was planned to house an upmarket traditional Chinese medicine centre.18

Description
The House of Tan Yeok Nee is a typical southern Chinese residential mansion constructed by Chinese craftsmen.19 It sits on an east-west orientation and its design aligns with feng shui principles. Whilst its street-facing front appears modest except for the large doorway, its interior is expansive and commodious.20

Surrounded by high walls, the house has two courtyards along a central axis and several rooms arranged symmetrically. The imposing entrance hall would have been the ancestral room and reception hall.21 The distinctive Chinese roofs are in the southern Fujian (minnan) style with curved eaves and roof brackets decorated with carved mythical beasts. The house, however, is not completely Chinese in design. It also includes European features such as Tuscan order pilasters and French windows in the rear hall.22

A unique mosaic technique was used to depict flora, fauna and human images in relief. It makes use of broken ceramic pieces attached to bas-relief or full relief to bring character to the images. Known as jian nian, meaning “cut and paste”, the technique was popular in Canton (today’s Guangzhou) in the 1870s even though it is often known as the Fujian style.23 Also characteristic of the house are the wood carvings, calligraphy and paintings in cia hua style, and moulded panels in ni su style.24

The restoration project of 1999 involved 100 Chinese craftsmen who reconstructed the house at a cost of S$12 million. The project was supervised by RSP Architects Planners & Engineers.25 The restored house won a special commendation at the French Prix d’Excellence in 2002.26



Author

Vernon Cornelius



References
1. Fact. (2011, December 4). The Straits Times, p. 18; Restoration to cost $12 million. (1999, January 26). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). House of Tan Yeok Nee preservation guidelines. (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 HOU)
2. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-house-of-tan-yeok-nee; A rich history. (2000, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 34; Chew, J. (2000, April 25). Grand ol’ dame gets new lease of life. The Straits Times, p. 34; Keys, P. (1983, March 16). The house of Tan Yeok Nee. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Townhouses of ancient Chinese towkays. (1981, November 29). The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-house-of-tan-yeok-nee; Townhouses of ancient Chinese towkays. (1981, November 29). The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 213. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
5. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
6. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). House of Tan Yeok Nee preservation guidelines. (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 HOU)
7. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 213. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
8. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-house-of-tan-yeok-nee
9. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-house-of-tan-yeok-nee; Keys, P. (1983, March 16). The house of Tan Yeok Nee. The Straits Times, p. 10; Townhouses of ancient Chinese towkays. (1981, November 29). The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
10. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
11. Chew, J. (2000, April 25). Grand ol’ dame gets new lease of life. The Straits Times, p. 34; A rich history. (2000, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
12. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-house-of-tan-yeok-nee; Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
13. Keys, P. (1983, March 16). The house of Tan Yeok Nee. The Straits Times, pp. 10–11; Townhouses of ancient Chinese towkays. (1981, November 29). The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-house-of-tan-yeok-nee
14. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-house-of-tan-yeok-nee; A rich history. (2000, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 34; Chew, J. (2000, April 25). Grand ol’ dame gets new lease of life. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Rashiwala, K. (1996, September 27). Wing Tai unit forks out $380m for Cockpit Hotel. The Straits Times, p. 76. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Cheah, U-H. (2002, June 1). Kudos for House of Tan Yeok Nee. The Business Times, p. 3; Chew, M. (2000, April 6). Learning in the lap of history. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Restoration to cost $12 million. (1999, January 26). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Rashiwala, K. (2016, February 5). Next change for House of Tan Yeok Nee: TCM Centre. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Perennial buying last courtyard home. (2013, September 27). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). House of Tan Yeok Nee preservation guidelines. (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 HOU)
20. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 213–214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
21. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
22. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). House of Tan Yeok Nee preservation guidelines. (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 HOU)
23. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 213–214. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
24. Cheah, U-H. (2002, June 1). Kudos for House of Tan Yeok Nee. The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Restoration to cost $12 million. (1999, January 26). The Straits Times, p. 28; Chew, J. (2000, April 25). Grand ol’ dame gets new lease of life. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Cheah, U.-H. (2002, June 1). Kudos for House of Tan Yeok Nee. The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; FIABCI. (2015). About FIABCI. Retrieved 2017, May 18 from FIABCI website: http://www.fiabci.org/about-fiabci.php



Further resources
Chan, Y. L., Heng, C. K., & Liu, G. (2003). The house of Tan Yeok Nee: The conservation of a national monument. Singapore: Winpeak Investment: Wingem Investment.

(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 CHA)

National Archives of Singapore. (1910). St Mary’s Home, Singapore [Photograph no. 19980005093-0097]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

Uma Devi, G., et al. (2009). Resonance: Songs of our forefathers. Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 166—171.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 RES)

Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 121–123.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])



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
Architecture--Conservation and restoration--Singapore
Architecture
Historic buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Residential buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Architectural Styles
Arts>>Architecture>>Architectural structure
Historic buildings--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Historic Buildings