House of Tan Yeok Nee


The House of Tan Yeok Nee, located at the junction of Clemenceau Avenue (formerly Tank Road) and Penang Road, was built in 1882 as the residence of Tan Yeok Nee (b. 1827 - d. 1902). It was one of four residences built in Singapore in the traditional southern Chinese style towards the end of the 19th century, and it is the last remaining one today. However, much of its original garden has been lost to road widening through the years. On 19 November 1974, the building was gazetted as a national monument.

Tan was a wealthy Teochew businessman who had investments in pepper, spirit and opium farms in Johore and Singapore. Regarded as a distinguished gentleman by British officials, he often represented the Chinese business community in official colonial events.

The House of Tan Yeok Nee was built at a time when the plantations of nutmeg and fruit trees along Orchard Road were giving way to residential development as more chose to live nearer to town. While waiting for his new house to be completed, Tan lived in G. D. Coleman's house along Coleman Street.

By 1902, the Tan family had moved out of the house because of the din and dust arising from the railway construction at Tank Road. It was sold to the Malayan Railway and became the stationmaster’s residence. When the railway moved, the government handed over the house to the Anglican Bishop of Singapore, Charles James Ferguson-Davis, in the form of a trust. It then became St Mary’s Home and School for Eurasian Girls in 1912.

The Salvation Army acquired the house in 1935, and it officially became the Army’s Central Command Headquarters on 28 May 1938, exactly three years after the Army held its first official meeting in Singapore. During World War II, it was occupied by the Japanese army, who inflicted considerable damage to it. After the war, the Salvation Army spent a considerable sum to restore the house, before it was officially re-opened by Governor Sir Franklin Gimson in July 1951.

In 1991, the Salvation Army moved its headquarters to Bishan and the building was sold to hotelier Teo Lay Swee who had also acquired the nearby Cockpit Hotel. In 1996, the building was bought over by a Wing Tai-led consortium. It was restored in 1999 and is currently occupied by the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business as its Asian campus.

The building is a typical southern Chinese residential mansion constructed by Chinese craftsmen. 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 interiors are expansive and commodious. Surrounded by high walls, it holds two courtyards along a central axis and has several rooms arranged symmetrically. The imposing entrance hall would have been the ancestral room and reception hall. The distinctive Chinese roofs are in the southern Fujian style with curved eaves and roof brackets decorated with carved mythical beasts. However, the house is not completely Chinese in design - it includes European features such as Tuscan order pilasters and French windows, which are both found in the rear hall.

A unique mosaic technique was used to depict flora, fauna and human images in relief. The technique known as chien nien (jian nian, meaning "cut and paste") was popular in Canton in the 1870s, although it is often known as the Fujian style. The technique makes use of broken ceramic pieces which are attached to bas-relief or full relief to bring character to the images. It is applied to frieze decorations or rooftop ornamentation. Also characteristic of the home are the wood carvings, the calligraphy and paintings in the cia hua style, and the moulded panels in ni su style.

The restoration project of 1999 saw 100 Chinese craftsmen reconstructing the house at a cost of S$12 million with the supervision of RSP Architects. The restored house won special commendation from the Paris-based FIABCI at the Prix d'Excellence in 2002.

Vernon Cornelius

Cheah, U.-h. (2002, June 1). Kudos for House of Tan Yeok Nee. The Business Times, Focus.

House of Tan Yeok Nee (Former Salvation Army HQ). (2010). Retrieved October 25, 2010, from Preservation of Monuments Board website:

Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore (pp. 214-217). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)

Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore (pp. 162, 168, 170, 191, 208, 335, 598). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)

Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). House of Tan Yeok Nee preservation guidelines, Vol. 1 (pp. 4-25). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board.
(Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 HOU)

Wing Tai Holdings. (n.d.). House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from

Further readings
Chan, Y. L., Heng, C. K., & Liu, G. (c2003). The house of Tan Yeok Nee: The conservation of a national monument. Singapore: Winpeak Investment; Wingem Investment.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 CHA)

Kwek, L. J., et al. (2009). Resonance: Songs of our forefathers (pp. 166-171). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 RES)

Wan, M. H. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp. 121-123). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN)

The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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.

Architecture--Conservation and restoration--Singapore
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

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