Clarke Quay



Clarke Quay is located along the Singapore River. It forms part of the Singapore River precinct together with Boat Quay and Robertson Quay.From the early 1800s, Clarke Quay served as a dock for the loading and unloading of cargoes for the godowns (warehouses) and commercial houses situated along the Singapore River.After the gradual relocation of port activities to Keppel Harbour and other areas from the mid-1800s and the cleanup of the river in the early 1980s,3 Clarke Quay fell into a state of decline before being designated a heritage conservation area in 1989. It was subsequently redeveloped into a commercial and entertainment district.4

Early history
Clarke Quay is named after Sir Andrew Clarke, Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1824 to 1902. He is noted for having presided over the signing of the Pangkor Treaty (1874), which established the system of British resident advisors at the courts of the Malay sultans.5


The history of Clarke Quay is tied to that of the Singapore River, once a major transshipment zone and a conduit for trade. There were many godowns, commercial houses, shophouses and even a dock located along the river in the Clarke Quay area in the early years of Singapore’s history. Coolies (labourers) manually unloaded cargo from the tongkangs and twakows (boats) and moved them to the godowns for storage and distribution.The shophouses were two to three stories high and typically had coolies and working class families living on the upper floors, while the ground floor units were used for shops and trading offices.7 

Among the key Chinese businessmen of that time who located their godowns in Clarke Quay were Hoo Ah Kay (also known as Whampoa), Lim Teck Lee and Tan Yeok Nee. Joseph Pierre Bastiani, a Corsican businessman, was known to have operated a pineapple cannery in the area during the late 19th century.8

The oldest building in Clarke Quay is the River House, which is one of two surviving traditional Chinese mansions in Singapore – the other being the house of Tan Yeok Nee located at the corner of Penang Road and Clemenceau Avenue.9 Constructed in the 1880s, the mansion has been used as a residence and a godown for gambier and other commodities. In 1993, the building was restored and turned into a restaurant, with the restoration efforts receiving the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Architectural Heritage Award.10

Before its redevelopment, Clarke Quay was colloquially known in the Teochew dialect as Cha Jung Tau (“harbour for ships carrying firewood”), and was together with Boat Quay, an important location for Chinese opera performances and street storytelling sessions.11

Conservation and sale of site
Following the relocation of shipping activity to Keppel Harbour and other areas, and the cleanup of the Singapore River, the government drew up the Singapore River Concept Plan in 1985. The plan, driven by the need to diversify Singapore's tourism appeal and the preservation of heritage areas,12 identified Clarke Quay to be re-adapted into a “festival village” of retail and entertainment outlets.13 Towards this end, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) gazetted Clarke Quay area as a heritage conservation district and launched a Sale of Sites Programme in 1989 to open the area up for private development.14

Although potential investors showed a fair amount of interest in the Clarke Quay Land Sale Programme, only three bids were placed during the sale period from January to July 1989.15 This was the result of URA’s decision to tender the area as a single site to ensure coherence in site development and better coordination between URA and the developer.16 Clarke Quay's redevelopment by a single developer was in contrast to the approach taken with neighbouring Boat Quay, where redevelopment was under the charge of individual landlords.17

The tender was awarded to DBS Land, through its subsidiary Real Estate Holdings. The company was also concurrently involved in the restoration of Raffles Hotel and a number of shophouses at Tanjong Pagar. DBS Land had made a bid of S$54 million for the site.18 According to a URA spokesman, the company won due to its “highest land price, superior design and skill in the adaptive re-use of historic buildings.”19 The project mainly involved the restoration of five blocks of 60 shophouses and godowns (with the requirement that facades and roof designs be maintained), the construction of new buildings, the creation of a promenade and the pedestrianisation of the site.20

The conservation project was considered to be the biggest and most ambitious at that time. Not only did it cover an area of 21,400 sq m, the project cost DBS Land a total of S$186 million.21 The redevelopment won the company the Best ASEAN Conservation Effort award at the eighth ASEAN Tourism Association (ASEANTA) awards.22

Re-opening

When Clarke Quay reopened in November 1993,23 it was touted as a family-friendly attraction with more than 170 retail shops, 17 food and beverage outlets and a S$25-million adventure ride that included heritage elements from Singapore's past.24 


To evoke the past and create a nostalgic atmosphere, the streets were lined with 80 gaslights that were manually lit every evening. There were also other reminders of the past, such as river cruises and tongkangs retained as floating dining platforms.25 Sights and attractions at Clarke Quay included wandering minstrels and street performances, with the Read Bridge occasionally doubling up as a performing stage for buskers, just as Teochew storytellers used to entertain residents in the past.26  

In the subsequent years, a number of notable tenants moved into Clarke Quay. A popular Sunday flea market selling second-hand items, knick knacks and antiques was set up in 1994, and in that same year, Singapore’s first virtual reality ride, Reality Rocket, was launched in Clarke Quay.27 In 1995, the famous Satay Club that had its beginnings early in the 1940s also found its way to Clarke Quay after it vacated its premises at the Esplanade, which was then being developed as Singapore’s prime location for the arts.28 Since its redevelopment, Clarke Quay has hosted many events, including the Mid-Autumn by the River celebration,29 the annual Singapore Food Festival30 and the Singapore Million Dollar Duck Race.31

The redevelopment of Clarke Quay increased its commercial viability and made it a livelier place. However, it also attracted criticism for eroding the identity of the area and turning it into a generic tourist zone, with critics noting that "the "carnival and festival village" themes have little to do with the working history of Clarke Quay".32

While hopes were high for the viability of the revamped Clarke Quay, the project was not a commercial success. Analysts had predicted an annual turnover of up to S$45 million, but Clarke Quay's turnover in 1994 was just S$16 million, with an accumulated loss of S$4.42 million.33 The adventure ride closed in the mid-1990s, and the fall in the number of visitors was attributed to reasons such as Clarke Quay's relative inaccessibility, the lack of a coherent identity with its mishmash of tenants and visitors shunning the area when weather conditions were unfavourable.34

A second revamp
In 2000, Clarke Quay underwent a change in management when DBS Land merged with Pidemco Land to form CapitaLand.35 In 2003, CapitaLand hired British architectural firm Alsop Architects to refresh Clarke Quay's image and infrastructure and revitalise the district.36

The makeover plan involved improvements to Clarke Quay’s infrastructure and the quality of its nightlife by overhauling the line-up of tenants to cater to the tastes of young urban professionals. Marking a shift away from Clarke Quay’s previous family-oriented incarnation, French cabaret Crazy Horse Paris as well as nightclubs such as Attica and London’s Ministry of Sound, were brought into Clarke Quay and given 24-hour operating licenses.37 

The other aspect of Clarke Quay’s revamp involved an S$80-million infrastructural upgrade to enable visitors to enjoy the site regardless of weather conditions. This involved the construction of a series of pod-like dining platforms by the riverside, and the installation of a number of silent fans and towering overhead canopies along Clarke Quay’s main walkways.38

After these changes were implemented, Clarke Quay saw an improvement in visitor traffic and business.39 However, the aesthetic changes to Clarke Quay wrought by the redevelopment attracted criticisms from members of the public, who felt that the post-modern designs of the canopies and dining platforms detracted from the historic feel of Clarke Quay.40

New developments
T
he revamp increased visitor traffic to Clarke Quay, aided by the completion of a Mass Rapid Transit station in mid-2003.41 The Central mall, across the river from shophouses and godowns, was developed by Far East Organization and opened in January 2007.42 In 2011, CapitaLand spent more than S$1 million to restore the last two tongkangs remaining on the Singapore River. They were built as unmotorised cargo boats in 1968 and 1972, and had been used as floating restaurants since 1993.43

In 2012, Clarke Quay received about one million visitors per month. Restaurants and eateries occupied about 60 percent of its space, while another 30 percent was leased to entertainment outlets with offices taking up the remaining 10 percent. That year, CapitaLand announced a new S$15.6 million extension to Clarke Quay, with a new frontage on River Valley Road and more than 15 new dining and entertainment options.44 The extension and renovations were completed in January 2013.45



Author
Alex Chow



References
1. Heng, C. K., & Chan, V. (2000). The "Night Zone" storyline: Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review11(2), 44. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
2. Heng, C. K., & Chan, V. (2000). The "Night Zone" storyline: Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review11(2), 42. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
3.
 Heng, C. K., & Chan, V. (2000). The "Night Zone" storyline: Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review11(2), 43. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4. Lang, J. T. (2005). Urban design: A typology of procedures and products.Oxford: Elsiever/Architectural Press, p. 174. (Call no.: RART 711.4 LAN)
5. Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
6. Chan, K. S. (2000, November 13). Remembering a river's heyday. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
7.
 Lang, J. T. (2005). Urban design: A typology of procedures and products. Oxford: Elsiever/Architectural Press, p. 174. (Call no.: RART 711.4 LAN)
8. On the heritage trail. (2002, March 28). Today, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Chwee, L. L. (2008). Singapore River: Six strategies for sustainability. In T. C. Wong, B. Yuen & C. Goldblum (Eds.), Spatial planning for a sustainable Singapore. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 87–88. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 SPA)
10. Chwee, L. L. (2008). Singapore River: Six strategies for sustainability. In T. C. Wong, B. Yuen & C. Goldblum (Eds.), Spatial planning for a sustainable Singapore. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 87–88. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 SPA)
11. Lee, T. S. (2009). Chinese street opera in Singapore. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 118–119. (Call no.: RSING 782.1095957 LEE)
12. Heng, C. K., & Chan, V. (2000). The "Night Zone" Storyline: Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review11(2), 44. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
13. Chwee, L. L. (2008). Singapore River: Six strategies for sustainability. In T. C. Wong, B. Yuen & C. Goldblum (Eds.), Spatial planning for a sustainable Singapore. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 87–88. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 SPA)
14. Chwee, L. L. (2008). Singapore River: Six strategies for sustainability. In T. C. Wong, B. Yuen & C. Goldblum (Eds.), Spatial planning for a sustainable Singapore. Dordrecht: Springer, p. 87. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 SPA)
15. Lee, H. S. (1989, August 31). Clarke Quay bid enters final phaseThe Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Chan, C. (1989, July 7). Clarke Quay land parcels attract only three bidsThe Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Heng, C. K., & Chan, V. (2000). The "Night Zone" Storyline: Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review11(2), 46. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
18. Lee, H. S. (1989, August 31). Clarke Quay bid enters final phaseThe Business Times, p. 1; DBS Land to set up new firm for Clarke Quay project. (1989, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. .
19. Ministry of Communications and Information. (1990, January 22). Speech by Mr Peter Sung, Minister of State (National Development) and (Foreign Affairs), at the agreement signing ceremony for the Clarke Quay Conservation Area at Bras Basah Room, 4th level, Westin Stamford on Monday, 22 January 1990 at 11.40 am [Press release]. Retrieved from The National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
20. Lang, J. T. (2005). Urban design: A typology of procedures and products. Oxford: Elsiever/Architectural Press, p. 177. (Call no.: RART 711.4 LAN)
21. Clarke Quay wins award for conservation. (1994, January 10). The Straits Times, p. 27; Chan, C. (1989, July 7). Clarke Quay land parcels attract only three bidsThe Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Clarke Quay wins award for conservation. (1994, January 10). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Kan, G. (1993, December 11). New attraction Clarke Quay pulls in big crowds dailyThe Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Page 6 Advertisements Column 1. (1993, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Heng, C. K., & Chan, V. (2000). The "Night Zone" Storyline: Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review11(2), 46. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
25. Chwee, L. L. (2008). Singapore River: Six strategies for sustainability. In T. C. Wong, B. Yuen & C. Goldblum (Eds.), Spatial planning for a sustainable Singapore. Dordrecht: Springer, p. 88. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 SPA)
26. Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
27. Virtual reality at Clarke Quay. (1994, July 16). The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Satay Club over the years.... (2003, June 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Giant lantern to light river. (2001, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Lum, M. (1994, June 26). Get set for S'pore Food FestivalThe Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. These ducks raised $1 million. (2001, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Heng, C. K., & Chan, V. (2000). The "Night Zone" Storyline: Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review11(2), 46. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
33. Ho, K. (2005, January 22). The quay to successThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Ho, K. (2005, January 22). The quay to successThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Capitaland. (n.d.). Corporate timeline. Retrieved from Capitaland website: http://www.capitaland.com/about-capitaland/corporate-timeline
36. Boo, K. (2003, February 11). ‘Worn out’ Clark Quay to get new lookThe Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Ho, K. (2005, January 22). The quay to successThe Straits Times, p. 5; Zul Othman. (2005, November 26). Spark QuayToday, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Boo, K. (2005, October 24). The Quay to being COOLThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Boo, K. (2005, October 24). The Quay to being COOLThe Straits Times, p. 1Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Booth, J. (2005, October 3). Why get rid of unique traditional look of Clarke Quay? The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Chow, C. (2005, May 16). Clarke Quay: The comeback kid. The Edge Singapore. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
42. Page 5 Advertisements Column 1. (2007, January 26). Today, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Lee, S. H. (2011, November 26). Tongkangs rebornThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Ng, K. L. (2012, August 21). Clarke Quay: Revamp draws visitors, revenueThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Kok, M. (2013, March 21). Quay of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 8 September2014 and correct as far as we can 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
Recreation>>Places of Interest
Streets and Places
Street names--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Singapore River (Singapore)
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Clarke Quay (Singapore)--History
Places of interest