Built in 1909 by the Alkaff family, one of three prominent Arab property owners in Singapore at the time,1 Alkaff Arcade was designed by Donald McLeod Craik of architectural firm Swan and MacLaren. Known for its unique Moorish style, particularly its two onion domes and arches,2 Alkaff Arcade also had a cast-iron facade characteristic of 1900s Victorian architecture.3 The building housed offices and shops, including the office from which the Alkaffs administered their family’s properties under the company, Alkaff and Co.4
In 1962, the Alkaffs sold Alkaff Arcade to Singapura Developments for $12 million. Hailed as Singapore’s best-known waterfront landmark and the first indoor shopping centre, the building was demolished in 1978.5 The site of the old Alkaff Arcade is currently home to the new Arcade, a shopping-cum-office building that was completed in the early 1980s.6
The Alkaffs were a wealthy Arab family from the Hadhramaut coast of southern Arabia.7 They came to Singapore from the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia), with Shaik bin Abdul Rahman Alkaff being the first to arrive in Singapore.
Apart from trading in spices, coffee and sugar, the Alkaffs also engaged in land speculation. They amassed enough wealth to build town houses for sale or rent. Other properties that the Alkaffs owned or built include Alkaff Gardens and the Hotel de L’Europe. The latter used to occupy the site of the former Supreme Court.8 Shaik also established six settlements on properties that stretched from Beach Road to South Bridge Road for the benefit of his descendants.9
Erected in 1909 at a cost of $146,000,10 Alkaff Arcade (which was also referred to as the Arcade)11 was built on land formerly owned by an early agency house, Guthrie and Co.12 Connecting De Souza Street in Raffles Place to Collyer Quay, the building rose above the neighbouring godowns of Collyer Quay.13
Designed by Donald McLeod Craik of architectural firm Swan and MacLaren,14 the building was deemed to have broken the monotony of commercial architecture in Singapore.15
When it was first built, coloured tiles were used on the external pillars, while mural ornamental tiles – mostly of a cool green colour – were used to decorate the interior of Alkaff Arcade.16 The building had a cast-iron facade characteristic of 1900s Victorian architecture, while its arches and two onion domes reflected a distinct Moorish style.17 Described as “solid and ornate”,18 Alkaff Arcade housed shops and offices. A large and representative group of local professionals and businessmen were present at its official opening, reflecting the prestige and influence of the Alkaff family.19
The new Arcade
Alkaff Arcade was still bustling with activity in the 1970s. Its small shops sold a wide range of imported goods which catered mostly to office workers. The building also served as one of the two walkways linking Raffles Square and Collyer Quay, the other walkway being Change Alley.20 However, the building’s condition had begun to deteriorate.
In 1973, the Alkaffs sold Alkaff Arcade to Singapura Developments for $12 million.21 By then the building was deemed to be old and a fire hazard. Initially, the Alkaffs wanted to demolish the building to construct a more modern office block. They changed their mind because too many offices were being built then, and the expected revenue from the new project could not justify the cost. At the time of the sale, the building was generating about $18,000 in rent monthly, which was lower than expected. In addition, the trust to the Arcade was to expire in 1986; this added to the Alkaff family’s decision to dispose of the building.22
In 1978, the building was demolished to make way for a new 20-storey retail-cum-office building. The new Arcade, which cost S$41 million, was completed in the early 1980s.23
1. Betty L. Khoo, “The Arabs’ Former Splendour,” New Nation, 9 June 1972, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Our Lost Treasures,” Straits Times, 1 April 1990, 2. (From NewspaperSG); Gretchen Liu, Singapore: A Pictorial History 1819–2000 (Singapore: Archipelago Press; National Heritage Board, 1999), 112. (Call no. RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS]); Public Works Department. Building Control Division Building Control Division Singapore, “Arcade and Offices – Elevation of Steel Work Collyer Quay,” 1908, BLD, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 9186-14/1908)
3. Ting Hi Keng, “Splendour That Was the Arcade,” New Nation, 30 March 1978, 10–11 (From NewspaperSG); “Our Lost Treasures”; “Alkaff Arcade,” Straits Times. 27 November 1909, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “The Arcade,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weeky), 2 December 1909, 10; “Page 4 Advertisements Column 3,” Straits Times, 24 June 1931, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade.”
5. Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade”; “Our Lost Treasures”; Liu, Pictorial History 1819–2000, 271.
6. “Arcade to Open in March,” New Nation, 1 February 1980, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
7. George L. Peet, Rickshaw Reporter (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1985) 117. (Call no. RSING 070.924 PEE)
8. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, “The Alkaff Mansion,” accessed 24 September 2020; Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade.”
9. Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade.”
10. Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade.”
11. “Alkaff Arcade”; “Page 1 Advertisements Column 3,” Straits Times, 13 December 1909, 1; “Page 7 Advertisements Column 2,” Straits Times, 1 October 1925, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Alkaff Arcade.”
13. Peet, Rickshaw Reporter, 117.
14. Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: G. Brash, 19850, 135. (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BEA)
15. Beamish and Ferguson, History of Singapore Architecture, 135; Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade.”
16. Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade”; “Our Lost Treasures”; “Alkaff Arcade.”
17. “Our Lost Treasures”; Liu, Pictorial History 1819–2000, 112.
18. “Alkaff Arcade.”
19. “Page 4 Advertisements Column 3”; Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade.”
20. Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade”; Khoo, “The Arabs’ Former Splendour”; Liu, Pictorial History 1819–2000, 271.
21. Ronnie Lim, “Office Tower to Replace the Arcade,” Business Times, 25 February 1978, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Ting, “Splendour That Was the Arcade.”
23. “Arcade to Open in March”; Chia Yan Min, “The Arcade at Raffles Place Up for Sale by Tender,” Straits Times, 23 January 2014, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at September 2020 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.
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