Grand Hotel de l’Europe

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia

The Grand Hotel de l’Europe was one of the finest hotels in Singapore at the turn of the 20th century.1 It was situated at the corner of the Esplanade (Padang)2 and High Street, next to the Municipal Building (City Hall) and overlooked the Esplanade.3 The hotel’s palatial architecture made it a prominent landmark in the city’s landscape. The Renaissance-style hotel covered nearly one acre of land, with distinctive two-storey-high Corinthian columns.4 The hotel shuttered in October 1932, and the company went into liquidation.5 The building was subsequently demolished to make way for the Supreme Court building, which opened in 1939.

History
The beginnings of the hotel can be traced back to 1857 when Frenchman J. Casteleyns started a modest establishment called Hotel d’Europe on Hill Street.6 In 1860, the hotel was relocated to Beach Road.7 It moved again in 1865, when Casteleyns occupied the Hotel de l’Esperance premises at the corner of High Street and the Esplanade and renamed it Hotel d’Europe.8


The Hotel de l’Esperance was previously known as London Hotel, which had been established in 1839 by Gaston Dutronquoy. Originally located in Commercial Square (Raffles Place), it moved to Coleman Street in late 1841. Three years later, it moved again to the corner of High Street and the Esplanade.9 After Dutronquoy left Singapore, the hotel was taken over by a Frenchwoman, Madame Esperanza, in 1858 who renamed it Hotel de l’Esperance.10 Thereafter, it was taken over and renamed Hotel d’Europe by Casteleyns in 1865.11 The Hotel d’Europe would change many hands and have slight changes to its name over the next few decades, but it remained on that site until its closure in 1932.

Casteleyns managed the Hotel d’Europe until 1869, when it was taken over by Mrs Hjelmstrom and Mrs Becker.12 In 1871, C. A. Hjelmstrom and A. Becker took over the proprietorship of Hotel d’Europe.13 By 1875, Becker had become the sole proprietor of the hotel,14 and by 1877 the hotel was renamed Hotel de l’Europe.15 In August that same year, Becker sold the lease and furniture of the hotel for $40,000, a considerable sum at the time.16 On 1 January 1878, Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig Siegfried, or H. W. Siegfried, took over the management of the hotel.17

In 1881, Becker returned from Europe and became proprietor of the Hotel de l’Europe alongside Siegfried.18 The partnership eventually dissolved and Becker became the hotel’s sole proprietor again in March 1889,19 until his sudden death in 1892.20 Mrs Becker owned the hotel from 1898 until 1904 when the lease was bought over by a hotel syndicate for redevelopment.21 The syndicate was owned by Sam Tomlinson, who used to be a municipal engineer, and Chye Tian Fook, a former draughtsman in Tomlinson’s department.22 The redevelopment aimed to convert Hotel de l’Europe into a modern, up-to-date hotel that would continue attracting visitors.23

The demolition and rebuilding of the hotel began in 1904 and was projected to finish in three years. The building would remain partially occupied during the redevelopment.24 In November 1905, businessman Nissim Nassim Adis signed an agreement with the contractor rebuilding the hotel which made him responsible for the construction cost thereafter.25 In July 1906, part of the new hotel was opened to the public.26 However, Adis only gained possession of the entire hotel premises on 7 August 1907 when the hotel finished rebuilding that year.27 In Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya, published in 1908 – a landmark book providing information on Singapore’s history, commerce and industries in the early 20th century – Adis was referred to as the hotel’s proprietor.28

In 1910, the hotel changed hands again when the Grand Hotel de l’Europe, Limited was registered as a company.29 By 1913, the hotel had been taken over by Europe Hotel Limited, and Grand Hotel de l’Europe was renamed The Europe Hotel. The company would own the hotel until its closure in 1932.30

The hotel served as a sanctuary for women and children during the 1915 mutiny of the 5th Light Infantry.31

Description
By the 1880s, the Grand Hotel de l’Europe was the largest and best-known hotel in Singapore.32 On par with the Raffles Hotel, it had the reputation of being one of the finest hotels in Asia.33 A long-standing maxim of the 1920s was that tourists stayed at the Raffles while European colonials stayed at the Grand Hotel de l’Europe.34


Prior to its redevelopment in 1904, the original hotel building was described to have a “barn-like erection jutting into the road-way”, which proved an eyesore to residents. However, the bar and billiard room were noted to still catch visitors’ eyes.35

The 1907 version of the hotel was built and furnished at a cost of $1 million.36 It comprised detached pavilions with large airy rooms, including a central pavilion where visitors dined and one at the entrance for recreation, all with wide verandahs and punkahs (manually operated fans).37 The hotel’s ground floor facade consisted of a series of segmental arches between massive rusticated piers, forming a colonnade in front of the different areas. The floor was paved with encaustic tiles that gave a bright but cool appearance.38

The hotel’s interior was simple and designed for the tropical climate. The high ceilings and Doric columns made the hotel as open as possible. Where feasible, arches were built instead of doors.39

Each of the 120 bedrooms had a private balcony, a dressing room and a private bath with large shanghai jars for storing bathwater.40

Facilities and services
Before being rebuilt, the Hotel de l’Europe was a modest hotel with 30 rooms.41 According to a visitor to the hotel in the 1870s, there was an American bar-room attached to the main building, as well as a billiard room. There was also a reading room that contained an extensive collection of papers and journals in five languages from various cities including New York, London, Calcutta, Shanghai and Yokohama.42

After its redevelopment in 1907, the Grand Hotel de l’Europe was advertised to be “modern in construction” and offering necessities “conducive to health and comfort”.43 The new hotel boasted modern conveniences such as electric lights, fans and a lift.44 In addition, it had its own horse-drawn carriages to provide transport from the hotel to the pier at Tanjong Pagar.45

The hotel was known for its fine dining.46 Occupying 1,000 sq ft of space on the ground floor, the dining room had an open concept and was almost column-free.47 Known as the Bird Cage Dining Room, it was presented as having “the finest view east of Suez”.48 The hotel also had a large roof garden.49 The hotel’s strategic location made it a popular destination for the European community.50 In 1920, a ladies lounge and tea room were opened.51

With its first-class facilities and services, the daily rate for a room with bath and food included was priced from 12 Straits dollars, or 30 shillings sterling, in 1924.52 This equates to approximately £182 today.53 The interior rooms cost 10 Straits dollars per day, and the suites were more expensive.54

The part of the hotel that faced High Street was rented out as shops, while the upper floors served as rooms. Among the shops was Continental Stamp Company, the predecessor of Stamp Mart.55

Throughout its history, the hotel saw many prominent guests such as royalty from around the world.56

Closure
Though once the hub of Singapore’s social activities,57 the hotel fell behind the times and ran into financial difficulties a few years by the late 1920s.58 The Europe Hotel closed its doors in October 1932.59 The building stood empty for some time while various entities attempted to raise funds to erect a new modern hotel on the site.60 Even though several redevelopment plans were proposed, funds were lacking and the projects fell through.61 The land owner, the Catholic Portuguese Mission, thus decided to demolish the hotel. Its plan was to build a block of modern service flats until a new hotel company could be formed.62 However, when construction was underway, the government began negotiations for the land,63 which was subsequently acquired for the Supreme Court building.64

Variant name
Malay: Punchaus besar65


Timeline
1857: Hotel d’Europe is established on Hill Street by Casteleyns.

1860: Hotel d’Europe is relocated to Beach Road.
1865: Hotel d’Europe takes over Hotel de l’Esperance premises near the Padang.
1869: Ownership of Hotel d’Europe is taken over by Mrs Hjelmstrom and Mrs Becker.
1871: C. A. Hjelmstrom and A. Becker become proprietors of Hotel d’Europe.
Jan 1878: Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig Siegfried becomes proprietor of Hotel de l’Europe.
1881: Becker becomes proprietor of the Hotel de l’Europe alongside Siegfried.
Mar 1889: Becker becomes sole proprietor of Hotel de l’Europe.
Oct 1892: Becker dies. Records do not show who takes over the hotel immediately after his death.
1898: Mrs Becker is proprietress of Hotel de l’Europe.
May 1900: The Municipal Commissioners acquire the land and building at the eastern side of Hotel de l’Europe.
1903: The hotel is acquired by a hotel syndicate for redevelopment.
1904: Redevelopment of the Hotel de l’Europe begins.
Nov 1905: Nissim Nassim Adis enters into agreement with contractor building the hotel. He is responsible for construction costs thereafter.
Aug 1907: Adis is given possession of the entire hotel premises.
1910–1913: Grand Hotel de l‘Europe Limited is registered as a company.
1913–1932: Europe Hotel Limited is registered as a company.
1932: The Europe Hotel ceases operations.
1934: The hotel is demolished to make way for a block of modern service flats.
1935: Government’s acquisition of the land is completed.
1939: The Supreme Court building is completed on the site.



Authors
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Andrea Kee Hwee Yee



References
1. Liu, G. (1999). Singapore: A pictorial history, 18192000. Singapore: Archipelago Press; National Heritage Board, pp. 46, 123. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS]); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 18191867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 716. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
2. National Archives of Singapore. (1913). Map of Singapore howing the principal residences and places of interests [Accession no.: SP006064]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Recognise one? What about the other? (1980, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG;
4. Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., pp. 944−946. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
5. The Europe Hotel closes. (1932, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 11; Europe site award settled. (1935, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. The Singapore almanack & directory for the year 1858. (1858). Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 61; The Straits calendar and directory for the year 1865. (1865). Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 46. Retrieved from BookSG.
7. The royal almanack & directory for the year 1860 . (1860). Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 69. Retrieved from BookSG.
8. The straits calendar and directory for the year 1865. (1865). Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 46. Retrieved from BookSG; Singapore’s hotels of yesterday. (1933, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. [Page 1 advertisements column 2]. (1844, February 29). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Falconer, J. (1987). A vision of the past: A history of early photography in Singapore and Malaya: The photographs of G. R. Lambert & Co., 1880–1910. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 779.995957 FAL)
10. Singapore’s hotels of yesterday. (1933, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 8; [Page 2 Advertisements Column 5]. (1858, March 6). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. The Straits calendar and directory for the year 1865. (1865). Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 46. Retrieved from BookSG; Singapore’s Hotels of Yesterday. (1933, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. The Straits calendar and directory for the year 1869. (1869). Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 48. Retrieved from BookSG.
13. The Straits calendar and directory for the year 1871. (1871). Singapore: Commercial Press, p. 54. Retrieved from BookSG.
14. The colonial directory of the Straits Settlements for 1875. (1875). Singapore: Mission Press, p. D6, K2. Retrieved from BookSG.
15. The Singapore directory for the Straits Settlements 1877. (1877). Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 96. Retrieved from BookSG.
16. Tuesday, 28th August. (1877, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. [Page 2 Advertisements Column 2]. (1878, January 10). Singapore Daily Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. [Page 3 Advertisements Column 1]. (1881, January 24). Singapore Daily Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. [Page 2 Advertisements Column 4]. (1889, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. ‘The school for manners’. (1892, October 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. An excise case. (1898, February 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), p. 90; 1903. (1903, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 1; Untitled. (1903, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Davidson, J. (2020). Swan and Maclaren: A story of Singapore architecture. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, p. 136. (Call no.: 720.95957 DAV); 1903. (1903, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 1; Untitled. (1903, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. 1903. (1903, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. The Hotel de l’Europe. (1904, March 2). The Straits Times, 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Hotel Europe case. (1908, August 20). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), p. 117. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. The Hotel de l’Europe. (1906, April 24). Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Building a hotel. (1908, August 13). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), p. 100. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., p. 946. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
29. The Grand Hotel de L’Europe. (1910, March 23). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Registry of Companies. (1913−32). The Europe Hotel Limited [Record no.: 6/1913]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore; The Europe Hotel closes. (1932, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. The Europe Hotel closes. (1932, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Liu, G. (1999). Singapore: A pictorial history, 1819−2000. Singapore: Archipelago Press; National Heritage Board, p. 123. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS])
33. Wise, M., & Wise, M. H. (Eds.). (1996). Travellers’ tales of old Singapore. Brighton: In Print Publishing, pp. 187−188. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TRA-[HIS]); Liu, G. (1999). Singapore: A pictorial history, 1819–2000. Singapore: Archipelago Press; National Heritage Board, p. 123. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS])
34. Recognise one? What about the other? (1980, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Peleggi, M. (2012). The social and material life of colonial hotels: Comfort zones as contact zones in British Colombo and Singapore, ca. 1870−1930. Journal of Social History46(1), 124–153, p. 140. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
35. Hotel de l’Europe. (1904, May 17.) The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., pp. 944−946. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
37. Singh, R. (1995). A journey through Singapore: Travellers’ impressions of a by-gone time. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 96. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 REE-[HIS])
38. Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., pp. 944−946. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
39. Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., pp. 944−946. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
40. Recognise one? What about the other? (1980, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., pp. 944−946. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
41. Peleggi, M. (2012). The social and material life of colonial hotels: Comfort zones as contact zones in British Colombo and Singapore, ca. 1870−1930. Journal of Social History46(1), 124−153, p. 130. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
42. Vincent, F. (1988). The land of the white elephant: Sights and scenes in South-east Asia 18711872Singapore; Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with the Siam Society, pp. 102−103. (Call no.: RSEA 959.03 VIN)
43. [Page 1 Advertisements Column 4]. (1907, July 12). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., pp. 944−946. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
45. Recognise one? What about the other? (1980, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Grand Hotel de l’Europe. (1907, October 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., pp. 944−946. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
48. Recognise one? What about the other? (1980, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
49. Jayapal, M. (1992). Old Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 JAY-[HIS]); Hotel de l’Europe. (1906, December 8). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Van Cuylenburg, J. B. (1982). Singapore: Through sunshine and shadow. Singapore: Heinemann Asia, pp. 33−34. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 VAN-[HIS])
51. Untitled. (1920, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Wise, M., & Wise, M. H. (Eds.). (1996). Travellers’ tales of old Singapore. Brighton: In Print Publishing, pp. 187−188. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TRA-[HIS])
53. MeasuringWorth. (2020). Measuring worth is a complicated question. Retrieved 2020, October 29 from MeasuringWorth.com website: www.measuringworth.com
54. Wise, M., & Wise, M. H. (Eds.). (1996). Travellers’ tales of old Singapore. Brighton: In Print Publishing, pp. 187−188. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TRA-[HIS])
55. Van Cuylenburg, J. B. (1982). Singapore: Through sunshine and shadow. Singapore: Heinemann Asia, pp. 33−34. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 VAN-[HIS])
56. The Europe Hotel closes. (1932, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
57. Demolition of old Europe Hotel. (1933, October 31). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
58. The Europe Hotel closes. (1932, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
59. The Europe Hotel closes. (1932, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
60. Future of Europe Hotel. (1932, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 12; Europe site award settled. (1935, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
61. Europe site award settled. (1935, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
62. Government to acquire Europe Hotel site. (1934, April 15). The Straits Times, p. 12; New scheme for Europe Hotel. (1933, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
63. Government to acquire Europe Hotel site. (1934, April 15). The Straits Times, p. 12; Fate of Europe Hotel site. (1934, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
64. Europe site award settled. (1935, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 11; The Supreme Court. (1939, July 20). The Straits Times, p. 10Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
65. Reith, G. M. (1892). Handbook to Singapore: With map and a plan of the Botanic GardensSingapore: Singapore and Straits Print. Office, p. 36. Retrieved from BookSG.



Further resources
Between the lines: Early print advertising in Singapore, 1830s–1960s. (2018). Singapore: National Library Board.
(Call no.: RSING 659.1095957 BET)

Decision to wind-up Europe Hotel. (1932, September 16). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Hotel de l’Europe reduces rates. (1906, February 22). Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Toh, J. (2009). Singapore through 19th century photographs. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5703 TOH-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at December 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. 

 

Subject
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Historic Buildings
Historic buildings--Singapore
Commercial buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Hotels--Singapore--History
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Commercial Buildings
Historic buildings

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2008.