St James Power Station
Located on Keppel Road near the entrance to the island of Sentosa, St James Power Station was a coal-fired power station built by the British between 1924 and 1927. The power station was decommissioned in 1976 as it was unable to meet Singapore’s rising demand for electrical power.1 The building was subsequently used as a commercial warehouse for the Port of Singapore Authority from 1980 to 1992, after which it was largely vacant.2 In 2006, it was converted into Singapore’s first multiconcept entertainment hub by local entrepreneur Dennis Foo.3
In October 1923, the municipal commissioners undertook plans to build Singapore’s first power station to provide electricity for the island. Construction works began in late 1924 at Cape St James. The site was chosen for its large area and proximity to the sea, where an unlimited water supply was available and sea-borne coal could be delivered to the station. St James Power Station started generating electricity on 1 June 1927 and was officially opened on 7 November 1927 by Hugh Clifford (Sir), then governor of the Straits Settlements.4
In the following years, the power station was beset with problems such as power failures and blackouts.5 In 1928, the station suffered a temporary shutdown caused by the neglect of a few engineers.6 In 1948, the breakdown of one of its generators led to a power failure lasting 8.5 hours, affecting all non-city areas in Singapore.7 Two years later, Singapore suffered its most extensive blackout when electricity to the entire island was cut off for 1.5 hours.8 Then in 1951, an accident caused by defective welding resulted in two deaths and four injuries at the station.9
St James Power Station was said to be running inefficiently by the mid-1950s. As such, it underwent renovations in 1956, and was reopened on 2 July 1960 by then Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee. The upgraded station was equipped with new machines and generators that increased the power output by 18,000 kilowatts. With the building of newer power plants, such as Pasir Panjang Power Station and Jurong Power Station, to cope with the rising demand for electricity over the years, St James Power Station was gradually phased out in the 1970s. The last of the gas turbines was decommissioned in 1976.10
When St James Power Station was first built, it comprised a boiler house, a pump room, turbine room, control room and switch house. With a skeleton formed by massive steel works, the building’s other distinctive features were its red-brick facade lined with rows of full-length windows, and tinted-glass panels that let natural light into the large interior spaces.11
In 2004, plans to convert the former power station into a nightlife entertainment hub were reported in the local newspapers. Dennis Foo, founder of the Europa pub chain and owner of Devil’s Bar at Orchard Parade Hotel, took on the project of restoring Singapore’s first and oldest power station into the country’s first multiconcept entertainment hub and nightclub.12 He invested through Dennon Entertainment, a private company controlled by him and his family.13 The other investors included Frank Benjamin of F. J. Benjamin, Jopie Ong of EK Holdings, as well as the state-owned Mapletree Investments. The transformation cost about S$40 million, half of which was invested by Mapletree Investments primarily on conservation, and the other S$20 million from the rest of the investors on interiors and furnishings.14
In an effort to preserve the former power station as a national monument, the original facade of its buildings was retained during the restoration process, notwithstanding its conversion into a contemporary nightlife venue.15 The clubs are housed in three buildings, with the tallest block standing at four storeys.16 The complex boasts a total land area of 200,000 sq ft including a built-in area of 90,000 sq ft and the outdoor concert venue.17 The indoor and outdoor venues can accommodate a total of more than 10,000 people.18
Retaining the name “St James Power Station”, the entertainment complex was officially launched on 24 September 2006.19 It has 12 outlets offering live entertainment, music and dining.20 As at late 2016, the biggest tenant at St James Power Station is reported to be the 10,700-square-foot Millian Singapore.21
In 2009, the National Heritage Board gazetted St James Power Station as a national monument.22 It was awarded the URA Architectural Heritage Award in 2010.23
Nuradilah Ramlan & Neo Tiong Seng
1. “Former St James Power Station,” National Heritage Board, accessed 9 January 2017.
2. “St James Power Station: Resisting Sameness, Projecting Utopia,” Singapore Architect no. 234, (August–September 2006): 81. (Call no. RSING 720.5 SA)
3. Frankie Chee, “Join the Club,” Straits Times, 16 December 2006, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “The Electricity Supply,” Straits Times, 20 October 1927, 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. National Heritage Board, “Former St James Power Station.”
6. “Power Station Failure,” Straits Times, 1 December 1928, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “All-Day Power Failure,” Straits Times, 8 April 1948, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Worst S’pore Power Cut Darkens City,” Straits Times, 20 September 1950, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “A Link Snapped: 2 Died,” Straits Times, 27 January 1951, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
10. National Heritage Board, “Former St James Power Station.”
11. National Heritage Board, “Former St James Power Station.”
12. Arti Mulchand, “Get Ready to Party at this Place...,” Straits Times, 4 December 2004, H1. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Ivan Teo, “Nightclub Leading Light Steps Down But Not Out,” Straits Times, 7 April 2014, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Sujin Thomas, “Feel the Power,” Straits Times, 14 July 2006, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “St James Power Station,” 83.
16. Mulchand, “Get Ready to Party at this Place....”
17. Mulchand, “Get Ready to Party at this Place...”; Yvonne Kwok, “Clubbing May Never Be the Same,” Straits Times, 27 February 2005, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Mulchand, “Get Ready to Party at this Place....”
19. Frankie Chee, “Power Play,” Straits Times, 26 September 2006, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Thomas, “Feel the Power”; “St James Power Station,” Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd., accessed 11 January 2017.
21. Fabian Koh, “And the Power… It’s Still Electrifying,” Straits Times, 24 November 2016, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
22. National Heritage Board, “Former St James Power Station.”
23. Serene Tng, “Historic Gems Lovingly Restored,” Skyline, (January–February 2011), 12–16.
The information in this article is valid as of 2017 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.