by Ho, Stephanie
Named after a long stretch of sandy beach along the southwestern coastline of Singapore, the Pasir Panjang area developed around a main road of the same name that used to hug the coastline prior to land reclamation works. In the early days, the area was occupied by agricultural settlers who planted crops on Pasir Panjang Ridge, as well as Malay fishermen and wealthy Chinese businessmen who lived along the coast. Today, it is a residential, recreational and industrial area. From 1955 to 1988, Pasir Panjang was also a parliamentary electoral constituency.
Origins and boundaries
Pasir Panjang (Malay for “long beach” or “long sand”) was named after a sandy beach that stretched from Batu Berlayer (Malay for “Sail Rock”) – a historic rock formation located at the mouth of Berlayer Creek in present-day Labrador Nature Reserve – to the junction of Clementi and West Coast roads.1 Pasir Panjang Road, then the main road in the area, was built between 1841 and 1853 during John Turnbull Thomson’s term as the government surveyor of the Straits Settlements. By 1850, the road had stretched as far as the Jurong River.2 It used to hug the southwestern coastline of Singapore prior to land reclamation works in the area.3
Pasir Panjang was regarded as a rural area and came under the jurisdiction of the Singapore Rural Board in 1908. The board had administrative powers over parts of Singapore that lay outside the municipal limits, as well as the offshore islands of Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Brani and Pulau Bukom Besar.4 In 1957, Pasir Panjang became a city division under the City Council.5
Pasir Panjang was an electoral constituency between 1955 and 1988, before it came under the Pasir Panjang Group Representation Constituency (GRC), which also included the Clementi and West Coast constituencies.6 For the 1991 general election, however, Pasir Panjang GRC was merged with Brickworks GRC.7 In 1996, Pasir Panjang was absorbed into West Coast GRC1996 and remains part of it as at 2016.8
People began to settle in the Pasir Panjang area from the early 19th century. These early settlers planted crops such as rubber, pepper, gambier and pineapple on Pasir Panjang Ridge (now Kent Ridge Park). Many of the crop plantations in the area were either destroyed or abandoned during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45).9 By the beginning of the 20th century, Pasir Panjang had become home mainly to Malay fishermen, as well as Chinese and Indian shopkeepers and small traders.10
In 1878, following the British review of Singapore’s military defences, two new forts were built in the Pasir Panjang area: Fort Pasir Panjang at Labrador and Fort Siloso on nearby Pulau Blakang Mati (now known as Sentosa island). These forts were meant to guard the entrance of New Harbour (now Keppel Harbour).11 Fort Pasir Panjang was later upgraded to become Labrador Battery, which had underground ammunition storerooms and newer guns added to it.12 The guns at Labrador Battery as well as those at Siloso Battery were said to have been particularly active against the Japanese in the western sector of Singapore during the battle for the island in 1942.13 Labrador was gazetted as a nature reserve after the war and converted into a park in 1973.14
In the early 1900s, there were two hospitals in Pasir Panjang: a female lunatic asylum and a beriberi hospital, both on the same site.15 In 1931, the hospitals were relocated and the site that they formerly occupied was set aside for use as a public park.16 The park was close to the seaside and Pasir Panjang Road, conveniently located for residents in the area.17
Private seaside homes
From around the 1920s, wealthy Chinese businessmen began to build seaside houses and bungalows along the coastline at Pasir Panjang.18 By the 1930s, Pasir Panjang Road was so populated with such homes that the stretch came to be known as “millionaire’s row”.19 Among the wealthy Chinese businessmen with homes in Pasir Panjang were Lee Kong Chian and Aw Boon Haw.20
Haw Par Villa (Tiger Balm Gardens)
Aw built a house known as Haw Par Villa in the area for his brother, Boon Par, and it was completed in 1937. . Over the years, Aw added sculptures and tableaux based on Chinese myths and legends to the villa’s gardens, which came to be known as the Tiger Balm Gardens.21 In 1988, management of the gardens was transferred to the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now the Singapore Tourism Board, or STB), which leased it to International Theme Parks Limited for development into a theme park.22 The park underwent several changes in management and redevelopments over the years.23 In 2015, STB appointed tour operator Journeys to run tours in the park.24
Pasir Panjang was a popular location for various sporting activities. Motorboat racing was introduced in the waters off Pasir Panjang in 1928.25 South Buona Vista Road, which linked Dover to Pasir Panjang, was a popular racing circuit for motorcars and bicycles. The curvy road, which passed through hilly terrain, used to be known as “The Gap” and given the nickname “99 turns”.26 In 1927, the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force organised the first motorcycle hill-climb competition using the route.27 The following year, both motorcycles and cars participated in the competition.28 Cyclists also organised their own hill-climb competitions at The Gap.29 The Gap Hill was later renamed Kent Ridge to commemorate the visit of the Duchess of Kent and her son, the Duke of Kent, to Singapore in October 1952.30
In 1899, Alexandra Brickworks established the first continuous kiln at Pasir Panjang Road to produce bricks on a large scale in Singapore.31 The company ceased operations in 1972 and sold the brickworks factory site, which stood at the junction of Pasir Panjang and Alexandra roads, to the Port of Singapore Authority.32
In 1930, an opium-packing plant operated by the government was established at the foot of a hill in Pasir Panjang. The plant was responsible for the packing and distribution of all opium consumed in Malaya. Raw opium was first brought to the government opium factory in Keppel Road for processing before being sent to the packing plant. At the plant, the processed opium was packed into small sealed tubes to distinguish it from illegal forms of opium.33 The hill came to be known as Bukit Chandu (Malay for “Opium Hill”) because of its proximity to the plant.34
The Japanese continued manufacturing opium during the war and flooded the market just before the British re-occupation in 1945. During the British Military Administration, opium trading and smoking was banned, and the government withdrew from its involvement in the import, manufacture and sale of opium.35
During the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942, some of the fiercest battles were fought on 13 and 14 February when the 1st and 2nd Battalion of the Malay Regiment defended Bukit Chandu against the Japanese army. The Malay Regiment put up a strong resistance despite being outnumbered and low on resources, but was eventually defeated.36
In 2002, a bungalow along Pepys Road was converted into a Second World War interpretive centre known as “Reflections at Bukit Chandu” to commemorate the battle of Pasir Panjang and the courage of the Malay Regiment.37 The bungalow had been used as an ammunition store, and it is believed that the Malay Regiment made their last stand nearby.38
In the postwar years, Pasir Panjang developed into an industrial and residential area. In 1948, six new roads were constructed in the area: Pepys Road, Yew Siang Road, Jalan Mat Jambol, Jubilee Road, Kay Hai Road and Zehnder Road.39 By 1970, Pasir Panjang had grown in reputation as a middle-class residential area.40 By the 1990s, Pasir Panjang had become very popular among private housing developers due to its proximity to Jurong, easy access to the city and amenities such as shopping centres and markets.41
Industrial development in Pasir Panjang began in 1948 when it was announced that a power plant would be built there to meet the future electrical needs of Singapore.42 The first Pasir Panjang power station, also known as the ‘A’ station, was opened in 1953 at a cost of $93 million and eventually had a production capacity of 175,000 kw.43 An 11-storey block of flats was built close to the station to accommodate the station’s senior officers.44 A second station, the Pasir Panjang ‘B’ power station, was opened in 1965 and added 120,000 kw of electricity-generating capacity to the island.45 With the subsequent construction of larger power plants in Jurong, Seraya and Senoko, the Pasir Panjang ‘A’ and ‘B’ stations were decommissioned in 1987.46
In 1962, the Maruzen Toyo Oil Company established an oil refinery in Pasir Panjang. This refinery was bought over by British Petroleum (BP) in 1964.47 BP operated the oil refinery till 1995, after which the site was used as a petroleum storage and distribution terminal. BP gave up the site and returned the land to the government in 1998.48
In the 1970s, the industrial development of Pasir Panjang intensified. In 1972, a plan to reclaim the Pasir Panjang foreshores to develop a giant warehousing complex was announced. Under the plan, 36.8 ha of land was to be reclaimed, and a further 6.9 ha was to be acquired for the construction of the complex. The project included the construction of berthing facilities for lighters and coastal vessels, transit sheds and warehouses.49
In 1977, the first phase of the Pasir Panjang Wharves was completed, and the lighter cargo operations at Telok Ayer Basin, Rochor River and Kallang River were relocated to the wharves in 1982.50 A decade later, PSA announced additional reclamation works and the building of a new container terminal in Pasir Panjang to expand Singapore’s container handling capacity in addition to the terminals at Tanjong Pagar and Pulau Brani. This formed the first and second phases of the Pasir Panjang project.51 Phases 3 and 4, which will further expand the capacity of the terminal, was officially launched in June 2015 and is planned to be fully operational by the end of 2017.52
Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre
In 1977, Othman Wok, then member of Parliament for Pasir Panjang, announced a plan to establish a central wholesale market for fruit and vegetables in the area, the first such market in Singapore.53 This market, later known as the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, was built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) on 14 ha of reclaimed land in Pasir Panjang.54 Opened in phases between 1983 and 1984, the market quickly attracted many bargain hunters.55
However, sales began to decline from 2003 when the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak occurred in Singapore. The market was closed for two weeks because some sellers had contracted the virus. Subsequently, a number of businesses began to order goods directly from Malaysian suppliers instead of purchasing from the wholesale centre.56 In 2015, HDB announced that the market would be undergoing improvement works.57
Opened in 2011, two Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations – Haw Par Villa and Pasir Panjang –service the Pasir Panjang area. Both are part of the Circle Line and have helped boost accessibility to the area.58
1. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (2016). Berlayer Creek. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/places/details/79; Yap, C. S. (1980). Developments in Pasir Panjang. In Pasir Panjang community centre opening ceremony souvenir programme. Singapore: Pasir Panjang community centre, p. 40. Available via PublicationSG.
2. Edward, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 305. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
3. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 288. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Periplus Editions. (2009). Singapore island & city map. Singapore: Author. (Call no.: RSING 912.5957 PER)
4. Singapore Rural Board. (1908, June 20). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Govt. publishes boundaries of city polls districts. (1957, October 31). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Elections Department Singapore. (2016, April 27). 1955 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2016, May 30 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary1955.html; Elections Department Singapore. (2016, April 27). 1988 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2016, May 30 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary1988.html; 13 GRCs for next general election. (1988, June 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. 21 single-member wards, 15 GRCs for next election. (1991, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. If you now live in... (1996, November 22). The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Electoral Boundaries Review Committee. (2015). The report on the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, 2015 (Cmd 7 of 2015). Singapore: The Committee, map. Retrieved 2016, June 6 from Elections Department website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/pdf/White%20Paper%20on%20the%20Report%20of%20the%20Electoral%20Boundaries%20Review%20Committee%202015.pdf
9. National Heritage Board. (2006). Discover Singapore heritage trails. Singapore: National Heritage Board, p. 144. (Call no.: RSING 915.95704 DIS)
10. Yap, C. S. (1980). Developments in Pasir Panjang. In Pasir Panjang community centre opening ceremony souvenir programme. Singapore: Pasir Panjang community centre, p. 40. Available via PublicationSG.
11. Lim, D. K. A., & Chua, E. (2005). Labrador Park: The adventure begins. Singapore: SNP Panpac, pp. 10–11. (Call no.: JRSING 959.57 LIM)
12. National Heritage Board. (2006). Discover Singapore heritage trails. Singapore: National Heritage Board, pp. 128–129. (Call no.: RSING 915.95704 DIS)
13. Ong, C. C. (2011). Operation Matador: World War II: Britain’s attempt to foil the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 940.542595 ONG)
14. Pocket-size parks. (1992, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Beri-beri treatment. (1908, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 7; Government notification. (1919, September 20). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. S. S. (S.) A. meeting minutes. (1931, December 15). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. The annual report. (1932, March 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Lee, K. L. (1988). The Singapore house, 1819–1942. Singapore: Times Editions for Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 109–110. (Call no.: RQUIK 728.095957 LEE); Edwards, N. (1990). The Singapore house and residential life 1819–1939. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 89. (Call no.: RSING 728.095957 EDW)
19. Edwards, N. (1990). The Singapore house and residential life 1819–1939. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 89. (Call no.: RSING 728.095957 EDW)
20. Edwards, N. (1990). The Singapore house and residential life 1819–1939. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 91. (Call no.: RSING 728.095957 EDW)
21. Brandel, J., & Turbeville, T. (1998). Tiger Balm Gardens: A Chinese billionaire’s fantasy environments. Hong Kong: Aw Boon Haw Foundation, pp. 43, 108–111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS]); Picture yourself in Hell. (2004, May 2). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Revamp of Haw Par Villa expected to begin in May. (1988, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Brandel, J., & Turbeville, T. (1998). Tiger Balm Gardens: A Chinese billionaire’s fantasy environments. Hong Kong: Aw Boon Haw Foundation, p. 109. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS]); New life for Haw Par Villa? (2008, October 20). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; New museum on Chinese heritage opens in Singapore. (2005, December 28). Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
24. STB appoints Journeys to run Haw Par Villa. (2015, August 22). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Channel NewsAsia website: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/stb-appoints-journeys-to/2065580.html; Haw Par Villa looks set for another makeover. (2015, September 27). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
25. Motorboat racing. (1928, December 28). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. National Parks Board. (n.d.). A guide to Heritage Roads of Singapore. Singapore: Author, p. 5. Retrieved 2016, June 3 from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/~/media/nparks-real-content/gardens-parks-and-nature/diy-walk/diy-walk-pdf-files/heritage-roads-of-singapore.pdf?la=en
27. Motor cycle hill climb. (1927, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Motor cycling. (1928, August 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Gurdial Singh wins Gap hill climb. (1939, May 15). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Singapore’s memory in stone on Kent Ridge. (1954, February 24). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Process of brick-making through the centuries. (1932, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Company highlights. (1972, July 3). The Straits Times, p. 1; Company highlights. (1972, December 29). The Straits Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Preparing opium for smokers. (1930, May 5). The Straits Times, p. 15; House of tiny tin tubes. (1930, May 7). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, June 2). Pepys Road No. 31K. Retrieved on 2016, June 2 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=PEPYSRD
35. Opium plant to become store. (1946, November 17). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. National Archives of Singapore. (2011). Battle for Singapore: Fall of the impregnable fortress. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425957 TAN)
37. Survivor’s art among WWII centre exhibits. (2002, February 7). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. National Archives of Singapore. (2011). Battle for Singapore: Fall of the impregnable fortress. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425957 TAN)
39. Nine new roads. (1948, July 17). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Problem no. 1 on the western front. (1970, August 4). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Kooi, C. T. (1993, June 29). Pasir Panjang: New sought-after residential district. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. $27 million power plant for colony. (1948, September 25). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Governor will open $93 mil power station. (1953, June 30). The Straits Times, p. 8; Power station opening is ‘beginning of a bright future’. (1953, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 7; Board keeps ahead of power needs. (1965, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Flats for power men cost millions. (1953, September 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Board keeps ahead of power needs. (1965, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Pasir Panjang’s landmark twin towers at power plant to go. (1991, April 12). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. British firm buys a Singapore refinery. (1964, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
48. BP to return Pasir Panjang refinery site to gov in Dec. (1998, October 12). The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
49. $75m. warehouse project completed. (1972, May 2). New Nation, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. PSA Corporation. (2003). PSA full ahead. Singapore: PSA Corporation, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING q387.1095957 PSA)
51. Tender for Pasir Panjang terminal. (1992, October 30). The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1992, May 29). Reclamation (Pasir Panjang) (Vol. 60). Singapore: Govt. Print. Off., cols. 36. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN)
52. Lim, A. (2015, June 24). Pasir Panjang Terminal’s $3.5b expansion kicks off. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
53. $100 mil projects plan for Pasir Panjang. (1977, January 16). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54. Wholesale produce centre. (1981, January 5). The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
55. Where greens are a bargain. (1984, May 7). The Straits Times, p. 7; Veg wholesale sites shifting to Pasir Panjang. (1983, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
56. Ang, Y. (2008, December 12). Is Pasir Panjang hub still viable? The Straits Times, p. 51. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
57. Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre getting an upgrade. (2015, June 16). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
58. SMRT complete trial runs at remaining Circle Line stations. (2011, October 4). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Tan, M. (2012, Decemebr 1). Pasir Panjang the next waterfront living belt? The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 8 July 2016 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.