Koon Seng Road

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala

Koon Seng Road, a two-way road, begins at the junction of Pennefather Road and Joo Chiat Road and ends at the junction of Lorong J Telok Kurau and Still Road.Named in 1934 after Cheong Koon Seng, a businessman, this road is popular for some beautiful residences along it.

Koon Seng Road was known as Lorong E East Coast before being renamed after Cheong Koon Seng (b. 1880 – d1932) in 1934. Cheong Koon Seng was the elder of two sons of Cheong Ann Bee, a wealthy first-generation Straits-born merchant from Malacca.2 Koon Seng, one of the first cohort of 13 students of Anglo-Chinese School, built the Theatre Royal and Star Opera Company on North Bridge Road in the 1870s with his brother Koon Hong. He was an auctioneer and a real estate agent.3 

Koon Seng Road was a predominantly residential area, but it had a vibrant business atmosphere as there were shophouses along the road. The road was also a Peranakan enclave in the past until the 1970s when the Peranakans began moving to other parts of Singapore. A few dreaded triads such as Gang 18 and 36th Pai operated in the vicinity of this road. Kampongs situated around the road proved to be good hideouts, especially for hiding weapons. Though violence was limited to inter-gang fights and did not affect the layman directly, scenes of violent fights are well remembered by those who grew up in the area in the 1950s.4

Several schools were located along Koon Seng Road. In 1925, the Katong Girls’ School was relocated to Koon Seng Road and renamed Choon Guan School. The English section of the school later became a separate school called Choon Guan English School in 1936, and was then renamed Presbyterian Boys’ School in 1950.

In 1938, Kuo Chuan Girls’ School was opened for girls at 36 Joo Chiat Lane, off Koon Seng Road. In 1985, Kuo Chuan Girls’ School and Presbyterian Boys' School amalgamated to form Kuo Chuan Presbyterian School, which further developed into Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School and Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School in 1987. Both schools relocated to Bishan in the late 1980s.5 Presently, Koon Seng Road is home to Haig Girls’ School.6

Along Koon Seng Road, there are well-designed picturesque two- to three-storey shophouses, terrace houses and homes, some in distinct Peranakan styles or ornate eclectic Chinese styles. Some of the residences on this street have been featured in books and won awards for their well-designed spaces. Most of the shophouses were built in the 1920s and 1930s and were gazetted for conservation in 1991.7 

Other buildings on this road include the Malacca Hotel, Charis Methodist Church and Sim Poh Seng Temple as well as numerous private apartments and condominiums such as Koon Seng Court and Tivoli Grande.8


Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Streetdirectory.com. Retrieved 2020, March 31 from Streetdirectory website: http://www.streetdirectory.com/sg/koon-seng-road/19561_1.html

2. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymicsSingapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 218. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); "Koon Seng Road"? (1934, April 9). Malaya Tribune, p. 2; New Roads. (1934, July 17). Malaya Tribune, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Street names of Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publications, p. 178. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
4. Kong, L., & Chang, T. C. (2001). Joo Chiat: A living legacy. Singapore: Joo Chiat Citizens’ Consultative Committee in association with National Archives of Singapore. p. 131. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 KON-[HIS])
5. A flame for truth: Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Schools 80th anniversary (1924–2004). (2004). [Singapore: Publication Team, Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Schools], p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 371.071095957 AFL); Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School. (n.d.). Our Story. Retrieved on 2020, July 7 from the Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School website: https://kuochuanpresbyterianpri.moe.edu.sg/about-us/history-and-heritage/our-story
6. Lau, E. (1999, November 13). New Haig Girls' to increase intake. The Straits Times, p. 63. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 301. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
8. Streetdirectory.com. Retrieved 2020, March 31 from Streetdirectory website: http://www.streetdirectory.com/sg/koon-seng-road/19561_1.html

Further resources
Gwee, E. (1999, December 18). Striking house for striking posesThe Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Powell, R. (1994). Living legacy: Singapore`s architectural heritage renewed. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, p. 88.
(Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 POW)

Tay, S. C. (2009, January 17). Marked for preservationThe Straits Times, p. 93. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 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.

Streets and Places
Street names--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore