Great Southern Hotel and Nam Tin building

Also known as Southern Hotel or Nam Tin, the Great Southern Hotel commenced operations in 1927. Occupying a building named Nam Tin at the junction of Eu Tong Sen Street and Cross Street, it was the first Chinese hotel in Singapore with a lift. Nam Tin was the tallest building in Chinatown when it was built.1

The Great Southern Hotel was situated at 70 Eu Tong Sen Street.2 It occupied a building constructed in 1927 and owned by Lum Chang Holdings. The building was called Nam Tin, which means “southern sky” in Cantonese.3 Lum Chang Holdings leased the building to several tenants who operated shops and other businesses, including the Great Southern Hotel.4 Unlike the upmarket hotels such as Raffles, Goodwood Park and Adelphi which accommodated English-speaking visitors then, the Great Southern Hotel was operated by the Cantonese and catered more to Chinese travellers, including celebrities from Hong Kong and mainland China.5

In 1993, Lum Chang Holdings sold Nam Tin for about S$25 million to Yu Kwok Chun. Head of a multinational business empire based in Hong Kong, Yu made his flagship store, Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium Limited, into a household name. Following Yu’s purchase of Nam Tin, existing tenants vacated the building and were paid a compensation sum. The Great Southern Hotel made its exit from the building in February 1994. After renovation works, the building was converted into a departmental store, Yue Hwa Chinese Products.

As Nam Tin had been gazetted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for conservation, Yu was asked to preserve the building’s facade, though no restrictions were placed on its interiors. As a result, Nam Tin’s rooftop garden and quaint balconies facing Eu Tong Sen Street were retained.7
Built and designed by architectural firm Swan & Maclaren, the building was designed after the “functional” and “rational” Modern Movement style. Design features such as strong horizontal lines with angular arches and simple cornices were applied to the building, complete with an ordinary looking facade. The building’s standout features include its special metal railings and grills, which were considered fashionable in the 1930s. The six-storey building was the tallest one in Chinatown when it was built, while the Great Southern Hotel was the first Chinese hotel in Singapore equipped with a lift.8

Shops were located on the ground floor, while hotel rooms on the second and third floors. The popular Nam Tin Restaurant was housed on the fourth floor, and the fifth floor was occupied by the famed nightclub, Southern Cabaret. A tea house was located on the roof terrace.9 Once considered the Raffles of Chinatown, the building was visited by customers for its shops, entertainment outlets and cabaret.10 Dance hostesses dressed in colourful cheongsam with thigh-high slits used to greet guests at Southern Cabaret. These girls were called “taxi dancers”, because like taxis, they could be hired for dances.11
By the time of its closure in 1994, the Great Southern Hotel was operating only 40 rooms. Each room was equipped with a double-bed and ceiling fan, and cost as little as S$40 a night.12

After Yu bought over Nam Tin, the building’s interior was revamped to accommodate an open layout suitable for a departmental store.13 A three-storey extension was also constructed at its rear.14 Yue Hwa Chinese Products invested nearly S$100 million to set up the store, including the building acquisition costs.15 Most of the main building’s original architectural features were retained and carefully restored.16 In 1997, the building won the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Architectural Heritage Award for its conservation and restoration work.17

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. “Nantian jiu lou xin zhang guanggao” 南天酒樓新張廣告 [The new advertisement of Nantian Restaurant], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商, 14 February 1927, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Robert Powell, Singapore Architecture (Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 2004), 64 (Call no. RSING 720.95957 POW); Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 403 (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, 1991), 82 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-HIS]); Sit Yin Fong, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel as Retail Store,” Straits Times, 16 April 1994, 10; “$25M Spent to Restore, Extend Building,” Straits Times, 10 July 1997, 37; Ou Rubai 区如柏, “Xiri de xianggelila nantian zouguo 63 nian” 昔日的香格里拉南天走过63年 [The old Shangri-La Nantian has gone through 63 years], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 9 September 1990, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Diana Oon, “Well-Preserved Winners,” Business Times, 10 July 1997, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Sit, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel”; Ou Rubai, “Xiri de xianggelila nantian zouguo 63 nian.”
4. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 82; IIsa Sharp, Path of the Righteous Crane: The Life and Legacy of Eu Tong Sen (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2009), 152–53. (Call no. RSING 338.7616151092 SHA)
5. Chan Kwee Sung, “Three Inns That Were Forerunners of Five-Star Hotel Establishments,” Straits Times, 22 April 1994, 53. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Sit, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel”; Jenny Lam, “HK-Based Yue Hwa Opens $100M Department Store,” Business Times, 10 October 1996, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Sit, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel.”
8. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 403; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 82; Sharp, Path of the Righteous Crane, 152–53.
9. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 403; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 82; Sharp, Path of the Righteous Crane, 152–53; Sit, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel.”
10. Koh Boon Pin, “Chinatown’s History Lives On,” Straits Times, 14 July 2000, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Sit, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel.”
12. Sit, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel.”
13. Sit, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel.”
14. “$25M Spent to Restore.”
15. Lam, “HK-Based Yue Hwa Opens $100M Department Store.”
16. Sit, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel”; Oon, “Well-Preserved Winners.”
17. Oon, “Well-Preserved Winners.”

The information in this article is valid as at August 2019 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.


Commercial buildings
Historic buildings--Singapore