Orchard Road is a major tourist and shopping belt in central Singapore. It runs 2.2 km from the junction of Tanglin Road and Orange Grove Road to Dhoby Ghaut.1 Orchard Road is said to have obtained its name from the orchards and plantations that existed in the area until the turn of the 20th century.
Acres of nutmeg plantations started in the Orchard Road area in the 1830s.2 Along both sides of the road were fruit tree orchards, spice gardens and pepper farms.3
The Bencoolen Malay community, who came to Singapore in the 1820s, settled in the areas from Bencoolen Street to Kramat Road and Kramat Lane.4 The Bugis cemetery there existed till 1973, when the area was cleared.5 A Jewish cemetery was started nearby in 1841, and the Teochew Ngee Ann Kongsi established a cemetery, Tai Shan Ting, along Orchard Road between Grange and Paterson Roads in 1845.6 In the 1840s, no houses existed to the south of Orchard Road.
From 1847, floods were reported in the area. The collapse of nutmeg prices worldwide in the 1840s, coupled with the outbreak of a destructive disease and pests in 1857, led to the failure of the nutmeg plantations.7 By 1860, only a few plantations were left.8 After the failure of the nutmeg plantations, Orchard Road began to be developed as a residential area.9
The Government House, built in 1869, was renamed Istana Negara in 1959 when Singapore achieved self-government (it was later renamed Istana after Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965).10 In 1878, the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church was built nearby, at the Bras Basah end of Orchard Road.11 Edwin Koek, son-in-law of Thomas Oxley, then started a private market on his property on Orchard Road in 1880.12 It later became the popular Orchard Road Market, where Cuppage Plaza now sits between Cuppage Road and Koek Road, providing fresh produce for residents until the mid-1960s.13
The first shophouses on Orchard Road were built close to Dhoby Ghaut following the growth of the city centre.14 Thai King Chulalongkorn, who visited Singapore in the early 1890s, acquired Hurricane House, and it subsequently became the Thai Embassy, which still stands near the junction of Orchard Road and Scotts Road.15
Commercial developments on Orchard Road began in the early 20th century.16 On 30 March 1905, the Singapore Cold Storage opened its first store.17
Near Dhoby Ghaut, the Young Men’s Christian Association was built and completed in 1911.18 Amber Mansions was built in the 1920s and demolished in 1984.19
The Ngee Ann Kongsi exhumed their Orchard Road cemetery, Tai Shan Ting, in the 1950s and erected Ngee Ann Building on part of the land in 1957.20 A year later, in 1958, C.K. Tang Department store opened opposite and became a prominent landmark with its Chinese-styled roof.21 Parts of the former Tai Shan Ting were leased out to other buildings like Wisma Indonesia in 1961, which housed the offices of the Indonesian Consul-General and Indonesian state enterprises, and Orchard Bowling Alley in 1965.22
The Cold Storage Magnolia Snack Bar, where the Centrepoint Shopping Complex stands today, was a popular hangout in the 1960s and offered ice cream, cake and other refreshments.23
The site of former Prince's Hotel Garni (1955–73) was occupied by Crown Prince Hotel from 1984 to 2004 and subsequently by Hotel Grand Park Orchard.24 The Orchard Road carpark hawker stalls were popular with both tourists and locals from the late 1960s to the late 1970s.25
Hotel and shopping belt
In the 1970s and 1980s, commercial and hotel development along the road intensified. Hotels and shopping centres were built, such as Mandarin Hotel (1973), with rare views of the road from the Top of the M revolving restaurant on the 39th Floor; Plaza Singapura (1974) with its anchor tenant, Yaohan Supermarket; and the pagoda-styled Marriott Hotel (formerly Dynasty Hotel, 1982).26 The busy Orchard Road also became a one-way street from 1974, with the introduction of the Orchard Road-Orchard Boulevard pair scheme.27
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw continuing major developments with the building of the North-South MRT line’s Orchard, Somerset and Dhoby Ghaut stations, and Ngee Ann City, then Singapore’s largest shopping centre.28 The construction of Dhoby Ghaut MRT station required the demolition of the Jewish cemetery, Amber Mansions and Sivan Temple.29
In 2005, when there had been no new malls along Orchard Road for about a decade, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) released two plots of land for sale. These would become Ion Orchard and Orchard Central. New malls near Somerset MRT station include Orchard Central, 313@Somerset and Orchard Gateway. The redevelopment of Specialists’ Shopping Centre and Orchard Emerald was completed in 2014, along with the first link bridge across Orchard Road between Orchard Emerald and Orchard Gateway.30 The Singapore Tourism Board also renovated the pedestrian walkways and created spaces for outdoor performances.31
Orchard Road has had both hostile and celebratory events in Singapore. Two bombs went off in Orchard Road, the first on 10 March 1965 at MacDonald House during the Indonesian Confrontation period,32 and the other at Faber House on 17 March 1985, when plastic explosives were used.33
Since 1984, Christmas has been marked by festive decorations and an official street light-up on Orchard Road.34 From the 1980s, public events like the annual Chingay parades and National Day Float Procession were held there. When “Swing Singapore” took place on Orchard Road from 1988 to 1992 as part of the National Day celebrations, it was closed to traffic and people gathered for a mass dance party on the street.35
Commercial street events are also held on Orchard Road, such as Fashion Steps Out, a fashion runway shop; and Rev-Up, held in conjunction with the Singapore Grand Prix.36
To attract more visitors to Orchard Road, the monthly Pedestrian Night was organised by the Orchard Road Business Association with the support of the Singapore Tourism Board, from October 2014 to February 2016. On the first Saturday of the month from 6pm to 11pm, a 660-metre stretch of the shopping strip was closed to traffic.37 Although the event attracted twice the regular Saturday night crowds, it did not result in better business. Visitors were drawn to the road, where the events were taking place, instead of the malls. The monthly event was discontinued in February 2016.38
As Orchard Road lies in a depression, floods were common in the area up to the 1950s and 1960s, when the widening and deepening of canals allowed for an outflow through Stamford Canal.39
On 16 June 2010, heavy rainfall led to the overflowing of the Stamford Canal and floods of up to 30 cm deep along Orchard Road. The basements of older buildings such as Lucky Plaza, Liat Towers and Delfi Orchard were flooded.40
In January 2019, plans were announced to make Orchard Road more lively, with new retail concepts, attractions, entertainment and events.41 The National Parks Board (NParks) will plant more trees and shrubs along Orchard Road, with a different colour palette for the sub-precincts of Tanglin, Somerset, Orchard and Dhoby Ghaut.42
In February 2020, NParks and the URA announced plans for the 1.3-hectare Istana Park along Orchard Road. The park will be expanded to more than three times its current size and feature an orchid-themed garden and a nature play garden. A section of Orchard Road, from Buyong Road to Handy Road, will be pedestrianised, so that Istana Park will be better integrated with the Istana entrance and commercial establishments in the area.43
Hokkien: Tanglin Market Street is Tang Leng Pa Sat Koi.44
Tamil: The section of Orchard Road nearer to Dhoby Ghuat is known as Vairakimadam, meaning “Fakir’s Place” or “Ascetic’s Place”.45 The hilly stretch from Koek’s Market to Upper Tanglin is known as Mettu Than, which means “high ground”.46
Vernon Cornelius and Anasuya Soundararajan
1. Singapore Tourism Board, “About Orchard Road,” media release, accessed May 2021.
2. “Road to the Future,” Straits Times, 26 February 2008, 117. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Orchard Road: The Chameleon,” Singapore Monitor, 19 February 1984, 43. (From NewspaperSG)
4. National Heritage Board, Orchard Heritage Trail: A Companion Guide (Singapore: National Heritage Board, 2018), 23. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ORC)
5. National Heritage Board, Orchard Heritage Trail, 23.
6. Tan Gia Lim, An Introduction to the Culture and History of the Teochews in Singapore (Singapore: World Scientific, 2018), 74. (Call no. RSING 305.8951095957 TAN)
7. Emma Reisz, “City as Garden: Shared Space in the Urban Botanic Gardens of Singapore and Malaysia, 1786–2000,” in Postcolonial Urbanism: Southeast Asian Cities and Global Processes, ed., Ryan Bishop, John Phillips and Wei-Wei Yeo (New York: Routledge, 2003), 131 (Call no. RSING 307.760959 POS); National Heritage Board, Orchard Heritage Trail, 23.
8. “The Chameleon”; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 162.
9. National Heritage Board, Orchard Heritage Trail, 8–9, 24.
10 “The Past and the Present,” Straits Times, 12 May 1988, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Anne Johnson, The Burning Bush (Singapore: Dawn Publications, 1988), 28–29 (Call no. RSING 285.25957 JOH); “1877,” Singapore Daily Times, 15 January 1878, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Bonny Tan, “Orchard Road Presbyterian Church,” Singapore Infopedia, April 2020.
12. Lee Kip Lin, Emerald Hill: The Story of a Street in Words and Pictures (Singapore: National Museum, 1984), 2–4. (Call no. RSING 959.57 LEE)
13. “The Chameleon.”
14. “Orchard Road Shophouses Get New Lease of Life,” Business Times, 18 May 1989, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “The Chameleon.”
16. National Heritage Board, Orchard Heritage Trail, 50.
17. “Supermarket Milestones,” Straits Times, 11 March 2003, L5. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Lamech Gevin Png Thian Ching, Service to the Community: History of the Young Men’s Christian Association in Singapore, 1902–1986 (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 2000), 6–7. (Call no. RSING 267.395957 PNG)
19. Alan John and Raj Dhaliwal, “Changing Scenes at MRT Sites,” Straits Times, 23 April 1984, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Tan, Introduction to the Culture and History, 74.
21. “The Chameleon.”
22. Tan, Introduction to the Culture and History, 74; “$4.5 mil. ‘Wisma Indonesia’,” Straits Times, 1 November 1961, 4; “Cathay Organisation’s $6mil. Entertainment Centre Opens,” Straits Times, 7 January 1965, 9.
23. Yeo Ghim Lay, “Merry Widows and Sweet Temptations,” Straits Times, 9 April 2005, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Prince’s Hotel Garni, 1960, photograph, Lim Kheng Chye Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005120 – 0051)
25. “The Hawkers,” New Nation, 10 August 1972, 11; “Days Numbered for Car Park Food Stalls,” Straits Times, 18 March 1977, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 162.
26. “Gourmet Night for 2,000 at the Top of the M,” Straits Times, 31 July 1973, 13; Lyn Chan, “Goodbye…for Now,” Straits Times, 24 December 2007, 22 (From NewspaperSG); Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 162.
27. Poteik Chia, “Orchard Boulevard-Orchard Road System from Sunday,” Straits Times, 22 February 1974, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Francis Lim, “The New Players along Orchard Road,” Business Times, 24 October 1989, 12; “Retailers Lay Out the Red Carpet to Tap the Great Orchard Rush,” (1987, December 12). Straits Times, 12 December 1987, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Peter Keys, “Last Look at a Landmark,” Straits Times, 14 June 1984, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Rennie Whang, “Who's Who of Orchard Road,” Straits Times, 15 July 2015.
31. Collin Anderson, DP Architects on Orchard Road: Evolution of a Retail Streetscape (Australia: Images Publishing Group, 2012), 69. (Call no. RSING 725.21095957 AND)
32. “It Wasn’t All Peace and Quiet,” Straits Times, 19 August 2005, 106. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Gillian Pow Chong and Ng Weng Hoong, “Faber House Explosion,” Straits Times, 18 March 1985, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “Christmas Light-Up in More Areas This Year,” Straits Times, 12 November 1992, 20; Seah Mei Kiang, “Bright X’mas It Will Be Every Year,” Singapore Monitor, 14 December 1984, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “Swing Singapore,” Straits Times, 29 August 1988, 17; “Swing Singapore Out, Padang Campfire In,” Straits Times, 23 July 1992, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Whang, “Who's Who of Orchard Road.”
37. Whang, “Who's Who of Orchard Road.”
38. Valerie Koh, “Pedestrian Nights on Orchard Road Have Had No Real Impact, Retailers Say,” Today, 5 February 2016, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 162.
40. Whang, “Who's Who of Orchard Road.”
41. Tiffany Fumiko Tay, “Major Revamp of Orchard Road Announced with New Developments, Different Offerings in Sub-precincts,” Straits Times, 30 January 2019.
42. Tay, “Major Revamp of Orchard Road.”
43. Melissa Heng, “Part of Orchard Road to Be Pedestrianised, Istana Park Expanded as Part of Revamp,” Straits Times, 13 February 2020.
44. National Heritage Board, Orchard Heritage Trail, 3; Jackie Sam, “Orchard Road in Retrospect,” Singapore Monitor, 21 October 1984, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 203.
45. National Heritage Board, Orchard Heritage Trail, 3; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 203.
46. National Heritage Board, Orchard Heritage Trail, 3; Sam, “Orchard Road in Retrospect.”
Fiona Tan, “Over Orchard,” BiblioAsia 10, no. 3 (2014).
The information in this article is valid as of May 2021 and correct as far as we can 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.
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