The original Clemenceau Avenue stretched from Newton Circus to the southern bank of the Singapore River.1 It was conceived as an alternative access between the northwestern sector of the city and Orchard Road, which was then served by Cairnhill Road and Cavenagh Road.2 Today, Clemenceau Avenue is cut by the roadways and tunnels of the Central Expressway (CTE).
Clemenceau Avenue was named after Georges Clemenceau (b. 1841–d. 1929),3 twice premier of France who visited Singapore from 17 to 22 October 1920.4 Clemenceau was on an eastern tour of the Far East and invited to witness the laying of the foundation stone of the Cenotaph at the Esplanade.5 In honour of his courage and fortitude during World War I (1914–18), the municipal commissioners obtained Clemenceau’s consent to use his name for the new main road linking up Orchard Road with Bukit Timah Road.6 Clemenceau inaugurated the ground-breaking ceremony of the construction of Clemenceau Avenue on 22 October 1920.7 During the occasion, he also planted two trees, one on each side of the new road.8 In his acknowledgement speech, Clemenceau hailed the avenue as a symbol of friendship between England and France.9
Although construction of the road was meant to have begun in 1920, work did not commence until 1928.10 Construction of this road was expensive due to its extent. A section of Tank Road, stretching from Orchard Road to Fort Canning Road, was replaced by the Clemenceau Avenue extension to River Valley Road.11 The first part of the road opened in November 1929.12 On 13 December 1929, a committee of the Municipal Commission approved an excess expenditure of $12,000 on Clemenceau Avenue.13 Another $74,000 was approved by the Municipal Commission in 1933 for extension works from Cuppage Road to Newton Circus,14 for which acquisitions of land was required.15
Clemenceau Avenue was the first road to feature mercury-vapour electric lamps – 28 of these were installed in the section between Cavenagh Road and Newton Circus.16 Old gas-filled lamps were replaced by lamps on spun-concrete poles with underground wiring. The replacement works cost $13,000 and was completed in March 1940.17
Being part of the vibrant Orchard Road belt, many prominent landmarks of public interest were and are still located on Clemenceau Avenue. One of Singapore’s earliest railway station, which operated from 1903 to 1932, once stood at the junction between the current Tank Road and Clemenceau Avenue.18 The railway track ran through what is now Clemenceau Avenue, across Orchard Road, via Cuppage Road to near Newton Circus, and continued in a northwestern direction.19
At the corner of Clemenceau Avenue and Penang Road intersection lie the Chinese architectural building and historical House of Tan Yeok Nee, which has been there since 1885. The house served as the residence of the railway station master at one point before it became the Salvation Army Command Headquarters, and subsequently the Asian campus for the University of Chicago Booth School of Business after restoration works.20
George Lee Motors once stood at the site where the Singapore Shopping Centre. Retail giant Metro acquired the land from George Lee Motors in 1972, and five years later, sold it to the proprietor of the Singapore Shopping Centre.21 Next to it at 182 Clemenceau Avenue was where the radio company Rediffusion had its beginnings. The Rediffusion building was a landmark from 1949 till the mid-’80s at its peak of popularity.22
Clemenceau Avenue also runs along the left side of the Istana grounds at the Orchard Road junction. The National Theatre (at the corner of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road) and the Van Kleef Aquarium (at the foot of Fort Canning Hill near River Valley Road), also situated along Clemenceau Avenue, were attractions for Singaporeans until their eventual closure.23
Vernon Cornelius and Gladys Low
1. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 247. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
2. “Clemenceau Avenue,” Straits Times, 23 October 1920, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Last Moments of ‘The Tiger’,” Straits Times, 25 November 1929, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “M. Clemenceau: Singapore Gives Splendid Welcome,” Straits Times, 18 October 1920, 9; “Georges Clemenceau,” Straits Times, 16 October 1920, 8 (From NewspaperSG); “Clemenceau Avenue.”
5. S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmark (Singapore: [s.n.], 1969), 21 (Call no. RSING 959.57 RAM-[HIS]); S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 34–37. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM)
6. “M. Clemenceau”; “M. Clemenceau: Visit to Singapore Recalled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 26 November 1929, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Clemenceau Avenue”; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 247.
8. “Clemenceau Avenue,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 23 October 1920, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “M. Clemenceau”; “Visit to Singapore Recalled.”
10. “Clemenceau Avenue,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 6 December 1928, 9; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 14 May 1925, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmark, 20–21.
12. “Visit to Singapore Recalled”; “New Traffic Route Planned,” Straits Times, 7 November 1929, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Singapore Roads,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 21 December 1929, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Municipal Commission,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 7 November 1933, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Singapore City Is Worth $17 Millions,” Straits Times, 19 August 1936, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Modern Road Lighting,” Straits Times, 1 April 1939, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “One Singapore Road Has Modern Lighting,” Straits Times, 29 February 1940, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
18. National Archives of Singapore, Tank Road Railway Station, Singapore, 1903, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005492–0076); “Singapore’s Ghost Railway Is All but Laid,” Straits Times, 13 October 1935, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 464.
20. “House of Tan Yeok Nee,” National Heritage Board, accessed 5 April 2016.
21. Leslie Fong, “Metro Gets $3.8 M Land for Fourth Store,” Straits Times, 12 June 1971, 5; “Another Complex Soon,” New Nation, 2 September 1977, 4; Tsang Sau Yin, “Shopping – the ABC Way,” Business Times, 13 June 1978, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 234; Wong Kwan, Rediffusion House at Clemenceau Avenue, 23 July 1950, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005860-0022)
23. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmark, 21.
The information in this article is valid as of 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.
Streets and Places