by Cornelius-Takahama, Vernon
Tanjong Katong was an early landmark in Singapore. It marked the eastern boundary of the British settlement that Stamford Raffles established in 1819.1 The old boundaries of Tanjong Katong spanned the coastal stretch from Upper East Coast Road to Tanjong Rhu.2 While it is now a self-contained estate, Tanjong Katong used to be known for its boathouses and beachside retreats.3 The main Tanjong Katong Road now stretches from Sims Avenue to Tanjong Katong Road South, where Tanjong Katong Flyover links with East Coast Parkway.4
Tanjong katong is Malay for “turtle point”.5 Katong was a species of sea turtle that is now extinct, and it also refers to “the rippling effect of a sea mirage” when looking at a shoreline.6
In 1822, Raffles set aside the stretch between Sandy Point (the tip of Tanjong Rhu) and Deep Water Point (Tanjong Katong) as a marine yard. To give impetus to the new industry, Chinese settlers were provided compensation for moving out. By the 1860s, boat yards were proliferating there.7
Before reclamation in Marine Parade, Tanjong Katong fronted the sea.8 Wealthy Straits Chinese, Europeans and Jews built mansions, hotels and recreation clubs along the beach for weekend retreats. The area became known as a health resort and was peppered with residences.9
Many roads in the area, such as Boscombe and Poole roads, were named after English seaside towns.10 Stretching from Tanjong Katong Road to the former Grove Road (now Mountbatten Road) was a vast coconut estate known as the Grove Estate, which was owned by Thomas Dunman, Singapore’s first superintendent of police. The residential areas that we know today were well established by 1941.11
During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), the stretch of shophouses along Tanjong Katong Road, between Wilkinson and Goodman roads, housed “comfort women” (women who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese military) from Korea and Indonesia.12
Today, some of the shophouses still retain the atmosphere of the 1970s. Residents, however, had to contend with flooding in their homes and schools whenever the nearby Geylang River brimmed over during high tide or the rainy season.13 Tanjong Katong flooded six to 10 times a year, and this continued until 1993, when the river was deepened. Today, residents no longer climb into the river to catch crabs during low tide, but the river bank offers a pleasant walk and the waters no longer smell bad.14
The song, “Di-Tanjong Katong”, which was made a national song, sings of the tranquil atmosphere of Tanjong Katong with blue sea waters washing ashore.15
The lowest point on Singapore island is found in Tanjong Katong.16
Between East Coast Road and Dunman Road, Tanjong Katong is lined with two-storey shophouses and old-style kopitiams (Hokkien for “coffee shops”). Nearer Geylang Road are the shopping centres, City Plaza and Tanjong Katong Complex.17
The old Sea View Hotel was built in 1906 in the area.18 It was a landmark for many years, serving as a popular venue for social and cultural events in addition to being a hotel. It was demolished in the 1960s, and a new hotel with the same name was built at a site nearby.19 The second Sea View Hotel was demolished in 2004 and a condominium now occupies the site.20
Opened by 1933 and housed in an old two-storey colonial house,21 Katong Post Office is one of the oldest neighbourhood post offices still standing in its original location. It has since been renovated, shedding the colonial look, with an extension added to the building.22 Old-timers such as the stationery shop known as Katong News Agency and Shanghai Chen Hin Dry Cleaning Co. have been around for more than half a century.23
The main branch of Chung Cheng High School, located on Goodman Road, was a centre for many student demonstrations in the 1950s.24
Tanjong Katong Girls’ School (TKGS) once stood alongside Tanjong Katong Technical School, before the former moved to a new building further down Tanjong Katong Road.25 Tanjong Katong Technical School was renamed Tanjong Secondary School in 1993 and is currently sited on Haig Road.26 TKGS moved to nearby Dunman Lane in 1995,27 and its former site is now occupied by the Canadian International School.28
Hollywood Theatre, once famed for its films and the hosting of Chinese film stars such as Siao Fong Fong and Fung Bo Bo, closed down in 1995. The premises were subsequently leased to City Harvest Church for three years.29
Described a place with “old-world charm”, the Urban Redevelopment Authority gave designated Tanjong Katong as a conserved area in 2003.30
1. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 373. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
2. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1994). Marine Parade planning area: Planning report 1994. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
3. Yeo, S. (1996, November 24). Area used to be seaside resort. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Mighty minds street directory. (2015). Singapore: Angel Publishing Pte Ltd. (Call no.: RSING q912.5957 MMSD-[DIR])
5. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1994). Marine Parade planning area: Planning report 1994. Singapore: Author, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 373. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
6. Ramachandra, S. (1961). Singapore landmarks, past and present. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 RAM-[HIS])
7. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 206. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
8. Loh, K. F. (2000, April 30). The lure of Tanjong Katong. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Untitled. (1909, April 6). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ho, O. (2015, February 6). Winds of change stir laid-back Tanjong Katong; Mall, cafes pop up as old shops adapt to the times and landmarks vanish. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
11. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1994). Marine Parade planning area: Planning report 1994. Singapore: Author, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
12. Phan, M. Y. (1993, August 30). At least 5 places here used for comfort women. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Yeo, K. (1995, May 27). Putting an end to flood woes. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Tan, H. Y. (1995, May 28). Floods in Tanjong Katong now a thing of the past. The Straits Times, p. 22; Geylang River turns the tide from swamp to park. (1995, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Di Tanjong Katong. (1991, March 27). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. 22 tide gates needed. (1998, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Yeo, S. (1996, November 24). Area used to be seaside resort. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Sin Chew Jit Poh & Archives and Oral History Department. (1982). Singapore retrospect through postcards 1900–1930. Singapore: Sin Chew Jit Poh & Archives and Oral History Department, p. 88. (Call no.: RSING 769.4995957 SIN)
19. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 388–389. (Call no.: RSING 915.57 EDW-[TRA]); Teo, G. (2003, August 26). View point. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Sea View of yore. (2004, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. From day to day. (1933, November 28). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). (1951, February 21). Katong Post Office [Photograph no. PCD0091-012]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
22. Di Tanjong Katong. (1991, March 27). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; You’ve got mail… Singapore’s former/old post offices [Blog post]. (2012, July 10). Remember Singapore. Retrieved from Remember Singapore website: https://remembersingapore.org/2012/07/10/singapore-former-old-post-offices/
23. Ho, O. (2015, February 6). Winds of change stir laid-back Tanjong Katong; Mall, cafes pop up as old shops adapt to the times and landmarks vanish. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
24. Sharp, I., & Koh, Y. P. (1978, December 14). Good or bad, Chung Cheng takes all. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Henson, B. (2007, November 25). Wanted: Familiar places and faces to feel at home. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tanjong Katong Secondary School. (n.d.). Our rich heritage. Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Tanjong Katong Secondary School website: http://tanjongkatongsec.moe.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/about_us/our_rich_heritage.html
27. Tanjong Katong Girls’ School. (n.d.). Milestones. Retrieved 2016, November 15 from Tanjong Katong Girls’ School website: http://tkgs.moe.edu.sg/about-tkgs/milestones
28. Canadian International School. (n.d.). Tanjong Katong campus. Retrieved 2016, November 15 from Canadian International School website: https://www.cis.edu.sg/page.cfm?p=6964
29. Seah, L. (1995, June 16). Hollywood cinema now a church. The Straits Times, p. 11; Tan, R. (1996, March 8). $1m for this change. The New Paper, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Cascon, G., & Croucher, J. (2002, July 30). Long, long ago, there was a water village… The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Conservation: Tanjong Katong. Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=TGKATG
The information in this article is valid as at 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.