Stamford House, located at the junction of Stamford Road and Hill Street, is an ornate building designed in the Venetian Renaissance style favoured during the Victorian era. Built in 1904, it was designed by Swan and Maclaren architect R. A. J. Bidwell as a commercial entity.1 The building was better known as a hotel until it was sold in 1963 to a commercial enterprise.2 It was then acquired by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 1984 for conservation and redevelopment.3 The building will be reopened in the third quarter of 2015 as part of a new hotel.4
Completed in 1904, the 25,500-square-foot (2,396 sq m) three-storey building was designed by Regent Alfred John Bidwell (commonly referred to as R. A. J. Bidwell) of architecture firm Swan and Maclaren, based on the requirements of Whiteaway, Laidlaw and Co. The latter owned a department store in Singapore in the early 20th century.5 The building’s first two storeys were used for retail, while the uppermost floor was used for residential purposes.6 As the building was increasingly used as a hotel in later years, the second floor was subsequently converted for residential use.7
Typical of the High Victorian era, the building features intricate details associated with a Venetian Renaissance style applied in commercial buildings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Classical elements of Stamford House include the central raised pediment, triangular ones at the ends of the symmetrical building, second-floor Venetian windows, keystone arches, as well as the ornate entablature (the horizontal section above columns) and roof balustrade.8 The main entrance features solid granite columns, and the windows are all timber casement.9 The building’s charm is said to lie in its Victorian ornamental detailing and mouldings, particularly its floral friezes. The floral design is echoed in the cast-iron grills placed above the shopfronts.10 Early pictures of the building show that it had a turret at its frontage, but this no longer exists.11
It also has design features that take into account Singapore’s tropical weather.12 The arcaded walkway, for example, allows natural light into the interiors while also encouraging traffic into shops, as passers-by can linger by the windowed shopfronts in comfort, shaded from the sun and rain.13 The arcade on the ground floor also provides more flexibility in the usage of the upper-floor space.14
A second burglary in June 1905 led Swan and Maclaren to install telescopic gates for better security.15 In 1907, electric lighting at the shop windows and electric fans were installed in the Whiteaway store, brightening the shopfront in the evenings and during nighttime. Whiteaway was reportedly the first company in Singapore to use large-scale electric lighting at shop windows as a form of advertising.16
In 1991, the URA led a three-year S$13-million conservation project — its first major conservation work — to restore the building’s unique design.17 Batae Engineering was the main contractor. Some of the building’s characteristic Victorian detailing was only revealed during the restoration work. These include the floral frieze (which had hitherto not been recorded anywhere), granite columns carved out of a single granite slab – a priceless work today – and cast-iron grilles in the same floral design as the frieze.18
During restoration, at least half of the plasterwork and cornices on the exterior were found to be damaged. Many of the wooden floorboards had to be replaced with chengal – timber that is capable of withstanding tropical weather. The restoration of each element was carefully matched with the style of the original design. With minimal intrusion on the sensibilities of the original building, modern amenities – such as central air-conditioning, skylight, escalators and lifts – were added. An annexe block was built to house the bathrooms, toilets and water tanks. All three floors were converted into shopping space, expanding its total gross floor area to 6,530 sq m (64.6 sq ft), with about 3,345 sq m (32.3 sq ft) of rentable space.19
Without the original plan drawings for its interiors, much of the inspiration for the building’s interior renovations was drawn from the exterior design. Echoing the classical style, chengal was used along the escalators and for the lifts, while the interior features plastered friezes and mouldings similar to those on the exterior. Brass lamps of an antique design and brass doors for the lifts were also added for a sense of old-world charm.20
Stamford House was gazetted for conservation on 16 July 2007.21
The property was named Oranje Building by its Armenian owner Seth Paul of Stephens, Paul & Co.22 However, it was commonly referred to as the Whiteaway, Laidlaw and Co. Building during its initial years, as the department store of the same name was the main tenant then.23
Whiteaway, Laidlaw and Co. had relocated its business from Raffles Place to Stamford Road, hoping to attract other businesses to the area and thus build a business centre at that part of town. Whiteaway was located at the corner of the building; other tenants at the time – such as jewellers Weill and Zerner, Thompson Thomas & Co. from Australia, and Watts and Co., a highly regarded saddler and bootmaker – took the space flanking the department store. While businesses fronted the first two floors, the uppermost floor served as residences and the building’s rear was a godown (warehouse) for delivery and stocking of goods.24 Unfortunately, the location did not prove profitable, and Whiteaway returned to Raffles Place in 1915 after vacating Oranje Building the same year.25
Aviet Sarkies, who at the time was running the hotels under Messrs Sarkies Brothers, addressed the shortage of rooms at Raffles Hotel by leasing the upper two floors of the Oranje Building so that overflow customers could be accommodated. The 40-room annexe closed in 1913. When Aviet left Singapore in 1918, Martyrose Arathoon took over his duties and went back to leasing the upper floors of the Oranje Building for Raffles Hotel. Arathoon wanted to transform the building into a high-end hotel, so in 1920 he renovated the whole Oranje Building.26
The Sarkies named their new hotel The Grosvenor Hotel.27 Opened on 1 August 1921, The Grosvenor was marketed as a “family hotel” and known interchangeably as The Annexe or Raffles Annexe. The 50-room outfit did not merely serve as an overflow accommodation for guests of the Raffles Hotel but aimed to become a first-class, modern hotel in its own right. The Grosvenor had its own billiard room, and its bath fittings were supposedly the most exceptional among Singapore’s hotels then.28
After The Grosvenor closed in August 1926 and its furniture auctioned off, Stephens, Paul and Co. put up the private unfurnished flats for long-term rentals and set up a restaurant on the ground floor.29 The rooms were renovated and renamed Stamford Hotel and Restaurant in September 1926. It was managed by G. M. Gregory who had previously worked for Raffles Hotel and subsequently The Grosvenor.30 Less than a year later, however, the enterprise was shut. The apartments were taken over by Hoseb Arathoon from Stephens, Paul and Co. on a five-year lease and the Grosvenor name was reinstated.31 Rooms continued to be let out, some of which were taken up by long-term tenants.32
Seth Paul’s daughter, Klara van Hien, returned to Singapore from England in 1933, mainly to address irregularities with the running of The Grosvenor and take over the management of the hotel. While a series of lawsuits went on over a number of years between van Hien and Hoseb Arathoon, who had been running the hotel, van Hien renamed the entity and remodelled it.33 By 1934, it had been remodelled with the addition of new furniture, including a full-size billiard table, and was known as the Oranje Hotel. Its advertisements promoted the hotel as offering comforts away from the usual bustle of the hotel area but promised that transport was convenient with buses plying by its doors.34 The Oranje Hotel was probably used as a hotel during the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945), as two rooms had large bathrooms typically used by the Japanese.35
After the war, van Hien returned to manage the building. The rooms on the upper floor were rented out individually as private apartments; each room was fitted with individual electric meters. Cooking was done by the tenants’ servants at the rear of the ground floor to prevent accidental fire.36
Stamford House and conservation
In 1963, van Hein sold the Oranje Hotel to Basco Enterprises.37 The new owner carried out extensive rewiring and internal reconstruction to modernise the building and ensure it met the fire safety standards of the day. Basco Enterprises named it Stamford House soon after these renovations; by 1969, the building was referred to by its new name.38 Basco Enterprises’ Bobby-O Department Store, which mainly sold electronic equipment and jewellery, was opened in the building likely in the 1970s and remained there until the 1980s.39
Stamford House was acquired in 1984 by the URA for S$5 million under the Land Acquisition Act. Basco Enterprises delayed vacating the premises, claiming that it had plans to conserve the building and that the payout for the acquisition ought to be higher. In 1989, Basco Enterprises lost the lawsuit against the government over the titleship, and its subsequent appeal was also overturned.40
In 1988, as part of redevelopment plans for the historical district of Singapore, Stamford House was earmarked for conservation and revitalisation under repurposed commercial functions.41 In May 1991, because of road-widening requirements, a decision was made to forgo the preservation of the four-storey Eu Court in favour of Stamford House, which was located opposite, as the latter was deemed to have greater commercial potential.42 Later the same year, Stamford House underwent extensive conservation and restoration works.43
Stamford House reopened on 28 March 1995 as a furnishing retail complex, with added amenities such as central air-conditioning, escalators and lifts.44 All three floors were converted into retail space; the restored building featured 22 shops, with Pennsylvania House, a Shaker-style furniture shop, as its anchor tenant.45 In 2001, it was revealed that Pennsylvania House had been operating in the red and its rent was in arrears. The government repossessed its premises when the furniture chain suddenly closed down.46
In 2008, three conserved buildings – Stamford House, Capitol Building and Capitol Theatre – were offered to potential developers as a single integrated site for commercial redevelopment. Besides conserving the exteriors of these heritage buildings, the developer was to include a hotel in the project.47 An economic downturn, however, led to plans being shelved.48
In 2011, Capitol Investment Holdings won the tender for the project, while Shimizu Corporation was contracted to undertake the construction of the development.49 Stamford House and Capitol Building were redesigned as a six-star hotel called The Patina, Capitol Singapore. The 157-room hotel, designed by American company Richard Meier & Partners Architects, alongside local firm architects61, features the “Bidwell Suite”, named after the original architect of Stamford House.50
1. M. Gretchen, Pastel Portraits: Singapore’s Architectural Heritage (Singapore: Singapore Coordinating Committee, 1984), 75. (Call no. RCLOS 722.4095957 PAS); “Singapore Improvements,” Straits Times, 4 April 1905, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Ray Tyers, “From Hotel to an Office Block,” New Nation, 8 June 1973, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Wang Look Keah, “Capitol and Some Adjacent Buildings to Be Acquired,” Business Times, 25 February 1984, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Our Story,” Patina Hotels, n.d.
5. “Singapore Improvements”; “Death of Mr. Seth Paul,” Straits Times, 25 August 1921, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Singapore Improvements.”
7. Nadia H. Wright, Respected Citizens: The History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia (Middle Park: Amassia Publishing, 2003), 120, 122–3. (Call no. RSING 305.891992 WRI)
8. Gretchen, Pastel Portraits, 75; “The Restoration and Renovation of Stamford House: A Marriage of the Old and New,” Skyline 30 (September–October 1994), 12–13. (Call no. RSING 354.5957091 S)
9. “Restoration and Renovation,” 12.
10. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 367 (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Restoration and Renovation,” 12.
11. Hill Street, Singapore, 1910, photograph, National Archives Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980006552-0103); Jessica Lim, “Start-Ups Feel at Home in Stamford House,” Straits Times, 29 July 2009, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Singapore Improvements.”
13. Maylee Chia, “The Charm of Old Singapore,” Straits Times, 25 May 1998, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 367.
15. “Official Somnolence,” Straits Times, 21 June 1905, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 27 May 1907, 6; “Electrical Advertising,” Straits Times, 9 January 1909, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “From Cabaret to Blockbusters,” Straits Times, 27 April 2008, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Ida Bachtiar and Stephanie Yeo, “Stamford House $13-M Later,” Straits Times, 22 May 1994, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Bachtiar and Yeo, “Stamford House $13-M Later”; “$10M Plan to Convert Stamford House into Shopping Centre,” Straits Times, 2 December 1991, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Bachtiar and Yeo, “Stamford House $13-M Later.”
21. “Capitol Theatre, Capitol Building and Stamford House,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, n.d.
22. Wright, Respected Citizens, 66. 269.
23. “Singapore Improvements.”
24. “Singapore Improvements.”
25. “Whiteaway’s,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 31 May 1915, 10; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 1 May 1915, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Wright, Respected Citizens, 120, 122–3; “Hotel Tariffs,” Straits Times, 10 March 1922, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “The Grosvenor,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 24 September 1921, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Gretchen Liu, Raffles Hotel (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1992), 94 (Call no. RSING 647.94595701 LIU); “The Grosvenor.”
29. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 14 August 1926, 8; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 22 July 1926, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 8 September 1926, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Wright, Respected Citizens, 138.
32. “Guest Claims $500 from Hotel,” Straits Times, 16 May 1934, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Wright, Respected Citizens, 269–70; “God-Father’s $16,000 Claim,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 5 March 1940, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
34. A. C. Willis, Willis’s Singapore Guide (Singapore: Alfred Charles Willis, 1936), 13, 35 (From BooKSG); Wright, Respected Citizens, 270; “Page 4 Advertisements Column 6,” Straits Times, 25 July 1934, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Tyers, “Hotel to an Office Block”; Peter Keys, “Take a Bras Basah Stroll,” Straits Times, 6 September 1983, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 367.
36. Tyers, “Hotel to an Office Block”; “Tenant Told to Leave,” Straits Times, 21 August 1948, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Wright, Respected Citizens, 138.
37. Tyers, “Hotel to an Office Block.”
38. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 61. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
39. “Page 3 Advertisements Column 1,” New Nation, 16 September 1974, 3; “Sleight-of-Hand Trickster Jailed,” Straits Times, 17 May 1982, 34; “Company Cheated of Video Sets Worth $32,000,” Straits Times, 10 November 1981, 9; “Citizen, Can,” Straits Times, 9 August 1990, 57. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Wang, “Adjacent Buildings to Be Acquired”; “Owners Unhappy over Acquisition of Land,” Straits Times, 26 February 1984, 12; Serene Lim, “Ex-Owners of Stamford House Lose Court Appeal,” Straits Times, 2 December 1989, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Agnes Wee, “Work to Revitalise ‘Historical Heart’ in Full Swing,” Straits Times, 5 December 1988, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Elaine Koh and Hong Lee Tiam, “Tenants Show Their Love for Eu,” Business Times, 7 May 1991, 2; Sumiko Tan, “Not Just a Cry for Conservation,” Straits Times, 7 May 1991, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
43. Bachtiar and Yeo, “Stamford House $13-M Later.”
44. Bachtiar and Yeo, “Stamford House $13-M Later”; Stephanie Yeo, “Stamford House Enters Growing $2-B Decor Market,” Straits Times, 28 March 1995, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
45. Stephanie Yeo, “Stamford House Latest Centre in Furnishings,” Straits Times, 24 November 1994, 4; “Fine Furnishings behind a Victorian Facade,” Straits Times, 14 July 1995, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
46. Julyn Kang, “Trouble Brewing in the House for Weeks,” Straits Times, 27 April 2001, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
47. Hong Xinyi “Capitol Theatre Slated for Redevelopment,” Straits Times, 3 April 2008, 3; Joyce Teo, “Capitol Site and Two New Growth Areas Up for Sale,” Straits Times, 20 June 2008, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
48. Hong Xinyi, “Tenants in Limbo,” Straits Times, 5 June 2009, 140. (From NewspaperSG)
49. Michelle Tan, “Capitol to Be the Epitome of Luxury,” Business Times, 23 November 2011, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
50. Natasha Ann Zachariah, “Star of the Show,” Straits Times, 16 May 2015, 10; Lee Mexian and Elizabeth Mak, “The Resurrection of Capitol Theatre,” Business Times, 16 May 2015, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Bidwell Suite,” Patina Hotels, n.d.
Hill Street Junction with Stamford Road with Eu Court building on the Left Stamford House on the right, 6 January 1982, photograph, Ronni Pinsler Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19990007088-033)
The information in this article is valid as of 28 July 2015 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.