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Blair Plain

History
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ABOUT

The Blair Plain conservation area is a compact cluster of two-and three- storey shophouses and terrace houses of various architectural styles. Apart from some commercial uses along Kampong Road and Neil Road, the area is largely a quiet residential neighbourhood, which hugs the narrow inner streets of Blair Road, Spottiswoode Park Road and Everton Road. The area was gazetted on 25 October 1991 for conservation.

THE HISTORY

The Blair Plain conservation area is named after the larger area which was the low-lying plain that stretched from Kampong Bahru Road to the sea.

The area was first substantially built up before the end of nineteenth century when detached bungalows were redeveloped and the land subdivided into urban residential terraces. An 1881 map shows the existence of Kampong Bahru Road, Spottiswoode Park Road and Everton Road with terraced buildings. They were likely to be of the ‘Early Shophouse’ style. Some of them still exist today. One notable example is 66 Spottiswoode Park Road which retains its painted fresco façade.

From the 1900s onwards, further urbanisation took place. Blair Road was laid out in 1900. It was named after John Blair, a senior officer with the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company in the 1880s. He owned land in the area and also had a substantial house nearer to the Port.

During the early years of the twentieth century, many ornately decorated buildings were constructed along Blair, Neil and Everton Roads. This was possibly due to increasing demand from well-to-do Chinese merchant families for new homes. They desired and could afford to move away from the increasingly overcrowded, unsanitary and disreputable urban areas east of Cantonment Road.

There were also other residents. A Boyanese Pondok (or communal lodging house) was located at 37-41 Everton Road. This same building was also in part, the garage for Mr Choa Kim Keat. Nearby, a Tamil language school – the Vinayaganada Tamil School was located at no. 51 Blair Road.

At the fringe were colonial houses set in generous ground. Nearer to the port, houses gave way to godowns and port facilities. They flourished when Tanjong Pagar Railway Station completed in the 1930s enabled easier movement of goods and people between the two modes of transport.  Housing for port workers also emerged with the purpose-built Blair Plain PSA housing estate (circa 1968-1982) located where PSA Gate 2 is today. Some port workers lived in urban tenements in the shophouses of Tanjong Pagar Road.

The building and rebuilding of urban residential terraces in what has become the Blair Plain conservation area continued until the 1960s, as individual property owners chose to ‘upgrade’ their homes according to the latest in technology and fashion, or because they were affected by Municipal improvement works – such as the opening up of back lanes for sanitary purposes. This resulted in the range of different styles of facades and building forms. For example, no. 39 Blair Road is a typical ornately decorated ‘Late Style’ with front yard, while Nos. 27/27A Everton Road is a hybrid of Arts-and-Crafts/Art-Deco style with its patterned brick work.

Updated November 2015

THE BUILDING

The shophouses that are found mainly along Kampong Bahru Road have very simple architectural designs and single-window openings on the second-storey front facade. The terrace houses of the Transitional and Late styles along Blair Road and Neil Road have an eclectic mixture of Chinese, Malay and European design elements. Along Everton Road, there are some shophouses in the Art Deco and Modern styles.

The Chinese influence on the architectural styles is seen in the following elements:
-      a courtyard plan inside the house
-      a round gable at the end of the pitched roofs
-      bat wing-shaped air vents above the first-storey windows
-      friezes of coloured ceramic chips featuring dragon, phoenix and flower motifs

The Malay influence is visible in the timber fretwork of the roof eaves, fascia boards and balustrades design.

The European influence is evident in the fanlights, French windows, Portuguese jalousie (shuttered windows), plasterworks, panelled pintu besar or main doors) and pintu pagar  ordoor gate.

British colonial influence is represented by the Corinthian pilasters on the upper storeys.

THE LEGACY

The ‘Baba House’ at 157 Neil Road — a former ancestral home of a Straits Chinese family — was restored by the URA for the NUS, and officially opened in September 2008. The house is a rare survivor in terms of having an intact and ornate domestic interior, in addition to its elaborate façade. It was turned into a heritage house to facilitate appreciation, reflection and research into Straits Chinese history and culture. This is articulated primarily through architectural conservation of the townhouse, and restoration of interiors including furnishing, household materials and decorative features.

Another notable home is 66 Spottiswoode Park Road. Its original decorated facade, a rich Chinese fresco of simulated brick, calligraphy and rectangular panels of traditional “bird and flower” paintings, was uncovered when the surface paintwork was removed during restoration works. It is currently the only known example of an intact and original 19th century decorative scheme in Singapore.

Blair Plain boasts a number of high-quality restoration projects that have won the URA Architectural Heritage Award.
149 Neil Road
55 Spottiswoode Park Road
64-1 Spottiswoode Park Road
153 Neil Road
55 Blair Road
59 Blair Road

Neil Road

The former Fairfield Methodist Girl’s School along Neil Road is a three-storey building was constructed in 1912 in Victorian style and features baroque flourishes in form of its central and side pediments. It also has significant interiors with plasterwork panelling. It received conservation status on 2 October 2000 and has been integrated with the new Cantonment Complex for the Police.

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