The Arcade or the Alkaff Arcade was built in 1909 by the Alkaff family, one of three great Arab property owners in Singapore then. The Alkaff sold the Arcade in 1962 to Singapura Developments for $12 million. Hailed as Singapore’s best-known waterfront landmark, it was demolished in 1978. Currently, the site of the old Alkaff Arcade is home to the new Arcade that was completed in 1981.
The Alkaffs were a millionaire Arab family who hailed from the Hadramaut coast of southern Arabia. The Alkaff’s ancestors came to Singapore from Indonesia in 1852; the first to come was Shaik bin Abdul Rahman. Apart from trading in spices, coffee and sugar, the Alkfaffs also dabbled in land speculation. They were able to amass enough wealth to build town houses for sale or rent. Other properties that the Alkaffs bought or built included the Alkaff Gardens and the Hotel de L’Europe, the latter used to occupy the site of the old Supreme Court. Shaik also established six settlements on properties that stretched from Beach Road to South Bridge Road for the benefits of his descendants. The Alkaff Arcade was built on a site that was formerly owned by Guthrie and Co. Located around the corner from Prince Street, the Arcade was the first building to break the low skyline of the Collyer Quay waterfront as it rose above the old godowns.
The Arcade or the Alkaff Arcade was built in 1909 at a cost of $146,000. It was Singapore’s first indoor shopping centre stretching from Collyer Quay to Raffles Place. The building was designed by Donald McLeod Craik of Swan and MacLaren. The grand building also housed the Alkaff’s office that administered the family’s estate. On the grand opening of the Alkaff Arcade, a large and representative group of local professionals and businessmen were present, showing the prestige and influence of the Alkaff family. In the 1920s, the building was given a new Islamic skin that earned it a reputation as one of the most remarkable office buildings in Southeast Asia. The building’s Dutch gables became onion domes while moorish arches replaced its classical ones. In 1962, the Alkaffs sold the Arcade to Singapura Developments for $20 million dollars. Before the sale, the Alkaffs had actually wanted to knock the building down to construct a more modern office block. It was deemed to be old and a fire hazard. They changed their mind because there were too many offices being built then and that revenue from the new project would not justify the cost. At the time of the sale, the Alkfaff Arcade was bringing in about $18,000 a month in rent, a sum that was lower than the Alkaff’s expectations. The fact that the trust to the Arcade was to expire in 1986 also added to the Alkfaff’s family decision to dispose the building. In 1978, the new owners had it demolished to make way for a large $20 million, 17-floor shopping-cum-office building. Today, the new Arcade stands on the site.
The Alkfaff Arcade had a distinct Moorish style, made apparent by its two onion domes and arches. The building had four storeys and was cool pale green and yellow in colour. It featured a spectacular atrium and overhanging walkways. The unique Moorish architecture broke the monotony of designs in Singapore. Its cast-iron fa?ade was an example of Victorian architecture of the early 1900s. Its roof was covered with coloured tiles. Its back was separated from the sea only by the outhouses. In the old days, it was a fashionable meeting place; the tearooms, salons and boutiques turned it into an Edwardian indulgence. The Arcade had offices and shops on the first storey while the ground floor had stables for the Alkfaff’s horse carriages, which were also used as public transport. Without any preservation measures taken, the condition of the building was neglected although it was still bustling in the 1970s. Its small shops selling a wide range of imported goods catered mostly to office workers. The Arcade also acted as one of the two walkways linking Raffles Square and Collyer Quay. The other one was Change Alley. The demolition of the Arcade was indeed a great loss to Singapore’s waterfront. In its heyday, it stood proud and was a symbol of the Arab’s influence in Singapore.
Beamish, J., & Ferguson, J. (1985). A history of Singapore architecture: The making of a city (pp. 134-135). Singapore: Graham Brash.
(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 BEA) Corfield, J., & Corfield, R. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore (pp. 6-7). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. Liu, G. (1999). Singapore: A pictorial history 1819-2000 (pp. 112 – 113, 271). Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with the National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS] Peet, G. L. (1985). Rickshaw reporter (p. 117). Singapore: Eastern University Press. Chen, Agnes. (1990, April, 1). Our Lost Treasures. The Sunday Times, Sunday Plus, pp. 1-2. Dhaliwal, R. (1987, April 10). Journey into the past at Raffles Place MRT stop. The Straits Times. Ting, H. K. (1978, March 30). Splendour that was the Arcade [Microfilm: NL 9630]. New Nation, pp. 10-11. Dhoraisingam , S. (1999-2006). The Alkfaff Mansion. Retrieved June 15, 2006, from the Vitual Map Web site: www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/print_article.php?focusId=267 National Heritage Board. (n.d.). Monuments trail. Retrieved June 16, 2006, from www.nhb.gov.sg/PE/sites_trails/monuments_trail.html Supreme Court. (2005). Supreme Court – history. Retrieved June 16, 2006, from app.supremecourt.gov.sg/default.aspx?pgID=39
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Beamish, J., & Ferguson, J. (1985). A history of Singapore architecture: The making of a city (p.134). Singapore: Graham Brash.
(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 BEA) Liu, G. (1999). Singapore: A pictorial history 1819-2000 (pp. 113, 271). Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with the National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS] Ting, H. K. (1978, March 30). Splendour that was the Arcade [Microfilm: NL 9630]. New Nation, p. 11. The information in this article is valid as at 2006 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.
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