Singapore Chinatown Shophouse

Chinatown Historic District - Shophouse for Sale in Chinatown

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Chinatown Shophouse for Sale

There was a small Chinese community living in this area long before the British colonial administration designated it as the living quarters for Chinese immigrants. It is the largest conserved historic district in Singapore, comprising four sub-areas that were developed at different times, which are now under conservation: Telok Ayer (1820s), Kreta Ayer (1830s), Tanjong Pagar (late 1880s) and Bukit Pasoh (early 1920s). These 4 districts are in-between other precincts that make up the ‘Greater Town’ south of Singapore River, the local Chinese term for the urban district that stretched from Boat Quay to the Tanjong Pagar docks.

Chinatown Shophouse for Sale

Chinatown Shophouse for Sale


Some Interesting History of Chinatown Conservation Shophouses

In 1821, there were about 1,000 Chinese living in the area south of the Singapore River, where Boat Quay is today. The area consisted largely of hillocks and a pair of roads: the current Telok Ayer (that ran along the original shoreline) and South Bridge Roads.

Chinatown Shophouse for Sale

In 1823, Sir Stamford Raffles designated the area southwest of the Singapore River as the “Chinese Kampung” and the “Chuliah Kampung”. Thus in addition to the Chinese, many South Indian migrants and Muslims also moved to the area and thus the Sri Mariamman Temple and Jamae Mosque were built on South Bridge Road, while the Nagore Durgha Shrine and the Al-Abrar Mosque were built along Telok Ayer, on either side of the Chinese Hokkien temple complex of Chung Wen Ge, Thian Hock Keng and Keng Teck Hway

The commercial heart of the Chinatown area is known as Gu Chia Chwi (in Hokkien), Ngau-che-shui (in Cantonese), and Niu Che Shui (in Mandarin), which  mean “bullock water-cart”.  These names actually refer to the area of Kreta Ayer Road. In Malay, Kreta Ayer means “Water cart”.

Chinatown Shophouse for Sale

These carts were used to fetch water from wells before the advent of tap water. By the 1860s the Chinese population had grown to about 50,000. Shophouses were built around the Sri Mariamman Temple and Jamae Mosque as the enclave expanded into the Kreta Ayer area. Trade increased after the opening of the Suez Canal n 1869 and the Telok Ayer Basin was reclaimed to construct new shophouses and docks.

By 1900, the original ‘Chinese Kampong’ had expanded to include the Bukit Pasoh and Tanjong Pagar areas, increasing the population to about 164,000. Clans and recreational organisations were set up and schools built. However, the noise and congestion drove wealthier families away.

As the population continued to grow, overcrowding, congestion and pollution became major problems. The area’s residents had to share small cubicles with little sanitation, sagging walls, damp floors and rat infestations. Secret societies, gang crimes and prostitution and opium dens thrived.

Chinatown Shophouse for Sale

Living conditions deteriorated further after World War Two as parts of the town were  badly bombed and exacerbated the housing shortage on the island. After independence in 1965, the Singapore government committed itself to providing better public housing and improving the population’s living conditions through a plan of large scale urban renewal of the old city

As a whole, the entire urbanised area south of Singapore River was known as ‘Greater Town’ by all segments of the Chinese community. This is in contrast with the later urban developments to the north of Singapore River, which was called ‘Lesser Town’ due to its less dense population and later development.

Chinatown Shophouse for Sale

It is to be noted that the term ‘Chinatown’ is only applied by the English-speaking community to the area. It is not termed as such in the other local languages.

Kreta Ayer
This conservation area is bounded by New Bridge Road, Park Road, Upper Cross Street, South Bridge Road, Sago Street, Trengganu Street and Smith Street. It features two- and three-storey shophouses built in the Transitional, Late and Art Deco styles. This area is traditionally associated with the Cantonese community who settled in the area. Kreta Ayer received conservation status on 7 July 1989.

Telok Ayer
The Telok Ayer sub-district is bounded by South Bridge Road, Cross Street, Boon Tat Street, Stanley Street, McCallum Street, Amoy Street, Ann Siang Road and Erskine Road. It features shophouses of the Early, Transitional, Late and Art Deco Shophouse styles. This area is traditionally associated with the Hokkien and also the South Indian Muslim community, who settled along the original water front that ran along today’s Telok Ayer Street. The area received conservation status on 7 July 1989.

Bukit Pasoh
This hilly area is bounded by New Bridge Road, Keong Siak Road, Kreta Ayer Road, Neil Road and Cantonment Road. It contains two- and three-storey shophouses, mostly of the Transitional, Late and Art Deco styles. Bukit Pasoh received conservation status on 7 July 1989. Additional shophouses along Keong Saik Road received conservation status on 12 April 1990, while those along Teck Lim Road and Keong Siak Road were given conservation status on 25 October 1991.

Tanjong Pagar
The area is bounded by Neil Road, Maxwell Road, Peck Seah Street, Wallich Street, Tanjong Pagar Road and Craig Road. It features mostly two- and three-storey shophouses of the Early, Transitional and Late Shophouse styles. Tanjong Pagar received conservation status on 7 July 1989 and was the site of Singapore’s first urban restoration project at no. 9 Neil Road, that was carried out by the URA. The 1950s Modern-style former Jing Hwa Cinema at 1 Tanjong Pagar Road was given conservation status on 25 Nov 2005 and adds to the variety of heritage buildings in the area.

89 Neil Road
This is a three-storey, neoclassical-style building that was built around 1924. It was the former Eng Aun Tong factory, which manufactured the internationally renowned Chinese herbal medicament, Tiger Balm. An eye-catching feature is the pavilion on the roof-top. This building along Neil Road received conservation status on 18 September 1992 under the voluntary conservation scheme.


The Origin of Chinatown

THE ORIGIN OF CHINATOWN is linked to Sir Stamford Raffles. In 1822, he formed a Town Planning Committee to plan Singapore Town according to ethnic groups. The area south of the Singapore River was allocated by sectors to Chinese and Indian immigrants of the same provincial origin and language groups. The Chinese immigrants came mostly from the south-eastern coastal provinces of China.


Plan_of_the_Town_of_Singapore_(1822)_by_Lieutenant_Philip_Jackson Raffles town plan 2


Hokkiens formed the majority, followed by the Teochews, Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakkas and Foochows. The South Indians also found their niche in this area, though subsequently the centre of Indian commercial and cultural life moved to Serangoon Road. Each group has left its mark on street names and places of worship.



Chinatown’s shophouses can be grouped into six general styles. The styles are
roughly chronological and are the result of changing economic and technological
circumstances, tastes and fashions.

Early 1840-1900 Shophouses

 Low, two storeys with minimal plaster ornamentation
• Locally-sourced construction materials used
• Usually one or two timber windows on the upper storey façade


1st Transitional

• Taller and more decorated in a Chinese style due to the influx of skilled labour and rising affluence

• Usually two windows on the upper storey façade



Highly decorated
• Due to an increase in exposure to European tastes and fashion of the time, ornaments used include moulded plaster festoons and importedhand-painted tiles
• Usually three windows on the upper storey façade for maximum ventilation

2nd Transitional

Combination of the Chinese and European styles
• Simpler than the Late-style and more streamlined
• The third floor was often added on to an existing two-storey building

Art Deco (1930-1960)

Geometric designs and pre-cast elements used
• Special emphasis given to street corners with the year of the building’s constructionusually displayed on the façade


Functional and simple as a reflection of the post-war situation

• Industrial materials like steel and reinforced concrete used

• Common features include thin sunshade fins and air vents that are both functional as well as decorative



Chinatown Historic District - Kreta Ayer Area Shophouse for Sale

Chinatown Historic District - Bukit Pasoh Area Chinatown Historic District – Bukit Pasoh Area

Chinatown Historic District – Kreta Ayer Area

Chinatown Historic District - Bukit Pasoh Area Shophouse for Sale

Chinatown Historic District – Bukit Pasoh Area

Chinatown Historic District - Telok Ayer Area Shophouse for Sale

Chinatown Historic District – Telok Ayer Area


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