Alexandra is an estate bordering Red Hill MRT station where impressive condos like Alex Residences commands a presence in the area. What people do not realise is that Alexandra is tangent with Queenstown.
And Queenstown is arguably Singapore’s most important district.
Once a swampy land beset by hills, the district that would come to be known as Queenstown was christened as such in homage of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. And as befitting its august status, it would go on to become Singapore’s first satellite town.
Developed began in 1952, by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) when Singapore was still part of the fading British Empire. Plans were erected to tackle the burgeoning nation’s inadequate housing problem by decentralising the people away from the city. After World War 2, the nation experienced a baby boom and the squalid attap houses and kampongs of yore no longer fit with the mould of progress and evolution that was sweeping through not just Singapore, but every other country attempting to rebuild after the war.
The nation’s smaller stature however allowed for more focus and sustainability without losing convenience and accessibility to the working and industrial centres. As a result, SIT came up with the idea of self-contained residential areas – satellite towns- in various suburbs around the island.
Queenstown’s location was decided upon due to its closeness to SIT’s first successful public housing scheme in Tiong Bahru. In July of 1952, preliminary work began in Queenstown’s first estate, Princes Margaret Estate (shorted to Princess Estate) so named after Queen Elizabeth II’s younger sister.
Many things would occur during the construction, chief of which Singapore gaining its independence in 1963. As governance shifted away from the Empire and onto local politicians, so too did the construction of the estate move from the dissolved SIT into the newly minted HDB.
Under HDB’s auspices, progress was steady and the young town would soon add amenities to support the new residential blocks. HDB had retained many of the SIT’s original plans, such as a market for each neighbourhood, a community centre and a shopping centre. With this template in place, progress proceeded with minimal hiccups, even resulting in flats in the estate completed under HDB’s Five-year Building Programme.
Queenstown eventually became home to three cinemas, an emporium, fresh food market and even community facilities like the Swimming and Sports Complex.
Overtime, Queenstown also attracted many institutions to set up in Singapore. The Queenstown Community Library opened in 1970 and it was the first branch library in Singapore. The country’s first polyclinic was also built here, along Margaret Drive while the Queenstown Secondary Technical School, opened in 1956 was the first technical school in Singapore.
Unfortunately, the momentum of Queenstown’s growth would slow drastically until development in Singapore’s pioneer town came to stagnate by the 1980s. This in turn prompted an exodus of the town’s younger generation to the newer estates, leaving behind the older generation.
Once booming and vibrant Queenstown would come to be known as an estate for the elderly.
The stigma would not last however as a little over 10 years later, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) put forth the Development Guide Plan. The plan included refurbishing Queenstown by building a new sub-regional centre in Buona Vista and to link the new infrastructure with tertiary educational institutions and business parks. Peppered throughout would be high-density and modern housing. Some older flats in Queenstown were also demolished under the Selective Enbloc Redevelopment Scheme, to free up space for the construction of new ones.
Into the district also came private residences as a means to brighten up the aging town and to increase the value of the land. Swiss furniture giant, IKEA, opened its flagship store in Queenstown while the launch of the Anchorage, a mixed residential/shopping mall development helped to steer Queenstown away from its former label into a re-energised and popular estate that would eventually be listed as one of the costliest on the island.
Like elsewhere in Singapore, redevelopment would continue throughout the decades and never really end. In the relentless march toward modernization, old, iconic buildings would be demolished to make way for new ones.
These buildings included the Queensway / Queenstown cinema which was built in 1977, closed in 1999 and demolished sometime in 2013. Other iconic landmarks such as the Tah Chung Emporium, Margaret Drive Hawker Centre and the Queenstown Remand Prison were also torn down so that other buildings may be erected in their place.
Even the old driving school, next to Queenstown MRT station has gone the way of the dinosaur. The old land it used to be on now belongs to two massive condominiums – Queens Peak and Commonwealth Towers. In time, these buildings may come to be known as icons of the district for a new generation of Singaporeans the way the old bowling alley, markets and cinema were to the pioneer generation.
But among the throng of new buildings, three call backs to a simpler time were gazetted for conservation in 2014; the Queenstown Library, the Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market and Alexandra Hospital.
What Queenstown will look like in the next 10 years is anybody’s guess but right now, it is experiencing a renaissance.