Charms of old and new along the waterfront

By Jonathan Loh Rui-wen

As ‘heritage’ becomes an increasingly foreign concept, historic sites along the Fullerton Waterfront prove the old and new can exist together

By Jonathan Loh Rui-wen |

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In modern-day Singapore, national heritage is often perceived, especially by the young, as an heirloom that is not very impressive and is to be put aside uncared for until the time is right to pass it on to the next generation to do the same.

With our convictions tied to the notion of “out with the old and in with the new”, could there be co-existence between national heritage and modernisation? Could heritage remain relevant, acknowledged and celebrated?

Take a journey along the Fullerton Heritage Precinct and be awestruck by the harmony between past and present. The waterfront boasts several heritage sites that stand magnificently along the stretch of Marina Bay. From the Neo-classical Fullerton Hotel that was once a cornerstone office building for British and Singapore officials, to the now glamourous Clifford Pier, where our immigrant forefathers first stepped ashore, in this world-renown waterfront area each building has its story to tell, if one is willing to dig a bit deeper into their rich histories.

A quick venture into the Fullerton Hotel’s heritage gallery allows the discovery of the undeniable splendor of the building’s past. Few people know that the hotel also used to serve as the general post office and subsequently a hospital during the turbulent World War II years. More surprisingly, a lighthouse once stood on the roof, being the guiding light for what was once a busy port. After years of restoration, in 2001 the iconic five-star hotel was born and Fullerton Heritage continues to persevere and educate visitors and guests about the building’s history.

A short walk from the hotel along the waterfront will bring you to Clifford Pier. A far cry from its early 20th century counterpart which was a landing point for immigrants and seafaring fishermen, the renovated building will take your breath away as you marvel at the intricately designed décor and expertly crafted architecture that represents the epitome of high life. The red oil lamps that line the exterior walls of the structure are a nostalgic reminder of the Pier’s former Chinese name, Ang Teng Ma Toi (Red Lantern Pier). With food being an indispensable part of Singapore’s national heritage, its restaurant serves up an array of signature local fare with a British twist, paying homage to Singapore’s colonial roots.

Further down the waterfront sits the Customs House, paramount to Singapore’s maritime security in the 1960s, serving as a base of operations for the Singapore Customs Police. The Customs House has been revamped to house restaurants that offer a variety of cuisines in a trendy setting, contributing to its rising popularity among locals and foreigners alike.

These are only a few of the many gems along the Fullerton Waterfront that testify to the successful marriage between national heritage and modernization, proving that one does not need to be sacrificed for the sake of the other. There is much to be appreciated about Singapore’s history that gives us a collective identity and our inheritance surely extends beyond the Fullerton Waterfront, waiting to be discovered.