Serangoon Gardens has good eats, quaint charm

Serangoon Gardens has good eats, quaint charm

SINGAPORE - The shutters are coming down for good at Seng Hin - Serangoon Gardens' last provision shop.

After toiling for over half a century, 70-year-old owner Koh Guan Hock has decided to call it a day next month.

"I am too old to continue the business and I don't want my only son to take over this dwindling trade."

But shops like Seng Hin, which was started by Mr Koh's father-in-law in the early 1950s to serve the British airmen and families who lived there, are part of the estate's charm, said piano teacher Catherine Ding.

"People know about Chomp Chomp food centre here and the roundabout, but for residents, the shophouses are also worth preserving," said the 63-year-old who has lived in Serangoon Gardens all her life.

"You can't tear them down and build 10-storey buildings."

She seems to have had her wish after the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) last week picked Serangoon Gardens as an "identity node". The status guarantees that future development plans will not erode the estate's character and charm.

Serangoon Gardens, nestled between Ang Mo Kio avenues 1 and 3, off the Central Expressway, was designed by British developer Steven Charles Macey between 1952 and 1954.

He gave the roads quaint British names like Chartwell Drive - named after former British prime minister Winston Churchill's England home - and Portchester Avenue, after a small suburb in his home country.

He also donated land to set up the Serangoon Gardens Sports Club in 1955, which later became the Serangoon Gardens Country Club.

Older residents call the estate "Ang Sar Lee", or "red roof" in Hokkien, referring to the red zinc roofs of the houses that once dotted the estate.

Today, the laid-back middle-class estate of landed houses is famous for the Chomp Chomp hawker centre and more than 20 restaurants and pubs.

The opening of a French school, Lycee Francais de Singapour, in the estate in 1999 and the Australian International School at nearby Lorong Chuan in 2003 brought a new influx of expat families.

Residents say the neighbourhood started changing about 10 to 15 years ago. Old shops made way for restaurants. The building that housed the Paramount Theatre was torn down in 2009 to build the new MyVillage mall.

Traffic congestion got so bad that last year, the authorities banned the opening of more restaurants there. The unorganised development of the estate also irks some residents.

"There are now big houses towering over the single-storey houses," said retired teacher Eunice Chua, 69. "This makes the place a bit less friendly and warm."

Some things, however, have not changed.

Hairdresser Ng Siew Way, 63, has been perming hair for more than 40 years in a shop there, while tailor Molly Toh Ean, 62, has been making shirts and cheongsam for more than 30 years.

They moved a few times within the estate when rents went up, but not out of it. They even rope in family members to help.

"We are like a family serving generations of other families," said Ms Toh.

Mr Koh hopes Serangoon Gardens does not lose its identity. "This place has so much history," he said.

But when asked about URA's plans to preserve the area, he said: "It came too late for me."

tohyc@sph.com.sg


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