A SENTINEL stands silently on the edge of Toa Payoh Town Park.
A child of the 1970s, it stands 27m tall and carries an octagonal frame structure at its peak that looks like a spaceship.
It sprouted up in 1973, when space exploration fervour was in the air after the first man had landed on the moon in 1969.
This "sweet child of Toa Payoh" - its watchout tower - was well-loved.
Singaporeans flocked to it for its breathtaking views of the park's emerald green pond fringed by willow trees.
But three decades on, the tower is now like a favourite toy that has been forgotten.
It is barely noticeable from the street as surrounding high-rise condominiums and office buildings around the Toa Payoh HDB Hub loom over it.
The tower had the spotlight shone on it after the National Heritage Board (NHB) documented its history and that of three other towers at Seletar Reservoir, Jurong Hill and the Chinese Garden last year.
But unlike the trio built around the same period, the Toa Payoh tower has been placed under lock and key by the park manager, the National Parks Board (NParks).
NParks' parks development director Yeo Meng Tong said the tower used to offer the highest viewpoint in the area, but is "currently not open to the public as it no longer serves this function".
In its heyday, the tower served as the town's centrepiece, said NHB's Mr Ian Tan.
"The HDB tower project was very cutting edge for its time in terms of its design, cost and materials used," said Mr Tan, assistant manager of the impact assessment and mitigation division.
The tower and park were built for the South-east Asian Peninsular Games in 1973 and were popular as a backdrop for wedding shoots in the 1970s and 1980s.
Lifeguard Johan Abdullah remembered the park with its tower as a "beautiful space" popular with shoppers and moviegoers who patronised the old Toa Payoh Theatre.
"The park was attractive because it also had a seafood restaurant to dine at... The tower itself was very cool lah," said the 62-year-old, who used to take his wife on dates there.
But there are also others who admit they "could care less" about what becomes of the tower.
Shrugging, Mr Tan Seow Chye, 70, a retired taxi driver and long-time Toa Payoh resident, said: "I don't expect to see much from up there any more. It's now locked up... there's no point wondering what the view is like from up there."
These days, the park is quiet compared with the bustling Toa Payoh town centre across the road.
Located at the junction of Lorong 2 and Lorong 6, the park is home to Oasis Bay restaurant, which is managed by Mr Derrick Maa.
The restaurant was relocated there from Kallang after the park underwent a revamp in 2008. It is known for its sweet potato porridge and pomfret dishes, and hosts the occasional wedding and birthday get-together.
But footfall to the area is relatively low, with damselflies, dragonflies and butterflies having free range over the compound.
Early last year, NParks called a tender for a feasibility study to look into bringing together the park, library and sports complex.
Residents said this could get more people walking down the historic park's path.
Mr Yeo said NParks will look into "future plans" for the tower as part of its ongoing feasibility study. Its evaluation is expected to be completed later this year.
Some residents whom The Straits Times spoke to said they hope the conserved tower will eventually be reopened to the public.
They said it is a pity that it is closed up, citing how it was incorporated into the NHB heritage trail of Toa Payoh last August.
Chinese teacher Yan Xiao, 56, who exercises and dances at the park with a group of Toa Payoh residents on weekday mornings, said the tower should be reopened.
"If it was built to function as an observatory deck, then we should be able to go up and take a look at the view from up there.
"There are already heritage markers pointing out its significance, but there's no point to them if we can't experience the tower for ourselves," she said.
This article was first published on March 13, 2015.
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