Heritage trail: 5 historical facts to discover about Singapore's premier shopping district Orchard Road

Heritage trail: 5 historical facts to discover about Singapore's premier shopping district Orchard Road

Blast from the past

Text: Aravin Sandran

Image: National Heritage Board
Image: National Archives of Singapore
Image: Urban Redevelopment Authority
Image: Singapore Philatelic Museum

From nutmeg orchards to retailers' haven, National Heritage Board's new Orchard Heritage Trail offers throwback stories behind its landmarks and communities

Orchard Road before the area was developed, circa 1900
From Emerald Hill to Mount Elizabeth, ever wondered why there are so many areas named after hills in Orchard? While it's crammed with tourist-infested shopping malls today, the Orchard Road of the past was located in a lush valley set against many green hills. It was also lined with estates that cultivated gambier, an important ingredient in the production of leather goods as well as nutmeg, a highly prized spice in Europe at that time.In the late seventies, Glutton’s Square was a pop-up hawker centre across Emerald Hill in the evenings

The Orchard Road Carpark Hawker Centre, more commonly known as Glutton's Square, was situated at present-day Orchard Central. The area was a carpark by day, and after sunset, vendors would arrive and kick off a pop-up food fest until early the next morning. Glutton's Square was popular with both locals and tourists, but there were frequent complains about overcrowding and sky-high prices, a criticism that continues to resonate among Singaporeans today. When hawkers started dumping their trash into the nearby Stamford Canal nearby, Glutton's Square was shut down citing hygiene reasons. Its hawkers were relocated to sheltered food centres at Newton Circus and Cuppage Centre in the late seventies. A part of the former Tai Shan Ting cemetery, which was redeveloped into Ngee Ann Building (centre) in 1957
The present-day Ngee Ann City was built on the site of the former Tai Shan Ting cemetery. The cemetery, which sits on land owned by Ngee Ann Kongsi, was exhumed in the 1950s for development by the association to help raise funds for its charitable and educational activities. Don't freak out; there haven't been any reports of supernatural activity, yet.

Exterior view of Singapore's first McDonald's at Liat Towers
The first McDonald's outlet opened at Liat Towers in 1979. It claims to have set the world record for the most hamburgers served in a single day. In the early 1980s, groups of teenagers who liked to hang out at fast food outlets along Orchard Road were given the nickname "McDonald's Kids". Dressed in plain clothes, managers at McDonald's went undercover and mingled with them to find out more about these teenagers. Eventually, the fast food chain offered jobs to some of them.

Singapore's first escalator at Orchard Theatre was an attraction itself in the nineties
The opening of Orchard Theatre saw the operation of the first escalator in Singapore in 1965. It was located along Orchard Road, where Cathay Cineleisure is currently located. Apart from a cinema, Orchard Theatre boasted a curved screen, a bowling alley, and an escalator, which made it the first of its kind, not just in Singapore, but in Malaya. The escalator, in particular, was an attraction itself for visitors. They would step onto it and like an amusement park, ride it over and over again. Having fun was so much simpler back then.