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History comes to an end at Oxley Rd

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The front view of the house.
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The Lee family relaxing on the verandah of 38 Oxley Road in May 1965.

Singapore

THE house which witnessed history being made will tell no more stories. Lee Kuan Yew's home at 38 Oxley Road will be demolished - just as he wished. This is made clear in Mr Lee's last will and testament dated Dec 17, 2013.

"I further declare that it is my wish, and the wish of my late wife, Kwa Geok Choo, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 be demolished immediately after my death or if my daughter, Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the house. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the house be carried out," said Mr Lee in his will.

Mr Lee's children, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, were appointed the executors and trustees of their father's will. They released a two-page joint statement on Sunday quoting excerpts of the late Mr Lee's will.

News that the Oxley Road property will be torn down comes just before Monday's Parliament sitting. At least three lawmakers will offer suggestions on how the government can honour the country's founding prime minister.

Since Mr Lee's death on March 23, Singaporeans have proposed various ideas to conserve his residence, with some suggesting that it should be turned into a museum or officially gazetted as a national heritage site.

Said Mr Lee's two children in their statement: "Our father was well aware of calls to somehow preserve his home. His wish both expressed to us privately, and publicly was unwavering, and was for the house to be torn down upon his passing."

Concerned that an order might be issued against his wishes, Mr Lee had added in his will: "If our children are unable to demolish the house as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the house never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants."

Said Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang in their statement: "We have a duty (as executors and trustees of his Lee Kuan Yew Will), and a moral obligation (as his children) to ensure that his Lee Kuan Yew Will is administered strictly as stated . . . Our father has given his life in service to the people of Singapore. We hope that the people of Singapore will honour and respect his stated wish in his last will and testament."

That Mr Lee wanted to have his house razed should not come as a surprise - in his 2011 book, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, he said he had told the Cabinet to demolish his house after his death.

When asked why, Mr Lee had said: "I've seen other houses, Nehru's, Shakespeare's. They become a shambles after a while. People trudge through. Because of my house the neighbouring houses cannot build high. Now demolish my house and change the planning rules, go up, the land value will go up."

He disputed the idea that it should be conserved as part of Singapore history, saying: "You know the cost of preserving it? It's an old house built over a hundred years ago. No foundation. The cost of maintaining it, damp comes up the wall because there's no foundation. So the piling in the neighbourhood has made cracks in my walls."

The modestly-furnished home has not been renovated for decades.

"I don't think my daughter or my wife or I, who lived in it, or my sons, who grew up in it, will bemoan its loss. They have old photos to remind them of the past," Mr Lee added.

Plans for the remaining plot of land, following the demolition of the house, are not known.

The 38 Oxley Road address marks a property steeped in history. For one, its basement dining room was where the founding members of the People's Action Party discussed setting up a new party.

In addition, Mr Lee's eldest son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, grew up in the house, experiencing his first taste of politics from a young age.

In his eulogy at the March 29 state funeral service, PM Lee said: "Of course, growing up as my father's son could not but mean being exposed to politics very early. I remember as a little boy . . . (I) was excited by the hubbub at Oxley Road whenever elections happened, and our home became the election office."

His siblings, in their joint statement on Sunday, also thanked Singaporeans for sharing in their grief.

"We have been deeply touched by the huge outpouring of affection for and respect of our father. We humbly thank each of you."