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Past and repast
BALESTIER ROAD may be synonymous these days with good food and electrical stores, but in its past life, the area was home to agriculture, such as sugar cane and rattan plantations.
The road itself was named after former American diplomat Joseph Balestier, who at one point owned a 1,000-acre sugar plantation called Balestier Plain. Since the area is rich in heritage and landmark buildings, an official heritage trail has been created by the National Heritage Board and is available online at roots.sg. For those who wish to take the trail in air-conditioned comfort, the new MINI Countryman can comfortably seat five adults so the whole family can join in, too.
Begin at 230 Balestier Road, where two Art Deco shophouses face each other on the corner of a side street. Art Deco was an architectural trend that was popular around the 1930s and these buildings typically feature geometric-shaped details. They are very different from the stretch of colourful and ornate shophouses further down the road, from 292 to 312 Balestier Road. These were built in 1926 by a female developer named Madam Sim Cheng Neo, and are known as Sim Kwong Ho shophouses, as indicated by the characters inscribed on the facade.
If that's still not enough architecture for you, then head down Pegu Road and Martaban Road, where a few pre-war terrace houses reflecting European neo-classical influences from the 1920s still stand.
Opposite Pegu Road, you will find the Lam Yeo Coffee Powder Factory. They roast and sell coffee beans imported from over the world, and have been doing so since 1959 - way before hipsters claimed coffee as their own.
It's not the only famous F&B establishment along Balestier Road. Just a few doors down is Loy Kee, which has been selling its Hainanese chicken rice since 1953. Not far down is fellow chicken rice bigwig Boon Tong Kee, as well as the popular Founder Bak Kut Teh which opened in 1978. More options can also be found at the Balestier Market, which now functions as a hawker centre with famous stalls like Ah Hui Big Prawn Noodle. The market was originally built in the 1920s, as a space for plantation owners to sell their produce.
Balestier Road is also home to a number of significant cultural landmarks. For instance, at 8 Jalan Ampas you will find the location where the Shaw Malay Film Studios used to be. This studio produced over 160 films during its heyday - the golden age of Malay cinema in Singapore, which lasted about 25 years until it closed in 1967.
At 12 Tai Gin Road stands another noteworthy structure - the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. In 1906, the house was offered to Dr Sun Yat Sen who used it as the Southeast Asian base of the Tong Meng Hui (Chinese Revolutionary Alliance), and later on as the local headquarters of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) after the 1911 Revolution.
The building was named a National Monument in 1994, and houses artifacts, paintings and photographs related to Dr Sun's life and revolutionary activities as well as contributions made by Chinese communities in Southeast Asia to the 1911 Revolution. Entry is free, but the history - priceless.
Memories is brought to you by the new MINI Countryman - designed to start conversations, make new friends, #AddStories.