Located in Chinatown, Pagoda Street runs parallel to Mosque Street and Temple Street.1 Together with Trengganu Street, it was converted into a pedestrian mall in 1997.2
Pagoda Street obtained its name from the nearby Sri Mariamman Temple, located at the corner of South Bridge Road and Pagoda Street. The pagoda (or gopuram in Tamil) built over the main gate of the Sri Mariamman Temple was a significant feature on the street, thus giving the street its name.3 In 1843, shophouses-cum-residences were built along Pagoda Street. As there was no access through the back of the shophouses, back lanes were introduced in between some of these living quarters in 1935.4
Notorious for its opium-smoking dens in the early 19th century, Pagoda Street was probably also one of the stations of the coolie trade. This street was once referred to as Kwong Hup Yuen Kai (which means “street of Kwong Hup Yuen” in Cantonese), as Kwong Hup Yuen, a well-known coolie trading firm, was located there. From a coolie station between the 1850s and 1880s, Pagoda Street evolved into a coolie lodge in the early 20th century.5 In 1901, there were some 12 lodging houses located on this street.6 With the urbanisation of Singapore in the mid-20th century, the street reinvented itself as a commercial area for retail trade and services, as well as textile and tailoring. The street is part of the Chinatown Historic District, which has been gazetted for conservation.7
At its convergence with South Bridge Road, Pagoda Street is flanked by two national monuments: the Jamae Mosque and Sri Mariamman Temple. Jamae Mosque (or Chulia Mosque) was gazetted as national monument in 1974, while the latter was gazetted in 1973.8 The Chinatown Heritage Centre, which opened in 2002, represents part of the efforts by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to rejuvenate Chinatown. Housed in three restored pre-war shophouses, the centre features the different aspects of Chinatown that had existed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In October 2014, it underwent renovation to fix maintenance issues and, at the same time, update its showcases. It was reopened in January 2016 with six galleries that offered multi-sensory experiences to visitors. Visitors will get a glimpse of life in Chinatown in the 1950s with a setting of shophouses, tailor’s shop and cramped living quarters. One gallery depicts night entertainment establishments and “death houses” in Sago Lane.9 In February 2018, the Centre added new multimedia guides with audiovisual commentaries in various languages in all galleries, augmented reality scenes as well as trishaw and walking trails around Chinatown.10 Street markets on this street have also reintroduced stalls that provide traditional trades such as watch repairing, fortune-telling and clog making.11
On 15 May 2017, Chinatown Street Market underwent refurbishment works that will involve all 159 stalls along Pagoda, Sago, Smith and Trengganu streets. It is expected to complete by end of 2018.12
In Hokkien, Kit-ling-a le-pai au and Kit-ling bio au, which mean “behind the kling place of worship” and “behind the kling temple” respectively, a reference to either the Sri Mariamman Temple or the Jamae Mosque.13 The South Indians are referred to as kling or keling, which is a Malay word.
Kat leng miu pin kai (Cantonese), which means the “street beside the kling temple”.14
Kwong Hup Yuen kai (Cantonese), meaning the “street of Kwong Hup Yuen”, referring to the well-known coolie trading firm Kwong Hup Yuen.15
In Tamil, Mariamman kovil pakkathu sadakku, which means the “street beside Mariamman Temple”.16
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Mighty Minds Street Directory (Singapore: Angel Publishing Pte Ltd., 2014), 38. (Call no. RSING 912.5957 MMSD)
2. “Street Closed to make Way for Pedestrian Mall,” Straits Times, 27 June 1997, 57. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 234. (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
4. Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Chinatown: An Album of a Singapore Community (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 76 (Call no. RSING 779.995957 CHI)
5. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 285 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Chinatown: An Album of a Singapore Community, 83.
6. Municipality, Singapore, Administration Report of the Singapore Municipality for the Year 1901 (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1902). (Call no. RRARE 352.05951 SIN; microfilm NL3406)
7. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 285.
8. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 405–06. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
9. Melody Zaccheus, “Centre Gives New Life to Chinatown’s Old Stories,” Straits Times, 9 January 2016, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Pamela Chow, “Heritage Museum Uses Technology, Seniors to Preserve the Past,” TTG Asia, 12 February 2018. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
11. Dawn Wong, “Plans for a Chinatown Street Market Area, Minus Cars,” Straits Times, 3 January 2003, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Lee Geok Boi, The Religious Monuments of Singapore: Faiths of Our Forefathers (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2002), 91. (Call no. RSING 726.095957 LEE)
13. H. W. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula,” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42 (February 1905): 118–19. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)
14. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places,” 118–19.
15. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 285.
16. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 234. (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
The information in this article is valid as at September 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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