Alkaff Mansion



Article

by Seow, Renee

Background

Alkaff Mansion is a 19th-century colonial bungalow located on a hill at 10 Telok Blangah Green. Built in 1918 by a member of the prominent Alkaff family as a weekend house, it became known for hosting high society parties in the 1930s.1 The mansion served as the headquarters of the World Buddhist Society2 from around 1970 to 1984 before it was redeveloped into a restaurant and party venue in the 1990s. The property was then returned to the government in 2004 upon closure of the restaurant. Left vacant for a number of years, the mansion was given a new lease of life when an Italian restaurant occupied the premises in 2011.

History
The Alkaffs are an Arab family whose ancestors arrived in Singapore from Yemen in 1852 and ran a profitable business trading in sugar, coffee and spices between India and Indonesia.3 As their fortunes expanded, they ventured into the property business, building and buying houses, bungalows and mosques such as the Alkaff Mosque.4

Alkaff Mansion was built in 1918 by Syed Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Alkaff, a nephew of Syed Shaikh Alkaff, the first Alkaff to arrive in Singapore.5 The mansion was constructed on a piece of land covering two hills in Telok Blangah Green and measured roughly 19 m by 17 m in size.6

Sited atop the hill, the two-storey Tudor-styled bungalow looked out on a 19-hectare park and commanded a sweeping view of Keppel Harbour. The hill was then believed to be the highest point in Singapore on which a bungalow sat. In 1926, renovation works were carried out to increase its built-in area to its current configuration of 650 sq m.7

In the 1930s, Alkaff Mansion became widely known as a gathering place for notable members of society.8 The Alkaffs fraternised with many distinguished personalities, including Syed Ibrahim bin Omar Alsagoff, Rajabali Jumabhoy and British colonial officials.9 One example of the many high society events held at the bungalow was a grand garden party held in 1932 to celebrate the appointment of Haji Shaikh Yahya bin Ahmad Afifi, general manager of Alkaff and Co., as a Justice of the Peace.10

The property was also known as Mount Washington, possibly due to the close relations the Alkaffs enjoyed with the American community in Singapore then.11

The Alkaffs also owned properties in other parts of Singapore including Pasir Panjang and Siglap as well as the picturesque Japanese-styled Alkaff Lake Gardens.12 Other prominent historical buildings that the Alkaffs bought or built included the Hotel de L’Europe and The Arcade building. It was reported that in 1923, the Alkaff family owned a total of 99 properties that generated US$30,000 of annual income.13

Post World War II
After World War II, the Alkaffs suffered business losses and sold off a number of their properties, including Alkaff Mansion and Alkaff Lake Gardens.14

The mansion later housed the headquarters of the World Buddhist Society, which built two temples nearby. According to a metal plate found on the site of one of the society’s temples, the British Army had owned the hill before presenting it as a gift to the society around 1970.15

The society vacated the premises in 1984 after the land was acquired by the government for the development of a 33-hectare park as part of the Mount Faber Park Extension project.16 Left unoccupied after the departure of the society, the mansion fell into a state of disrepair.17

Restoration and redevelopment
In 1987, the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now Singapore Tourism Board) announced plans to restore Alkaff Mansion and redevelop it as a tourist attraction and a venue for parties.18 The tender to restore and manage the mansion was awarded to Hotel Properties Ltd.19

Hotel Properties retained the name Alkaff Mansion and converted the building into a Dutch-Indonesian restaurant specialising in rijstaffel (which means "rice table" in Dutch) cuisine in 1990 after a S$5-million facelift.20 Refurbishment works included the addition of modern amenities such as a kitchen, garden bar and bandstand,21 and repairs to the roof and timber flooring. The restoration, which maintained the mansion’s architectural and historical heritage, received the Best Asean Conservation Effort award from the Asean Tourism Association in 1991.22

The renovated Alkaff Mansion became a popular venue for private events, receiving bookings for wedding banquets, corporate dinners and birthday parties. At the height of its popularity, it hosted more than a hundred weddings annually, with couples exchanging vows outdoors under a marquee in its terraced gardens. Demand was said to be high as the mansion offered an affordable and elegant alternative to hotel function rooms.23

The economic crisis in 2001 and SARS outbreak in 2003, however, took their toll on the restaurant’s business and it ceased operations in 2003.24 After the expiry of its lease in 2004, Hotel Properties handed over the mansion to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).25 The mansion was then left vacant for many years.26

Second restoration
In March 2010, SLA launched a tender to lease the mansion out. With a land area of 8,984 sq m and gross floor area of 1,220 sq m, Alkaff Mansion was earmarked for reuse as a restaurant, art gallery, spa or museum.

The tender was awarded to LES, a food and beverage company formed by three parties that included LHN Group, a Singapore firm that specialised in leasing old, unused properties from the government and converting them for new uses.27

After a S$5-million renovation that restored the mansion to its former glory,28 LES opened Italian restaurant Alkaff Mansion Ristorante in December 2011.29 New coloured glass windows and European-style fountains were added, while open arches and high ceilings allowed for greater ventilation to cool the interior. Much of the existing structure was retained and restored, while some furniture and fittings were custom-made to complement the building style. Beside the restaurant were an all-day pizza café, a bar, private dining rooms and dedicated spaces for weddings and private functions.

Conservation
Alkaff Mansion is located on Telok Blangah Hill, which together with Mount Faber, forms part of the Southern Ridges in the southwest of Singapore. As both hills were important battle sites during the Japanese invasion of Singapore, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) awarded the area conservation status on 9 June 2005. According to URA’s conservation guidelines, Alkaff Mansion’s façade, including the canopy, porch, windows and balustrades, must be retained and restored as part of any redevelopment.30

Design features
Alkaff Mansion’s key design features include broad stairways and European-style fountains in front of its main entrance. The outdoor area is adorned with a water feature, sundials and gazebos, while the mansion is surrounded by a white stone balustrade featuring English motifs. The mansion looks bigger than it is, possibly due to the turrets on either side of its façade.

The ground floor consists of a porch that extends into an elongated and narrow room, where the Alkaffs had their meals in the past. There is another porch fronting a room on the second floor with three other bedrooms occupying the remaining space.

During its days of high-society revelry, the mansion’s interior walls had elaborate designs engraved on them, while the tiles on the floor and in the toilets featured colourful flower patterns.31



Author

Renee Seow




References
1. Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 18–20). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
2. Temples make way for extension. (1984, July 3). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Alkaff Mansion to be spruced up into a tourist attraction. (1989, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, J. (2012, January 15). New life for historic Alkaff Mansion. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Remember Singapore. (2012, February 8). Grand mansions, bungalows and villas of the past. Retrieved from Remember Singapore website: http://remembersingapore.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/grand-mansions-bungalows-villas-of-the-past/; Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh. (2012, March 25). Rising from the rubble. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
4. Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh. (2012, March 25). Rising from the rubble. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 18–20). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
5. Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. (2011). The History of Alkaff Mansion Retrieved from Alkaff Mansion website: http://www.alkaff.com.sg/about/alkaff-mansion/; Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 18–20). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
6. Days of grand parties and fun. (1987, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. (2011). The History of Alkaff Mansion Retrieved from Alkaff Mansion website: http://www.alkaff.com.sg/about/alkaff-mansion/
8. Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. (2011). The History of Alkaff Mansion Retrieved from Alkaff Mansion website: http://www.alkaff.com.sg/about/alkaff-mansion/
9. When Alkaff House was a household word. (1989, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lovely homes of Jewish and Arab leaders: The Meyers and the Alkaffs. (1934, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Shaikh Yahya Afifi feted. (1932, June 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p.7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Man behind bungalow on Mount Washington. (1989, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh. (2012, March 25). Rising from the rubble. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 18–20). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
12. Remember Singapore. (2012, February 8). Grand mansions, bungalows and villas of the past. Retrieved from Remember Singapore website: http://remembersingapore.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/grand-mansions-bungalows-villas-of-the-past/
13. Man behind bungalow on Mount Washington. (1989, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. (2011). The History of Alkaff Mansion Retrieved from Alkaff Mansion website: http://www.alkaff.com.sg/about/alkaff-mansion/; Remember Singapore. (2012, February 8). Grand mansions, bungalows and villas of the past. Retrieved from Remember Singapore website: http://remembersingapore.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/grand-mansions-bungalows-villas-of-the-past/
15. Temples make way for extension. (1984, July 3). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Bigger park to frolic in. (1984, July 3). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. (2011). The History of Alkaff Mansion Retrieved from Alkaff Mansion website: http://www.alkaff.com.sg/about/alkaff-mansion/;
18. Million-dollar facelift for house on the hill. (1987, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Alkaff Mansion to be spruced up into a tourist attraction. (1989, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, A. (1990, August 23). Alkaff Mansion opens next month. The Business Times, p.14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh. (2012, March 25). Rising from the rubble. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 18–20). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
20. Lim, J. (2012, January 15). New life for historic Alkaff Mansion. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
21. Alkaff Mansion to be spruced up into a tourist attraction. (1989, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Leong, C. T. (1991, January 13). SIA, Alkaff Mansion win Asean tourism awards. The Straits Times, p.17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. (2011). The History of Alkaff Mansion Retrieved from Alkaff Mansion website: http://www.alkaff.com.sg/about/alkaff-mansion/
24. Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 18–20). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
25. Lim, J. (2012, January 15). New life for historic Alkaff Mansion. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
26. Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. (2011). The History of Alkaff Mansion Retrieved from Alkaff Mansion website: http://www.alkaff.com.sg/about/alkaff-mansion/; Remember Singapore. (2012, February 8). Grand mansions, bungalows and villas of the past. Retrieved from Remember Singapore website: http://remembersingapore.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/grand-mansions-bungalows-villas-of-the-past/
27. Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. (2011). The History of Alkaff Mansion Retrieved from Alkaff Mansion website: http://www.alkaff.com.sg/about/alkaff-mansion/
28. Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh ( 2012, March 27). Alkaff Mansion restored to former glory. Retrieved from Asiaone News website: http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20120325-335575.html
29. Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh. (2012, March 25). Rising from the rubble. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 18–20). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
30. Lim, J. (2012, January 15). New life for historic Alkaff Mansion. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, N. A. (2012, March 25). Rising from the rubble. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh ( 2012, March 27). Alkaff Mansion restored to former glory. Retrieved from Asiaone News website: http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20120325-335575.html
31. When Alkaff House was a household word. (1989, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further Resources
Enriquez, M. (2010, March 17). Former Alkaff Mansion up for public tender. Today. Retrieved March 15, 2013, from Factiva.




The information in this article is valid as at 15 March 2013 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 resources on the topic.

 

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