Joo Chiat

Singapore Infopedia


Joo Chiat is an area located in the eastern part of Singapore that is known for its multi-cultural heritage. It derived its name from a number of roads in the area named after plantation owner and philanthropist, Chew Joo Chiat. In the early 20th century, significant Peranakan (Straits Chinese) and Eurasian populations moved into Joo Chiat alongside the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. Today, Joo Chiat’s multi-ethnic influences are most evident in its architecture and dining options. Joo Chiat is often conflated with nearby Katong; a 2001 book on Joo Chiat noted that, for many, the terms Joo Chiat and Katong are virtually interchangeable.1

Early history
In the 1820s, the area that later became known as Joo Chiat consisted of coconut and cotton plantations, including Confederate Estate (which is today part of Joo Chiat Road), The Grove and Perseverance Estate. Early plantation owners in the area included Francis Bernard, Sir Jose d’Almeida, Thomas Dunman and Whampoa Hoo Ah Kay.2

Besides plantations, the area also contained country houses and seaside bungalows built by the wealthy, as well as a number of villages. In an 1885 map of Singapore’s East Coast, the area that later became Joo Chiat is not delineated and lies between the areas of Gelang (Geylang) and Siglap. Two prominent locations existent on the map, however, are the seaside point of Tanjong Katong and Confederate Estate, on the outskirts of Siglap.3

From 1900, people leaving the overcrowded city centre were drawn to the east, with a resultant growth in the area’s resident population. New residential areas with attendant amenities were established, and these included what is now the Joo Chiat area. In early 1905, an electric tramway ran between the Joo Chiat-Changi Market (present-day Joo Chiat Complex) and Tanjong Pagar near the city centre. From the 1920s, the area was served by a number of bus companies; other forms of transportation included taxis and trishaws.4

Demand for residential land began to break up the plantations, and the establishment of Catholic churches and schools in the early 1900s brought a significant Eurasian presence into the area. Around the same period, Peranakan families began to settle in Joo Chiat, building the Peranakan-style shophouses that Joo Chiat is known for today. Some of the best examples of these shophouses are found along Koon Seng Road, Everitt Road and Joo Chiat Place.5

Chew Joo Chiat
Chew Joo Chiat, a migrant from China turned wealthy philanthropist, had made his fortune as a trader before becoming a plantation owner, cultivating gambier, nutmeg and coconut. In the first two decades of the 1900s, he acquired considerable amount of land in the Katong/Joo Chiat area, and became known as the “King of Katong”.6 These acquisitions included freehold land, spanning 12,070 sq ft (1,121 sq m), along Confederate Estate Road at a price of $460, as recorded in a 1910 property notice.7 Confederate Estate Road was a dirt track stretching from Geylang Serai, through Confederate Estate and Perseverance Estate, to the seafront. Chew also came to own large tracts of land around these two estates. By 1917, Confederate Estate Road had become known as Joo Chiat Road, after Chew agreed to make it available for public use.8

Other roads in the area that were named after Chew include Joo Chiat Lane, Joo Chiat Terrace and Joo Chiat Place. The local post office, market and police station were also named after him.9

As the area developed, the Chew family sold off parcels of land for residential and commercial use. The roads in Joo Chiat were eventually taken over by first the Rural Board, then the Municipality. Soon, more roads were laid out and these included Marshall Road, Pennefather Road, Carpmael Road, Everitt Road, Still Road and Koon Seng Road.10

Post-war Joo Chiat
The Japanese Occupation (1942–45) put a temporary halt to the growth of Joo Chiat, but development resumed in the 1950s. Shopping centres and departmental stores began to compete with wet markets, while cinemas and other entertainment outlets like bars and pubs (from the 1970s) appeared to cater to the growing population.11

In the 1950s and ’60s, landmarks such as the Roxy and Odeon cinemas, and the Tay Buan Guan supermarket and departmental store were constructed in the Roxy area that straddled Joo Chiat and Katong.12 Other landmarks in Joo Chiat included Chew’s house, the Sri Vinayagar Kalamandapam Temple, the Kuan Im Tng temple and the Galaxy cinema.13 Landmarks previously prominent in Joo Chiat, such as kampong (villages), stilt houses and holiday bungalows, had largely disappeared by the 1980s, or existed only as isolated examples.14

Recent developments
In 1991, the Urban Redevelopment Authority gazetted 518 buildings in Joo Chiat for conservation. These were mainly two-storey shophouses and terrace houses of the Transitional, Late and Art Deco architectural styles. Joo Chiat was designated a conservation area in July 1993.15

In the early 2000s, a proliferation of bars, hourly-rate hotels, karaoke lounges and massage parlours had appeared on Joo Chiat Road, giving the area a sleazy reputation.16 Concerned about an increase in activities such as prostitution, fights and public drunkenness, residents formed the Save Joo Chiat Working Group in 2004.17 The group set up a community watch and also lobbied the government on law-and-order issues and licences for businesses associated with the vice trade. Tighter law enforcement and a moratorium on new licences for bars, lounges and massage parlours in Joo Chiat then resulted in a number of these businesses closing and a reduction in vice.18

The clean-up of Joo Chiat and renewed interest in the heritage of the area brought a new wave of redevelopment in the late 2000s. New businesses such as art galleries, design studios, upmarket retail outlets, boutique hotels and eateries emerged, while a number of shophouses were restored and new condominiums built.19

In February 2011, the National Heritage Board designated Joo Chiat as Singapore’s first Heritage Town. The award provided funding for the development of heritage and community activities for the area.20

Alvin Chua

1. Lily Kong and T. C. Chang, Joo Chiat: A Living Legacy (Singapore: Joo Chiat Citizens’ Consultative Committee in association with National Archives of Singapore, 2001), 26, 39–40 (Call no. RSING q959.57 KON-[HIS]); Brian J. Shaw and Rahil Ismail, “Ethnoscapes, Entertainment and ’Eritage in the Global City: Segmented Spaces in Singapore’s Joo Chiat Road,” GeoJournal 66, no. 3 (2006): 189. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
2. “Joo Chiat Road,” Straits Times, 30 March 1917, 11 (From NewspaperSG); Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 21, 29, 39.
3. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 21–23.
4. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 56–57.
5. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 40.
6. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 193 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Shaw and Ismail, “Ethnoscapes, Entertainment and ’Eritage in the Global City,” 189.
7. “Property Sales,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 27 July 1910, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 40.
9. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 40.
10. S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 1–2. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM)
11. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 45.
12. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 112–3; Shaw and Ismail, “Ethnoscapes, Entertainment and ’Eritage in the Global City,” 187–98.
13. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present, 1–2.
14. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 45–65.
15. Joyce Teo, “Joo Chiat Exudes Laid-Back Charms,” Straits Times, 21 September 2008, 25; “Mountbatten, Joo Chiat Are Conservation Areas,” Straits Times, 14 August 1993, 44 (From NewspaperSG); Lily Kong, Conserving the Past, Creating the Future: Urban Heritage in Singapore (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2011), 222–3. (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 KON)
16. “Battlefield Joo Chiat: Part II,” Straits Times, 2 July 2006, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Shaw and Ismail, “Ethnoscapes, Entertainment and ’Eritage in the Global City,” 196; Carl Skadian, “It’s a Battle to Bring the Old Joo Chiat Back,” Straits Times, 1 April 2005, 1; Tay Suan Chiang, “Come to Joo Chiat for the Art,” Straits Times, 24 August 2008, 43; Tay Suan Chiang, “Joo Chiat Facelift,” Straits Times, 17 October 2010, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Chua Kong Ho, “No More New Pubs, Massage Joints in Joo Chiat,” Straits Times, 13 February 2005, 8; Joyce Teo, “Joo Chiat Exudes Laid-Back Charms,” Straits Times, 21 September 2008, 25 (From NewspaperSG); Tay, “Joo Chiat Facelift.” 
19. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 132–45; Shuli Sudderuddin, Alvin Lim and Gabriel Yue, “Joo Chiat: From Sleazy to Trendy,” Straits Times, 8 June 2008, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Melissa Lin, “Joo Chiat Is First Heritage Town,” Straits Times, 20 February 2011, 18. (From NewspaperSG)

The Information in this article is valid as of 2012 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. 

Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE)


Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE), Singapore's ninth expressway, was fully opened to traffic on 20 September 2008. Stretching 12 km from East Coast Parkway (ECP) to Tampines Expressway (TPE), it includes a 9-kilometre-long tunnel, which was the longest underground road in Southeast Asia when it was completed in 2008. Built to...

Beaulieu House


Beaulieu House is located at 117 Beaulieu Road, within the grounds of what is now Sembawang Park. Built sometime in the 1910s, the house was believed to have been owned by a Jewish family by the name of David, before the building and the surrounding land were acquired by the...



Situated on the eastern fringe of the city centre, Aljunied broadly refers to the areas surrounding Aljunied Road, which connects Geylang Road and MacPherson Road, and Upper Aljunied Road, which extends from the MacPherson Road junction to Upper Serangoon Road....

Yan Kit Swimming Complex


Yan Kit Swimming Complex, located along Yan Kit Road, was Singapore’s second public swimming pool. Opened in 1952, the pool faced dwindling usage and high maintenance costs in later years, and was closed in 2001. ...

Alkaff Mansion


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. The mansion once served as...

Bedok land reclamation


The Bedok planning area – as delineated in 1994 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) – is bounded by Siglap Canal, Marine Parade Road, Still Road, Jalan Eunos, Eunos Link and Airport Road to the west, the Paya Lebar Airport boundary to the north and the Bedok Canal to the...

Public housing in Singapore


Public housing in Singapore may be said to have begun with the formal establishment of the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in 1927 by the colonial government to provide low-cost housing in addition to improvement works. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) replaced SIT as the national housing authority in 1960...



Pinnacle@Duxton is a public housing project at 1A Cantonment Road. It is the first 50-storey public housing project in Singapore, and also the first in the world with two sky bridges linking seven towers. The sky bridges create two layers of sky parks that offer panoramic views of the city....

Anderson Bridge


Anderson Bridge straddles the mouth of the Singapore River and connects Empress Place with Collyer Quay. It was named after John Anderson, governor of the Straits Settlements and high commissioner for the Federated Malay States (1904–11), who officially opened the bridge on 12 March 1910....

History of urban planning in Singapore


Urban planning in Singapore began in the 1820s when Stamford Raffles implemented a land-use plan later known as the Raffles Town Plan. However, for most of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Singapore’s physical growth was haphazard and largely unregulated. It was only in the...