There are a lot of fine examples of adaptive reuse in Singapore. The hotel I stayed at in Chinatown was no exception. In fact, most branches of Santa Grand Hotels are heritage buildings that have been converted into boutique hotels. They have two branches in Chinatown right beside each other, Santa Grand Hotel Chinatown and Santa Grand Hotel Lai Chun Yuen where I stayed.
According to the marker in front of the hotel, "Lai Chun Yuen was by far the most popular Chinese opera theatre in Singapore in the late 19th century. Built in 1887 and originally designed in the style of a Chinese teahouse, its overwhelming popularity made it a prominent landmark. Patrons would sit around small tables, nibbling tidbits and sipping tea while famous opera singers performed on stage. Wealthier patrons had private cubicles where they enjoyed more personal services, rendered by the girls from the brothels on Smith Street. All these took place in high-ceilinged rooms with wooden balconies, decorated with ornaments and dimly lit lanterns."
The lobby of the hotel is actually the main hallway of the old opera house. The Singapore Government required Santa Grand Hotels to preserve many elements of the opera house, including the stage which you can see right above the reception desk. Chinese lanterns adorn the hallways of the hotel.
And my room on the third floor leads to a common wooden balcony that affords guests a view of the street below. The room's furniture and fixtures are modern. But you can see that they've preserved the old wooden floor.
It's nice to see structures like these that survive generations because they are made relevant in changing times through adaptive reuse. The Chinese opera culture declined in the 1930s with the advent of cinema. In fact Lai Chun Yuen was converted into a cinema in 1941. But that did not survive the Japanese Occupation. Today, it is a charming boutique hotel. But you can still feel the spirit of the place as you enter its portals.
Santa Grand Hotel Lai Chun Yuen
25 Trengganu Street, Chinatown
Santa Grand Hotels Central Reservation
Tel. No. +65 6298 8889; Fax No. +65 6396 8356
Thank you to the Singapore Tourism Board and Agatep Associates for arranging this visit!
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