Dotted with restaurants, casual eateries, holiday homes, seaside motels and recreational clubs, the East Coast has long been a playground for Singaporeans. Regattas featuring koleks (small wooden Malay boats) drew sailors from as far as the Indonesian islands. On the beach, spectators watched the races or participated in games such as climbing greased poles. The post-race dance parties featuring ronggeng (a dance from Java) and joget (a dance from Malacca) were perhaps as eagerly anticipated as the regattas themselves.
One of the few remaining vestiges of the once lively beachside dining scene, which drew many to this part of Singapore, remains at Upper East Coast Road in the form of the popular Hua Yu Wee seafood restaurant. The restaurant is housed in a 1920s bungalow with detached double-storey wings, outhouses and steps leading to the former beachfront. Other popular restaurants that were located in this area in the past include Long Beach Seafood, Palm Beach Seafood, Wyman’s Haven and Bedok Restaurant.
Within the housing estates, the variety of architectural styles spans a profusion of eras and movements including Bauhaus, Art Deco and local-Western fusions. The architecture of the area also comprises cooling features to stave off the tropical heat. Examples of such features include rectilinear “fins” framing windows that provided shade against the sun, and ventilation grills at the top of walls which allowed sea breezes to enter and cool the home.
The elaborate detailing, generous driveways and sea-fronting back gardens of houses in this area attest to the affluence of their residents. At the same time, the privileged lifestyles of these residents required the employment of service staff. These staff were often housed in narrow and compact barrack-style homes designed in a pared-down classical style that was favoured during the 1940s, when these homes were likely to have been built.
Today, few of the former seaside residences and restaurants remain but many are preserved through old photographs and in Malay-language films from the 1950s and 1960s such as Mat Tiga Suku and Korban Fitnah, which forever reinforces the image of the East Coast area as Singapore’s seaside idyll.