Boon Keng Estate

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Boon Keng Estate

Today, this is a modern Housing and Development Board (HDB) estate served by an underground Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station. But in 1840, this area on the upper reaches of Serangoon Road was still regarded as the outskirts of the city, even though it was only about four kilometres from the Singapore River. But that changed when Hoo Ah Kay alias Whampoa built a villa here in 1855.

Located on a 162-hectare piece of land, Whampoa's house was a plantation villa with Chinese, Malay and European influences; it had finely fretted timber balusters (short pillars that supported a rail), moulded brick and stucco pilasters, slender timber and cast iron columns and full length glazed and louvred windows. There was a dining room on the ground floor and lounge above, with bedrooms in the wings and bathrooms at the rear. Visitors were received at a carriage porch covered by an open-air verandah. There were also separate stables, a kitchen and servants' quarters.

Around the house, Whampoa cultivated mandarin oranges and other fruit trees, ornamental plants and kept exotic pets such as cassowaries and an orang-utan who preferred brandy to water. The garden had artifical ponds, rockeries and topiaries maintained by gardeners from Guangdong, China. During his lifetime, Whampoa's Gardens (known as Nam Sang Fa Un in Cantonese) was the scene of regular parties and was open to the public during the Lunar New Year.

After Whampoa's death, the villa was acquired by Seah Liang Seah, a millionaire who renamed it Bendemeer House and continued the tradition of hosting lavish gatherings for the colonial elite.

The road on the other side of the estate was later named Bendemeer Road to honour Seah's contributions to the community. After WWII, the house was used as a military billet. This probably contributed to its deterioration, and in 1964, the house and surrounding estate were acquired by the government and demolished to make way for the Boon Keng Housing Estate.