History Served in the Guillemard Road Forecourts
Singapore was a sporting colony even before independence. The 1950s saw accomplishments across different sports fields, following Singapore’s first appearance in the Olympics when Lloyd Valberg represented Singapore in the 1948 Olympics high jump event. In this period, several facilities were built to groom and develop sporting talents. The Farrer Park Athletic Centre, which was built in 1956, contributed to an illustrious track and field history, producing athletes such as C Kunalan and Heather Siddons. The Farrer Park Swimming Complex, built a year later, groomed swim stars such Ang Peng Siong, who was once the world’s fastest man in the 50-metres freestyle. Singapore also served good results in the badminton courts, in a combined Malaya team that dominated the sport for almost a decade – winning the Thomas Cup in 1949, 1952 and 1955.
“The $800,000 hall of the Singapore Badminton Association at Guillemard Road, described by pessimists as the ‘hall of dreams,’ will be officially opened tomorrow by the Governor of Singapore, Mr. J. F. Nicoll. It was completed last week, four months after work had started. The opening will be followed by a block all party and exhibition badminton matches,” reported The Straits Times on 6 June 1952.
The Singapore Badminton Hall opened on 7 June 1952 and signalled new ambitions at the turn of the 1950s.
The Singapore Badminton Hall was built to host the 1952 Thomas Cup, although the tournament was eventually held at the stadium in Happy World. The Hall did host subsequent Thomas Cup matches however. The Hall was proposed by the Singapore Badminton Association as a place to train their players and hold matches. Public fund sourcing began in 1949 but proved to be challenging. With donations and a key loan from prominent businessman Aw Boon Haw, construction of the Hall began. Aw was best known for building the Tiger Balm Gardens (today’s Haw Par Villa) on a hillside land off Pasir Panjang Road in the 1930s.
Completed in June 1952, the Hall housed four courts, canteens, changing rooms, offices and sat 5,500 spectators. Some of the key sporting events hosted in the Hall’s history included the 1955 and 1958 Thomas Cup, and the 12th and 17th Southeast Asia Games in 1983 and 1993.
The Hall also hosted an interesting range of non-sporting events. Several musical acts performed at the Hall, with the most notable being the Rolling Stones in February 1965. It was reportedly so crowded that a wall erected for the concert collapsed.
The Hall was also the site of one of the most significant events in Singapore’s history. It was the vote counting station and announcement point for results of the National Referendum 1962. The People’s Action Party government had called for the people of Singapore to vote on the proposed issue of merger with the Federation of Malaya to form a new unified Federation of Malaysia. Close to 570,000 registered citizens, or 90 percent of eligible voters, turned up to vote. The votes were counted overnight from 1 September 1962 and announced the following morning at the Hall – about 71 percent of the electorate voted for the merger.
Following merger and independence, the Hall continued to host both sporting and non-sporting events. Although the Hall was recognised as a historical site by the National Heritage Board in 1999, it was unfortunately closed in 2008 when the Singapore Badminton Association decided not to renew its lease. In January 2008, the Association relocated to the Singapore Sports School before moving to its present-day location at the Singapore Sports Hub in 2011. The former Hall became the Guillemard Village when it reopened in 2009 as a food-and-beverage and leisure hub.
Guillemard Village remains a grey unassuming looking building along Guillemard Road today. As the former Singapore Badminton Hall, it symbolised sporting ambitions of pre-independence Singapore. The Guillemard Road forecourts was also historically significant as the site of political rallies, fairs, speeches, community and international musical performances, and most importantly, as the vote counting station for the Singapore National Referendum 1962.