An Old Art Deco Railway Station

This is as far my camera zoom can go. “The Four marble statues at exterior of building by the Italian sculptor Rudolfo Nolli, representing the four pillars of the Malayan and Singapore economy – Agriculture, Commerce, Transport and Industry, with the initials FMSR (Federated Malay States Railways)”. — From Wikipedia (yes, you heard it right, I used wikipedia for research!)

I used to pass by this imposing old building in Tanjong Pagar (Lee Kuan Yew’s old constituency) on my way to work. While it appears interesting, I thought it was just some abandoned mid 1900’s structure waiting to be demolished. Little did I know was that it’s quite a historic place – it was the main Singapore station in the old Malaysian railway line. If I knew it then, I would definitely have gone down and see it.

The building has been gazetted as a historic place by the local government (that means they plan to conserve it). But today it’s temporarily inaccessible to the public. So it was with regret that I could only take photos of the building from its gates. From the photos I saw on the internet, the building have remarkable wall paintings and a beautiful lofty white interior. I heard that last year people were still allowed inside. The station was closed back in 2011.

The building is an Art Deco. A visual art form that I’m not very familiar with. What I know is that this movement was created for its pure decorative form. Unlike most of the great designs inspired by religious interpretations, Art Deco artists had a secular approach to design. Art Deco building has also become increasingly rare. Which is odd because most of the buildings that carried its design was built in the 1900’s. You would think that there’s still a lot of them around but most of these buildings had already given way to modern constructions (where Jai Alai used to be played in Manila is an example – Mayor Atienza proudly leveled that memorable building). While I don’t find it alluring (I’m poor in appraising art, so don’t worry) its historic value is of great importance. Such buildings shows layers of history our cities was built upon.

I don’t have all the information but I’m curious to know if the closure had anything to do with the dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over immigration offices or if the building has just outlived its usefulness. The train from here crosses the Johor Straits to Malaysia. There’s not a lot of train networks in the world that crosses a sea channel like this line. To this day, Malaysian railway enjoys the reputation for being one of the best in Asia. It’s not as fast as those train bullets but it offers that priceless nostalgic feel of traveling.

The Tanjong Pagar station was opened in the 1920’s. An interesting fixture in its facade are the marble human statues representing the economy of the Malay colony. It was created by an Italian artist known for his artwork around here in Singapore. The remaining railway tract and the stations arrival and departure platform are still in place  I’m sure they plan to preserve portions of it.

Another old railway station here is in Bukit Timah. I plan to see it this month. I saw some pictures of it and it reminds me of our old railway stations in the Philippines – sad is that while ours are more elegant and charismatic, most of these had already been removed.

Well, you know who to thank for that.

A copper clock. It’s amazing that everything is still legible even after these years.

The canopy of the waiting area. It’s interesting how detailed these are.

These thick iron bars are built to last. I wonder if these dents came from the battles during WWII. I remember the iron fences of Adamson in Calle Marcelino having bullet holes from that war. You could just imagine the sheer number of bullets that was exchanged during those battles.

You’ll never see these kind of design and quality again. They don’t make them like they use to.

January 2013


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