Tucked in a quaint corner unbeknownst to many, a little trinket from Singapore’s heritage resides in plain sight even as developments sprout up around it. Visible to commuters travelling between Sembawang and Yishun, the Old Admiralty House is a national monument that few are aware of. Cloaked in the various incarnations of its previous roles, this gem of the north was gazetted in 2002, and now stands atop Admiral Hill. The development retains its idyllic charm, even as the world goes by.
Back when Singapore was still a British colony, the Old Admiralty House was built in 1939, and served as a residence for senior British Naval officers. The Old Admiralty House has changed its name on several occasions to reflect the British influence – Canberra House, Nelson House, Admiralty House and even ANZUK (Australia New Zealand United Kingdom) House. Often cited synonymously as part of Sembawang Naval Base, the current name ‘Old Admiralty House’ probably pays homage to its role as a former colonial house.
Having been a residence for military officers over the course of 35 years, the Old Admiralty House was a blank canvas awaiting a new painter when the last ANZUK forces left Singapore in the middle of the 1970s. A vivid testament of Singapore’s history, pre-independence, an underground bunker was even discovered on the premises when the ground under an excavator gave way during landscaping works in 1990.
Designed by renowned British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, the unique 19th Century “Arts and Crafts” architectural style made the Old Admiralty House a distinctive location with great potential. The versatility of its architectural style and its unique location saw the Old Admiralty House undergo numerous transformations, serving as a hotel, a private residence and even served as Sembawang Shipyard’s recreation club. An outdoor disco, complete with dance floor and laser lights, was a popular spot for many residents, who would spend hours honing their dance moves under the stars. National Development Minister, Khaw Boon Wan and his family, are among those with fond memories of this outdoor disco.
The Old Admiralty House would eventually find its calling in recreation and leisure. When the Singapore Land Authority put the Old Admiralty House up for tender in 2007, it was unsurprisingly earmarked as a recreation site for the community living in the northern parts of Singapore. After all, Yishun Country Club, and later, Karimun Admiralty Country Club, had taken over the premises from 1991 to the early 2000s. Birthdays, weddings and celebrations were all held in the Old Admiralty House as laughter filled the halls. Families would spend hours lounging in the pool to escape the midday heat.
Today, the Old Admiralty House is once again abuzz with activity as it houses students and teachers as a private school – the FIS Institute. Having had a new lease of life, the Old Admiralty House continues its passage through Singapore’s history with renewed vigour, its relentless march forward even as the world tries in vain to pass it by.