Situated on the slope of Pearl’s Hill is the former building of Pearl’s Hill Police Operational Headquarters. Standing beside its pale-blue neighbour, the former Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Headquarters, the khaki-colour building of Operations Command, Radio Division, Public Affairs, and Police National Service Headquarters displays a sense of authority on the steep road of Pearl’s Hill Terrace.
Pearl’s Hill has a long history back to the early 19th century. In 1822, Lieutenant James Pearl, Commander of the ship Indiana, bought the hill from the Chinese plantation owners and named it Mount Stamford, after Sir Stamford Raffles. When he went back to Europe a few years later, Pearl sold the hill to the colonial government. The hill became known as Pearl’s Hill since then.
The former Police Operational Headquarters and the former CID Headquarters were formerly known as Upper and Lower Barracks, built in the 1930s for the Straits Settlements Police’s (SSP) Sikh contingent. SSP was disbanded in 1946, and after Singapore’s independence in 1965, the barracks were used as the main buildings of the Ministry of Interior and Defence (the predecessor of the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs) until the late seventies.
Designed in Neo-Classical styles, these buildings that housed the former police headquarters were made of reinforced concrete. At 160m long, Pearl’s Hill Police Operational Headquarters was one of the longest pre-war government buildings in Singapore.
The top wall above the main entrance of the building still bears the old crest of the Straits Settlements Police, the remnant of the building with an illustrious colonial past.
During Singapore’s independence in 1965, the Police Security Branch was based in a colonial bungalow at Pearl’s Hill Terrace for seven years. Established since 1953, the role of the Security Branch was to ensure the personal safety of the President, Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers after independence.
All three buildings of the former Police Operational Headquarters, CID Headquarters and the Security Branch were gazetted for conservation in December 2008.
Like the former CID Headquarters, the former Police Operational Headquarters was once rumoured to be haunted after it was left vacant for a certain period. The rumours died down after tenants moved in to convert the place into a center of arts and sculpture.
The 12-storey apartment block of Pearl’s Hill Terrace used to house the personnel of the police force stationed at the former Police Operational Headquarters and the CID Headquarters. After 2007, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) made the block available for rental to expats and foreign students.
One of the oldest service reservoirs still in operation in Singapore, Pearl’s Hill Reservoir is located at the peak of Pearl’s Hill City Park (The oldest reservoir in Singapore is MacRitchie Reservoir, an impounding reservoir completed in 1868).
Originally known as High Service Reservoir, it started functioning in 1904 after six years of construction. Built like a fortress, it can store 6 million gallons of water and is still the main supply of water to Chinatown after more than a century. Most of the service reservoirs built by the British had been demolished; the Mount Emily Reservoir, built in the 1880s to provide fresh water to the town, was later converted into Mount Emily Swimming Pool (1931-1980s).
At the top of Pearl’s Hill, one can see the imposing building of Pearl’s Hill Apartments. Uniquely designed in 3/4 cylindrical shape, the 37-storey apartment was built in 1976 and scored many firsts in Singapore.
It was Housing Development Board’s (HDB) first all-housing project under its Urban Renewal Department, which aimed to replace old shophouses in the city area with high-rise housing. Upon its completion, Pearl’s Hill Apartments was also Singapore’s tallest residential building and the one with the most number of units in a single tower.
The symbolic buildings that once stood on or around Pearl’s Hill were the first Tan Tock Seng Hospital (built in 1844), Seamen’s Hospital (1845), Pearl’s Hill Prison (1847) and Pearl’s Hill School (1881).
Published: 09 July 2012
Updated: 04 January 2013