The oldest surviving community organisation in the area is the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). YMCA was established in London, UK, in 1844 to provide healthy social, physical and educational activities for young men. Its Singapore branch was built as an Edwardian-style brick structure at Orchard Road in 1911.
Fondly known as the “Y”, the building offered classes for different commercial and technical subjects. The YMCA also set up Singapore’s first public swimming pool using a refitted water tank at Fort Canning in 1919, and later constructed tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts nearby.
During the Japanese Occupation, the rooms at the YMCA building were used as cells by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police) to torture prisoners. Two notable survivors were teacher Elizabeth Choy and her husband Choy Khun Heng, who were imprisoned for nearly 200 days for aiding prisoners-of-war.
After World War II, the “Y” underwent an extensive renovation and reopened its doors in 1946. It continued to organise educational and social activities, and had a restaurant and rooms for reading, billiards and games. The old “Y” was subsequently redeveloped into the present nine-storey building in 1984.