Viewed from the outside, The Scarlet Singapore transports one back in time. Located along Erskine Road, it is made up of 14 original two-storey shophouses anchored by a four-story art deco style concrete building. Given the retrofitted modernity of its interior, guests residing in one of the 80 opulent rooms at this luxury boutique hotel would hardly guess that the building was constructed 151 years ago.
Built in 1868, these early style of shophouses were constructed with locally-sourced materials. It was designed to have minimal plaster ornamentation, with wooden shuttered windows and red clay-tiled roofs. The five-footway at the first storey of the shophouses served as a sheltered space for pedestrian movement and social activities.
Back then, accommodation at Erskine Road was a far cry from the modern comforts of today. The shophouses initially served as shared living quarters for poor immigrants.
Life was a struggle; besides the daily toil of staying in overcrowded, unsanitary and crowded conditions, the residents had to face secret societies, prostitution, and opium dens out on the colourful streets. This was made more bearable by recreational activities, such as mahjong and opera performances organised by newly started clan associations as more and more Chinese immigrants flocked to the area.
Later on, the shophouses were adapted to house horse-drawn carriage vendors. Through the day, coachmen ferried people. At night, they slept in the shophouses with their horses. Doors on the first floor were removed to allow for horses and carriages.
Years later, in 1924, a four-storey concrete building was erected at the junction of Erskine Road and Ann Siang Road. During this time, technological advances in the world, as well as a booming post war economy, were beginning to influence shophouse architecture.
In contrast to the squat shophouses, the art deco style building at 37 Erskine Road incorporated elements of geometric shapes, strong horizontal lines and streamlined designs. Designed by Westerhout & Oman, this impressive building was formerly home to the Singapore Hok Kiaw Athletic Association (a lion dance troupe) and the Singapore General Printing Workers Union.
In 1988, an enterprising Taiwanese developer bought the 14 shophouses and converted them into The Inn of Sixth Happiness (龙门客栈)—a small boutique hotel. Business was so good that the owners eventually purchased the four-storey building in 1992 in order to provide additional rooms.
The inn eventually closed down in the mid-1990s, and was sold to the current developers in 1997. After years of restoration, The Scarlet Singapore stands today as a landmark of the area and reminder of Singapore’s early history.
Buildings and sites featured on Roots.SG are part of our efforts to raise awareness of our heritage; a listing on Roots.SG does not imply any form of preservation or conservation status, unless it is mentioned in the article. The information in this article is valid as of September 2019 and is not intended to be an exhaustive history of the site/building.