Built in 1947, the row of single-storey terraced units was developed by Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew self-help organisation. These single-storey shops offer an architectural contrast to the more typical double-storey shophouses that line other parts of Balestier.
In the past, terraced units such as these were common in many parts of Singapore, especially along main roads in rural areas where they housed shops, eateries and other establishments that served nearby residents. Most of these buildings have since been redeveloped, and this is the longest surviving row known today.
The architecture of these units is simple and functional, but there are elegant Art Deco touches in the curved front pediment of one unit (627 Balestier Road). The oldest shop in this row is Loong Fatt Tau Sar Piah (639 Balestier Road), which opened in 1948 as a cake shop. The shop units were conferred conservation status in 2003.
The land occupied by these terraced units was once a Teochew cemetery called Guang En Shan. This cemetery was one of many burial grounds established by Ngee Ann Kongsi to ensure proper burials for Teochew migrants in Singapore. After the Japanese Occupation, Ngee Ann Kongsi gradually exhumed and redeveloped Guang En Shan and its other cemeteries to raise funds for its charitable and educational activities.