The former Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market is the only remaining market in Singapore designed by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). The market was officially opened on 23 October 1960 by then assemblyman for Queenstown, Dr Lee Siew Choh, to “keep the housing estate free of roadside hawkers”. These itinerant hawkers used to ply along Margaret Drive, Commonwealth Crescent and Tanglin Halt Road. Alongside the former Commonwealth Avenue Cooked Food Centre (built in 1970 and demolished in 2011), the wet market stood prominently along the main arterial road through Queenstown and has served as a well-known landmark to residents and visitors.
The wet market features a bold, parabolic-vaulted roof that allows rainwater to drain quickly and high internal spaces for effective air flow. Other design features such as the honeycomb screen wall at ground level allows air to pass while providing shade from the sun. The dome-shaped façade earned the wet market a morbid colloquial name from the residents, “the Coffin Market”, for its striking resemblance to a traditional Chinese coffin.
The first level of the wet market was originally catered to fresh produce and cooked food stalls, whereas sundry and provision shops could be found at the second level. Desmond Wong (b. 1971) a former resident at Strathmore Avenue, recalled witnessing a ‘live’ poultry slaughtering at the market.
“There was a large metallic cage filled with chickens which you could choose from. Then, the hawker would grab the chicken by its neck, slit the throat and leave the chicken there to die. Next, they would immerse the chickens into a large container filled with warm water so that the feathers could be plucked off easily. Within minutes, the chickens would be ready and placed in a paper bag.”
The Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market was closed in 2005 and the hawkers were relocated to other wet markets within the precinct. As an icon of Queenstown’s past, the former wet market was gazetted for conservation in 2014 to foster familiarity and identity as the estate undergoes renewal.