According to early Malay history, Singapura was founded in the 11th century by a mighty Sri Vijavan ruler, Sang Nila Utama, or Sri Tri Buana, Prince of Pelambang. Sailing past the island of Temasek, the prince caught sight of a great lion, standing guard at the mouth of a river. To the Sri Vijayans, the lion was the symbol of royalty and a powerful omen. Sri Tri Buana moved his royal court to the island, and named his new capital Singapura, “City of the Lion”.
Singapura flourished, becoming a rich emporium of the Eastern spice trade, “to which foreigners resorted in great numbers, so that the fame of the city and its greatness spread throughout the world.”
In the late 14th century, the Javanese sent their mighty fleet to conquer the island. The Sri Vijayan palaces were destroyed and the inhabitants scattered.
In time, the city disappeared beneath a verdant jungle cover. The only remains of the great city were the mighty ramparts, royal tombs, and a huge stone monument which marked the entrance to the city.
On 6 February 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles anchored off St John’s Island and rowed in the Singapore River. Passing the rocky, high promontory which formed the entrance to the river, he wondered if this was indeed a mythical lion, standing guard over the ancient royal city.
At the tip of this promontory lay a large stone monument, inscribed with an ancient script. Raffles was certain he found the lost city of Singapura. He raised the British flag and restored the island to the name, Singapore.
In the 1820s, a fortress was built on the rocky promontory. Named Fort Fullerton after the first Governor of the Straits Settlement, Sir Robert Fullerton, it commanded high views over the Singapore River on the North, and the harbour to the South.
In just a few years, the Singapore River became a bustling throng of warehouses and shops, packed with spices, tropical produce, Bird’s Nests and bêche-de-mer, bound for Europe, the Americas and China. In the Singapore Harbour were hundreds of vessels of every description, covering the horizon with endless masts and hoists of sail. Small crafts known as sampans, ferried endlessly between the warehouses on the river and the ships in the harbour.
In the midst of the bustle of the river and the harbour, the peninsula at Fort Fullerton was a place of calm. A bungalow was built for the officers, with a row of barracks along Flint Street. In 1854, it was refortified and tripled in size, armed with batteries of naval cannons firing 56 and 68 pound cannonballs.
By the 1860s however, the pressure on scarce waterfront land caused a surge in property prices all along the banks of the Singapore River. The merchants petitioned for the removal of the Fort; the land occupied by the garrison was too valuable for military use.
Eventually, new lands were secured for the garrison, and Fort Fullerton surrendered its lands to the growing commercial city. In 1873, the officers, barracks and batteries of cannon moved to the island we now call Sentosa.
With the departure of Fort Fullerton, the picturesque tree-lined promontory became the home to three of the most important institutions of Singapore – the General Post Office, The Singapore Club and the Chamber of Commerce. From military headquarters, Fort Fullerton became the headquarters of trade and commerce.
Following the development of Collyer Quay and the completion of Cavenagh Bridge in 1867, the thoroughfare in front of the General Post Office and the Exchange Building became the new central square. Named Fullerton Square, it linked the Harbour, the Government Offices of Empress Place and the commercial centre at Raffles Place.
Fullerton Square was the heart of Singapore. Two o’clock was Exchange Hour, a time for the community to gather at Fullerton Square. There, Singapore traders, officials and leaders met to make markets, strike deals and discuss the current issues of the day.
In 1919, Singapore passed its first Centenary. The mood was jubilant and the celebrations lavish, reflecting the riches and optimism of the community. The year passed with a rush of public festivities and projects.
The biggest and most ambitious was the Fullerton Building – the largest structure ever built in Singapore. It was sited on the entire peninsula of Fort Fullerton, with commanding views over the Singapore River and the Harbour. The Fullerton Building was audacious and ambitious, symbolising the new wealth and power of Singapore, and the enterprise and industry of its people. It was to be, in the words of the Governor, "a monument worthy of the city".
A London architect, Major P.H. Keys, was commissioned to design the building. Arriving in Singapore in 1920, Major Keys brought with him the designs and concepts of Greek Classical architecture, echoing the Parthenon in Athens, considered de rigueur for official public monuments. Only classical architecture, with its use of columns, porticos and decorations, could convey the power and splendour of the Empire.
After years of vigorous controversy over the costs and extravagance of the project, the foundations were laid in 1924, and the building completed in 1928.
At the opening of The Fullerton on 26 June 1928, the Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford, expressed the delight of the Singapore community with the finished building.
The Fullerton Building was a public monument in the grand, triumphal tradition. It dominated the city's skyline, becoming the most prominent feature of the waterfront. The business community passed through its enormous doors and caught views of its stately colonnade each day, whether crossing Anderson Bridge, visiting the Post Office, consulting the Inland Revenue Authority or conducting business with the many government and official offices within the massive façade.
During World War II, The Fullerton Building was gazetted as one of the sites to be protected from bomb shellings. Its stout walls were the last bastion of then Governor, Sir Shenton Thomas, before Singapore fell in 1942.
On 14 December 1958, the lighthouse on The Fullerton Building, known as the Fullerton Light, was turned on to guide ships ashore from more than 18 nautical miles (33 km) out of Singapore. It replaced the then 103 year-old Fort Canning light on Fort Canning Hill which was gradually being blocked by high rise buildings in the city.
The seafront location of The Fullerton Building was an ideal location for the lighthouse. Built by Stone-Chance Ltd of Crawley, England, the Fullerton Light was installed on the rooftop of The Fullerton Building, towering at almost 50m above sea level.
A day signal and night lookout post to aid shipping was housed under the Fullerton Light. It was manned by a group of eight lighthouse keepers who took turns to man four operational lighthouses at that time.
The revolving aerobeacon which produced an intensity of 540,000 candelas (equivalent to 1,080 60 watt bulbs) was powered by electricity and its own generator. The light provided a white, signal light group flashing four times every 20 seconds.
The Fullerton lighthouse was decommissioned on 30 November 1979. The construction of high-rise buildings on the reclaimed land near the waterfront was expected to block the Fullerton Light.
After the war, Singapore's tumultuous transition from colonial status to nationhood took place in the rain-soaked hustings at Fullerton Square. From the porticos and five-foot ways of the Fullerton Building, crowds declared their support for merdeka - independence.
When Singapore achieved nationhood, the economic czars who charted the nation’s economy – the Economic Development Board, Board of Trade and Ministry of Finance – were housed in the building, producing the ideas and inspiring the plans which guided and fuelled Singapore's meteoric economic growth.
The Fullerton Building commanded and protected the Harbour, the River and the City. Under its watchful eye, Singapore developed into one of the world’s finest financial centres, the world's busiest port, the leading Asian centre of oil refining and a manufacturing centre for information technology.
At the close of the 20th century and the opening of the 21st, the Fullerton Building underwent yet another transformation. With the coming Millennium, the Fullerton Building grasped the mood of change and saw the need to seek a new contemporary, 21st century purpose.
As the Fullerton Building was a historical landmark, it was placed under conservation. The exteriors were to be carefully restored, but within the colonnades, the building was transformed to a new purpose and for a new century. With the crossing into the Second Millennium, the Fullerton Building was reborn as The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore was officially launched on 1st January 2001. From its beginnings in 1928, The Fullerton Building played a significant role as the centre of Singapore’s commercial, social and official life; a symbol of our lion city, appearing in every postcard and view of the city, recognised by travellers from all over the world.
Whilst preserving the splendour, dignity and architectural heritage of the edifice, the energetic, progressive spirit of the Fullerton Building has blossomed into an icon of hospitality – an inspiration to all who pass through her doors.
Over the past 10 years, The Fullerton Heritage has successfully restored key iconic landmarks that are significant to the historical heritage of Singapore.
The Fullerton Heritage precinct comprises conserved and new buildings along Singapore’s waterfront that are progressively unveiled from 2001, starting with The Fullerton Hotel which continues its role as the bustling centre of Singapore's commercial life, redefined for 21st century life in a global community.
The creation of The Fullerton Heritage Precinct is a story of commitment and dedication. Find out more about the history of our four historic properties below.
It was during the high emotion and jubilation of Singapore’s Centenary in 1919, directly after World War I had ended with an Allied victory, that the plan for this grand building was conceived. It would be, said the then British Governor, Sir Laurence Guillemard, “a monument worthy of the city.” The massive classical-styled or Palladian, fluted Doric colonnades and elaborate ornamentation of the Fullerton Building reflect the full-blown colonial confidence of its builders at the time it was erected, 1928.
The building would hold not only the General Post Office, presided over by the Postmaster General, but also the Exchange, and offices for the Governor of Singapore and the High Commissioner for the Federation of Malay States, as well as other government offices such as the headquarters for the Master Attendant, the Surveyor-General of Ships, the Port Health Office, the Veterinary Surgeon and the Imports and Exports Office.
This is the building that has witnessed Singapore’s modern history unfold, acting as the last bastion of Singapore’s Governor Sir Shenton Thomas as the Japanese army marched into Singapore in 1942, with Allied soldiers taking refuge in its spacious corridors. The Fullerton Building was also the backdrop for pivotal political rallies during the post-World War II battle for Singapore’s Independence from the British. The ‘Singapore Stone’, one of Singapore’s most famous national treasure was also unearthed on its ground.
Today, the building is home to the luxurious grande dame 400-room The Fullerton Hotel. Extraordinary for its historic architecture and for the scale and quality of its 21st century restoration, The Fullerton Hotel has won the hearts of many of our guests, as it provides a blend of luxurious living with a touch of elegance and the nostalgia of old.
Once adorned with red oil lanterns hanging from the pier to alert passing ships, Clifford Pier got its affectionate address—The Red-Lantern Pier—from rickshaw pullers, taxi-drivers and the local Singapore residents. Immigrants and visitors arriving by ship would anchor out along the harbour roads, and be transported in small boats greeted by the warm welcome of red oil lanterns, where the forefathers of today’s Singaporeans first step foot ashore our soil.
As the historical crux of immigration and trade for much of the 20th century, the Clifford Pier has been safeguarded for conservation as a reminder of Singapore’s grandeur past. Today, the 15,000 square feet Pier has come alive once more with its sophisticated refurbishment, a sparkling beacon attracting discerning patrons in search of the finest dining and entertainment options.
The Waterboat House is an Art Deco building designed by Swan & Maclaren and built in 1941. The three-storey building incorporates a basement which was visible from the sea. It has a prominent curved facade with a semicircular tower-like structure facing Fullerton Road. This site also used to house the Master Attendant’s Office in the late 19th century, from which the Master Attendant supervised all water activities until the harbour moved to Keppel in 1852. Subsequently a Water Office was built here to supply fresh water to incoming ships, and was in use until 1990. On 21 March 2002, Waterboat House was gazetted for conservation. It was awarded the 2005 URA Architectural Heritage Award for the restoration works, which included recovery of the original grey Shanghai Plaster finish and addition of a new glass annexe.
Today, she has evolved into a classy dining venue that offers incomparable, breathtaking views of the artful Esplanade Bridge, with its sweep out to the Esplanade Theatres and the imposing skyscrapers of the Marina Bay foreshore beyond from its upper floor windows.
Integral to the safety of Singapore’s harbour, Customs House was the home of the harbour division of the Singapore Customs Police in 1969. It was here that the customs personnel kept a round-the-clock vigil from the 23 metre-high control tower, looking out for small boats attempting to smuggle in dutiable goods. Once an attempt was noticed, the men in the tower will signal their fellow officers below who would dash out in speedboats and intercept the suspects. Raids on the high seas, seizures of narcotics consignments, and encounters with pirates were all part of the colourful story that once took place upon the waters by the Customs House.
Today, it houses an assembly of some five world-class signature restaurants each specialising in different cuisines, with panoramic views of Marina Bay and the Central Business District’s dramatic skyline. It has been lovingly restored, with its original butterfly fascia boards, beams and window panels around the watchtower still kept intact. The building’s unique position flush with the seafront edge is accentuated by an infinity-edge waterscape feature designed into the heart of the site.