History of Katong


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

English Katong
Chinese 加东
(Pinyin Jiādōng)
Malay Katong
Tamil fill in

Katong is a residential area in the east of Singapore near the seafront. It is a suburb of great prestige and possesses special historical charm for its Asian heritage and seaside town charm. Formerly located by the sea, land was reclaimed all the way to East Coast Park to provide more land for housing and recreational purposes due to shortage of land in the late 1960s after Singapore gained independence.

Katong is also the location of many villas and mansions of the wealthy elite in the 19th to the mid 20th centuries, who made their fortunes in the Far East and built seaside resorts, villas and manors along the beachfront of Katong, beginning from Katong Park to the end of the East Coast.

Katong’s rich cultural mix has contributed to its unique cuisine. Katong is well known for its restaurants serving Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine, particularly a spicy Malay noodle soup called Peranakan laksa. Because it was originally made in Katong, it has come to be known as the Katong laksa throughout the world in Hong Kong and New York.




Katong is the name of an exotic species of sea turtle now extinct. It also means the rippling effect of a sea mirage when looking at a shoreline. Tanjong Katong was a popular beach along the East Coast. Tanjong means peninsula or promontory in Malay. This coastal feature was located near the present Tanjong Katong Flyover across East Coast Parkway and had since disappeared due to land reclamation.


Katong’s history has been rooted in prestige and wealth. Many wealthy English, Portuguese, Anglo-French and Chinese settlers bought parcels of land here beside the sea to cultivate plantations. They built business empires from trading in these early international commodities such as cotton, coconut and gambier.

The earliest cultivation took place in 1823, when Francis Bernard, son-in-law of Lieutenant Colonel William Farquhar, the first Resident of Singapore, started a coconut estate in the district.

Gradually, the crown of Singapore sold plots of land in the area stretching from Frankel Avenue, Siglap Road, to the Geylang River. From Geylang Road to the sea, land was granted to individuals in large parcels, ranging from 8 to 200 hectares. Pioneer estate owners included Thomas Dunman, Thomas Crane, Sir Jose d’Almeida, John Armstrong, Whampoa Hoo Ah Kay, Chew Joo Chiat and the Little family.

Most of the land was given over to coconut plantations because of the suitably sandy conditions, although cotton was also introduced in February 1836 . Unnfortunately, cotton planting was largely a failure and only coconut plantations remained.

In the first four decades of the twentieth century and especially after World War I, Katong developed from a weekend seaside retreat into a home for the wealthy, who built their main residence away from the hustle and bustle of town-life in the form of ornate and immense colonial seaside bungalows. Katong then took the form of a wealthy suburb. Large colonial, Chinese and Peranakan bungalows were built along Meyer Road, Mountbatten Road, East Coast Road (now divided into East Coast Road and Upper East Coast Road) while many upper-class family homes were built on increasingly expensive and smaller plots of land around Joo Chiat Road (formerly the family estate of Joo Chiat) and Tanjong Katong Road (which in English means “Road of the Turtle Mirage Promontory”).

The Katong of today covers both sides of Tanjong Katong Road and the seaward strip along Mountbatten Road and East Coast Road, stretching from Katong Park up to Martia Road. Also included in this strip are the Katong Church and CHIJ Katong Convent.

The Katong area, a stretch between Tembeling Road and Telok Kurau Road, with the old Joo Chiat Police Station which is now Katong Mall as its centre, was an ethnic enclave of the Eurasians.

Many “town” Eurasians moved here in the 1920s and 1930s due to several reasons. They were attracted by the building of Saint Patrick’s (1933) and also by the Holy Family Church also known as “Katong Church”. Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Katong (CHIJ Katong) was built much later on Martia Road and expanded its secondary school into Marine Parade after land reclamation of the East Coast in 1965.

The Eurasians wanted better homes after the Depression; however, the city centre of Singapore and its surrounding area was experiencing congestion and pollution with overcrowding being common. Therefore, they sold their estates in town and built their homes in Katong. The Chinese settlers followed suit.


The area is traditionally associated with the Eurasian and Peranakan community. However, many high-rise apartment blocks now stand alongside the traditional shophouses and Peranakan terrace houses. In 1993, the Joo Chiat neighbourhood which comprises the historical centre of Katong, with its delicate and uniquely Singaporean architecture mixing Chinese, Peranakan and English colonial styles, was designated a national heritage conservation area by the Singapore Government. Many of the traditional houses in the area, which includes the ancient villa of Chinese tycoon Joo Chiat, have been conserved and are now luxury homes for the wealthy elite of Singapore.

In the 2000s there was a widely-publicized and televised Everitt Road Saga, in which the neighbours fought a cold war with surveillance cameras and automated digital video cameras, floodlights and verbal potshots. This seemingly silly conflict was televised throughout South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.


It was home to the earlier scions of the Englishmen Sir Arthur, Lord Meyer, Lord Mountbatten, Cathay Organisation film magnate Loke Wan Tho. Its illustrious residents include the ancestral family of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. The incumbent president Sellapan Ramanathan lives in Katong as his own residence. Since the 1990s, an increasing number of wealthy Americans have moved from Bukit Timah into Katong luxury residences – architecturally-unique conserved shophouses meant for glamorous millionaires. In addition, many other Peranakan shophouses have been conserved into high-end boutique hotels serving wealthy Asian, European and American expatriates moving away from the terrorist-prone zone of Holland Village, such as Sandalwood. Many Parisian and European fashion labels such as Agnes B. and Comme des Garcons have expressed interest in turning the quaint shophouses around Joo Chiat into exclusive closed boutiques, like those in the fashionable West Chelsea and meatpacking district of Manhattan. These closed boutiques are meant for the exclusive international VHNW very high net-worth private-banking clientele who fiercely guard their privacy, a unique niche economic group which shops on an absolutely different scale. Katong is preferred as these families do not engage in conspicuous consumption available in the densely-populated and very public Orchard and City areas.


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