(The living room at 38 Oxley Road. Image courtesy of Zaobao.)
Centre of Power
Located between Oxley Rise and Eber road to the north and River Valley Road to the south, this fairly prosperous, but by no means ostentatiously so, street has played host to pivotal changes and landmarks in Singapore’s modern history and development. The house at 38 Oxley Road is the home of Singapore’s most famous citizen and the person who more than any other shaped the city-state’s development: Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Mentor Minister.
Dead and Gone?
Now, 38 Oxley Road, home to the Lees since the 1940s, is in the news after Lee Kuan Yew has revealed that he told the People’s Action Party (PAP) cabinet, “When I’m dead, demolish it.” Although the Istana – the official residence of the President of Singapore – is undoubtedly the building associated with government and Singapore, it could be argued that number 38 was was the true home of government in Singapore.
(Lee Kuan Yew, and his late wife Kwa Geok Choo, at their home, 38 Oxley Road.)
It was there where some 20 people, including the 14 founding members of the PAP, first gathered during the British colonial administration to discuss the transition of the island from colony to independence. According to the book Men In White: The Untold Story Of Singapore’s Ruling Political Party – an account of the PAP’s rise to and hold of power – the group which became known as the Oxley Road circle started meeting in the house’s basement in late 1954.
With independence, the house became the focal point for the PAP and the governance of Singapore. It was here that Singapore’s current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, spent his childhood, and even today it is guarded by the gurkhas – Singapore’s elite military force.
Preserve or Profit?
Built over 100 years ago by a Jewish merchant, Lee Kuan Yew described the property as “a big, rambling house with five bedrooms, and three others at the back originally used as servants’ quarters”. Now, however, he states that it is too old, with cracks in the wall, and claims that his children would not bemoan its loss.
While preserving the homes of a country’s statesman and notable figures is nothing new – Mahatma Gandhi’s home in Mumbai is a popular museum and Nelson Mandela’s ‘home’ for almost 20 years – his cell in Robben Island – is a UN World Heritage Site. Yet, Lee Kuan Yew dismissed the idea, saying “’I’ve seen other houses, Nehru’s, Shakespeare’s. They become a shambles after a while.”
What do you think? Should Lee Kuan Yew’s home be preserved for posterity as a heritage site, or should the Mentor Minister’s wishes be honoured and 38 Oxley Road demolished?