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Armenian Street begins at the junction of Coleman Street and Stamford Road and ends at the point where Canning Rise and Coleman Street meet. The street has one bylane, the Loke Yew Street which connects Armenian Street to Hill Street. Named after the Armenians' Church, St Gregory the Illuminator, it was originally called Armenian Church Street. The street also has other important landmarks such as the Asian Civilisations Museum, MPH Building, the Substation, the Bible House and the United Chinese Library building.
Armenian's church, St. Gregory's Church is the oldest church of Singapore, having been built in 1836. The street was already in existence at the time the church was built but had remained unnamed. By the 1840s, the street which ran along a third of the church, came to be known as Armenian Church Street. It is likely that the name was shortened to Armenian Street some time later. This led to the mistaken belief that many Armenians resided or had businesses along this street. However, only one Armenian residence stood here, that of Aristarkies Sarkies whose mansion, the Zetland House, occupied one-sixth of the eastern side of the street but Aristarkies stayed no more than two years here. The street also only had one known Armenian business, that of George Michael who owned a photography studio in the early 1900s, located at the junction of Armenian Street and Stamford Road.
Beside Armenian Street, there were several other byways associated with the Armenians nearby. One of them was Armenian Lane which is since lost to development work, and a short unnamed portion which ran off Hill Street opposite the church and was built over in the 1990s.
Although short, this street has several significant buildings along it. The old Tao Nan School was built on this street in 1906 set up by the Singapore Hokkien Association. The Tao Nan School moved to another place in 1982 and in 1997, this building was converted into a museum which is now popular as the Asian Civilisations Museum. Originally displaying exhibits from China, Southeast Asia, India and West Asia, it now focuses on the presenting the culture of the Peranakan community. As a national monument, the intricate details of the building remain including the two black eagles at its entrance.
The MPH Building, built in 1908, is situated at the junction of Stamford road and Armenian Street. A big portion of the building extends into Armenian Street though its main entrance faces Stamford Road. The building was originally known as the Methodist Publishing House but it was renamed as Malaya Publishing House, after its operations were commercialised. Built in the Edwardian commercial street architecture style, it used to be well-known for the retail bookstore until in 2003 the building was sold to commercial educators.
An old electrical or power station, popularly known as The Substation, situated near the shophouses was renovated and converted into an arts centre in February 1990. This arts centre promotes the local arts scene and a performing stage and a small exhibition hall. Attached to it is a cafe and an open courtyard used often for performances and exhibitions.
The United Chinese Library was built between 1908 and 1911 below Fort Canning. It was inaugurated on 8 August 1910 by Sun Yat Sen, father of modern China. In 1911 this library was moved to Armenian Street. The library was set up as a part of the 50 reading rooms by the Chinese Republicans to promote their cause overseas. In 1987, the library was moved to Cantonment Road. But the Armenian Street building is still intact with the plaque at its entrance with Sun Yat Sen's words.
A string of shophouses line the street and had been there since the 1930s. They had recently housed the operations of the Singapore Museum and one of its Museum shop outlets. Opposite this string of shophouses is Wilmer Place which rents office space to private enterprises situated within its premises. Beside this is the Mayfair City Hotel, a vestige of old walk-in hotels of the 1970s. Some shophouses located at the junction of Armenian Street and Loke Yew Street are slated to be restored and conserved. Their ground floor units are popular as they serve cheap and famous hawker food. After Loke Yew Street stands a new building. The site used to be that of the US Embassy for some time until it was relocated to Tanglin area. The Bible House is the home of the Bible Society and serves as a metaphor of the open pages of the Bible.
Chinese name: Seng poh sin chu au, which literally meant the "back of Seng Poh's new building" or "behind Seng Poh's big house".
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
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(Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN)
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(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)
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(Call no.: RSING 915.9570014)
Tyers, R. (1993). Singapore: Then & now (p. 58). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)
Uma D. G, et al. (2002). Singapore's 100 historic places (pp. 12-13). Singapore: Archipelago Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
Wright, N. H. (2003). Respected citizens: The history of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia (p. 81). Victoria, Australia: Amassia Publishing.
(Call no.: RSING 305.891992 WRI)
Firmstone, H. W. (1905). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Journal of the Straits Branch Royal Asiatic Society, 42, 58, 59.
(Call no.: R 959.5 JMBRAS)
Sian, J. E. (2000, November 15). Ironic twist to substation fund raiser. The Straits Times, Life!, p.7.
Sim, C. Y. (2002, January 29). Armenian Street prewar buildings to be restored. The Straits Times.
The Substation Ltd. The Substation. Retrieved on March 13, 2003 from www.substation.org
The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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