Feature photo: pprune.org

Raffles Hotel as we all know, is a historic five star hotel in Singapore under the AccorHotels Group. Intrigued by its rich history and timeless olden day colonial architecture, Senica Photos decided to dig in to the history of this National Monument. We were amazed by the events this alluring building has witnessed over the century.

Located at No. 1 Beach Road, the Raffles Hotel we knew was first erected as a private beach house belonging to Robert Scott in the 1830s.

The beach house turned into the Emmerson Hotel in 1878 when Charles Emmerson leased the property. The Emmerson Hotel eventually closed in 1883 due to the sudden death of Charles Emmerson.

According to the National Library Board, the hotel was reopened as Hotel Des Indes by W.F. Van Erp in 1884. It was however taken over by Raffles Institution to establish Raffles Boarding School all the way till the expiration of the lease in September 1887.

In the same year, the Armenian Sarkies brothers, a family name that will be forever tied to Raffles Hotel, leased the property with the intention to transform it into a hotel that offered fine food and accommodation.

 Look of hotel-1887
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Hence, with almost no delay, the 10 rooms Raffles Hotel was launched in 1st December 1887. The Raffles hotel ran by the Sarkies brothers was a success thanks to European travelers who enjoyed the hotel’s prime seafront near town.

Following its success, within 36 years, Raffles hotel expanded with three additional buildings, a pair of two storey wings with 22 suites, the Billiard Room, the Dining Room which could seat up to 500 people, the Bras Basah Wing, the Ballroom as well as the Grill Room which was opened in 1923. Bearing in mind the state of development in Singapore back then, the hotel was indeed built to house only the richest.

Raffles Hotel-1900s
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

 

Raffles ballroom-1920
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Raffles Hotel Lobby-undated
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Enjoying over 40 years of success with Raffles Hotel, the Sarkies brother was eventually unable to catch up with age as well the Great Depression, hence in the year 1931, the brothers were declared bankrupt.

In 1933, the hotel was incorporated as Raffles Hotel Limited.

More interesting fragments of Raffles Hotel’s history!

Raffles Hotel was the first in the country to bring a French chef to the kitchen and to incorporate fans in its building.

Raffles Hotel Palm Court-1906
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

Raffles Hotel ballroom-1906
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

 

In 1902, an escaped circus tiger found its way under the Billiard Room of the hotel, which stood on stilts at that time. Still clad in his pajamas, Charles McGowan Phillips the principal of Raffles Institution back then shot and killed the tiger.

Tiger found in Raffles Hotel
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: pensyl.com

In 1915, Singapore’s very own renowned cocktail, Singapore Sling was crafted in the Long Bar by head bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon. (Daily Mail UK) The original recipe of the concoction was lost in mid 20th century and never found. The Singapore Sling that we taste today was crafted based by Ngiam Tong Boon’s nephew in the 1970s based on his memory.

Long Bar head bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon-undated
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

In 1942, just hours before Singapore fell into the hands of the Japanese, precious silverware in the hotel, including the silver beef trolley were believed to be buried around the Palm Court. The silverware was only retrieved following the end of the war, where M.S. Arathoon whom the Japanese had kept as assistant hotel manager reopened the hotel.

Facade of Raffles Hotel-1940s
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: sg film hunters

There were also beliefs that moments before we fell into the hands of the Japanese, hotel guests danced ‘the last waltz’.

During the occupation, Raffles Hotel was renamed, “Syonan Ryokan (Light of the South Hotel)”. The original entrance along Beach Road/Bras Bersah Road was shifted to another corner to face the sunrise from the east.

According to the Sunday Times, on Aug 22 1945, following the Japanese emperor’s decision to surrender, more than 300 Japanese soldiers held a farewell sake party at Raffles hotel. The article also wrote:

“Then, leaning on their short swords, ‘they hastily returned to their ancestors’. A whole Japanese platoon later pulled the pins off hand grenades and blew themselves to pieces.”

After the war, the hotel regained some of its former fame as it remained an attraction for foreign visitors given its alluring colonial architecture and historical value.

Raffles Hotel fashion parade-1958
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

Raffles Hotel shoes show-1958
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

Postcard of Raffles Hotel-1960s

 

raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

 

Some famous names that stayed in the hotel include:

Charlie Chaplin (left) and brother-1932
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Elizabeth Taylor wearing a dress designed by Doris Geddes, owner of Little Shop at Raffles Hotel-1955
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Doris Geddes and friends-undated

 

raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Renowned British writer Somerset Maugham (right)-undated
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

American Actor and Writer Bruce Boxleitner at the Long Bar-undated

 

raffles hotel

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Michael Jackson at Raffles Hotel-1993
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: Straits Times Singapore

In 1987, Raffles Hotel was gazetted as a National Monument. A year later in 1989, Raffles Hotel was closed for two years for massive restoration. It was finally opened for business again in September 1991.

 

Palm Court, last day before closure for 2 years-1989
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

Raffles Hotel entrance, last day before closure for 2 years-1989
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

 

Raffles Hotel facade, last day before closure for 2 years-1989
raffles hotel

Photo Credit: National Archives Singapore

 

Still sitting at the same spot, Raffles Hotel has won the test of time and remains as one of the few colonial architectures with invaluable history that spans over 130 years.

Senica Photos would love to hear your memories with Raffles Hotel! If you have fond memory with the hotel, please share them at the comments section! If you have a memorable story to tell or old photographs of Singapore you’d like to share, do drop us an email at [email protected]!

 

Information sources from:

National Library Board, NUS and The Sunday Times, Daily Mail Online, The Most Famous Hotels in the World, Elegant Resorts, Hotel Site, Wikipedia