What would Katong be without these two incredible people – Chew Joo Chiat and Cheong Koong Seng – who have made a name for themselves. From the famous residential precincts to the lively shophouses that dot the area, these two men need to be celebrated and recognised for their founding work. Here’s a little history about them
Chew Joo Chiat
He’s a famous migrant from China and he transformed to become a wealthy philanthropist. Most of his money was made through trade: being a plantation owner, cultivating crops such as gambier, coconut and nutmeg. In the early 1900s, he became so wealthy that he bought a sizeable piece of land in the Katong/Joo Chiat area, thereby becoming known as “King of Katong”. Chew bought the freehold land, spanning 12,070 sq ft at a princely sum then of $460, as recorded in a 1910 property notice.
The purchased land was called Confederate Estate Road, a simple dirt track from Geylang Serai, through Confederate Estate and Perseverance Estate, to the seafront. By 1917, Confederate Estate Road became known as Joo Chiat Road, after the wealthy trade agreed to make it available for public use. Other roads such as Joo Chiat terrace and Joo Chiat Place soon became open for public use. Joo Chiat’s name spread out far and wide: even the local post office, market and police station were named after him.
As Singapore became more industrialised, the Chew family had to sell off parcels of land for residential and commercial use. In the end, the roads and lands were taken over by Singapore’s then municipal bodies. This resulted in more roads constructed such as Marshall Road, Pennefather Road, Everitt Road, Still Road, Carpmael Road and Koong Seng Road.
Cheong Koon Seng
Cheong Koon Seng is more famously known as Koon Seng. He lived from 1880 to 1932. He was the elder of two sons of Cheong Ann Bee, a wealthy first-generation Straits-born merchant from Malacca. Unbeknownst to many, Koong Seng was one of the exclusive first cohort of 13 students of Anglo-Chinese School. Koon Seng was a reputable real estate agent.
In fact, he and his brother Koong Hong built the Theatre Royal and Star Opera Company on North Bridge Road back in the 1870s. While Koong Seng Road was a predominantly residential area, it was rife with many businesses and shophouses. Indubitably, it attracted a lot of Peranakans to live there. But in the 1970s, many Peranakan families moved out to other parts of Singapore. Today, Koon Seng Road is famously linked to the hub-bub of Katong – a rich enclave of homes, shophouses, and businesses.
It is now a two-way road which begins at the junction of Pennefather Road and Joo Chiat Road and ends at the junction of Lorong J Telok Kurau and Still Road. Since it was named in 1934 after Cheong Koon Seng, this road has beautiful iconic shophouses worthy of Instagram moments.