Balestier is a subzone located in the planning area of Novena in the Central Region of Singapore. The main road, Balestier Road, links Thomson Road to Serangoon Road and the road continues on as Lavender Street. The area is home to rows of shophouses, low-rise apartment and commercial buildings as well as a shopping mall known as Shaw Plaza. There are several lighting and electrical shops along Balestier Road, which is also home to the Ceylon Sports Club. The area is known for its food such as bak kut teh, chicken rice and tau sar piah with budget hotels sprucing up in the area. In the area, there are several apartments and condominiums.
- 1 Etymology and history
- 2 Balestier Market
- 3 References
- 4 External links
Etymology and history
The precinct was named after Joseph Balestier, the then colony's first American consul from 1837 to 1852 and the owner of a 1,000-acre (4.0 km2) sugar plantation called Balestier Plain, which failed and was put up for sale. Balestier was in Singapore between 1834 and 1852 and was a botanist and agriculturist. The area was named after him as it was where his plantation was located. Balestier hired a number of immigrants on his estates.  The Chinese labourers settled in the area and built a temple which still exists known as Go Cho Tua Pek Kong, with the area having the last free-standing wayang stage in Singapore that was built in 1906. The rows of shophouses was constructed in the late 19th century have been since conserved, though some have made way for new development. These shophouses were to provide services to residents. In the 1880s, several bungalows were constructed, with one still remaining at Tai Gin Road known as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (formerly the Sun Yat Sen Villa or Wan Qing Yuan).
Other than shophouses and bungalows, there were industrial activities in the area as well. There were rattan plantations along the Whampoa River and sugarcane productions at Jalan Ampas. The Balestier Market (now Balestier Market and Food Centre) was where locals could sell their produce. It was used as a food rationing centre during World War II. Later, the market was rebuilt and housed a hawker centre as well. The market has since undergone upgrading works in the 2000s. Developers went on to construct landed properties in the 1920s with bungalows and terrace housees. In the 1950s, there was a film studio run by Shaw Brothers for its Malay language films. Both the Singapore Improvement Trust and the Housing and Development Board built flats in the area known as St. Michael's Estate. Modern shophouses were erected in the 1960s as well including walk-up apartments. In the late 20th century, several buildings made way for newer buildings such as high-rise condominiums, shopping malls and new commercial buildings. 
The Hokkiens referred to Balestier Road as o kio, meaning "black bridge", and as go cho tua peh kong, meaning "Rochor temple". The Tamils named the area thaneer kampong தண்ணீர் கம்பம் as water was drawn from there by bullock cart in the old days. 
Balestier Market, also commonly known as Or Kio (‘Black Bridge’ in Hokkien) due to its similarity to a dark timber bridge spanning across Sungei Whampoa, is located in the centre of Balestier Road. It was constructed in the early 1920s to provide local vendors and hawkers with an allocated space to sell their harvested crops and cooked food. In 1924, before the start of major developments in Balestier Road, the open market was known to be a bustling site despite being located a distance from other more prominent landmarks and streets. Later, rows of small huts with a pitched zinc roof were added in 1925 to shelter users from the frequent rain and the sun. The market then served as a food ration distribution centre, in the mid 1940s during World War 2. Balestier Market is now the only ‘rural’ market conserved and in operation in Singapore.
Timeline of events in Balestier Market and her surroundings
- 1830s – Establishment of Balestier Plantation by Joseph Balestier
- 1849 – Balestier and his family had leased a large plantation outside town
- The early 1890s – Establishment of Taro, lime and sugar cane plantations
- The 1920s – Balestier Market was constructed for the residents to sell their produce
- 1925 – Rows of small huts with pitched zinc roof was then added to the market
- 1942 – Balestier Market turned into food ration distribution centre during World War II
- 1958 – The landscape of Balestier was changed into mixed tree cultivation, coconut plantation, and grassland. Sungei Whampoa had already been canalised
- 1967 – Great changes in the landscape of Whampoa. Low dilapidated houses were pulled down, mainly high-rise housings were constructed
- 1950s-1970s - public housing was developed by Singapore Improvement Trust and the Housing and Development Board in the Balestier area at St Michael's Estate
- 1971 – Balestier Estate was Built
- The 1980s – Demolition of Raymond market and construction of Whampoa Market
- 1999- Renovated.
- 2004 – Many Stallholders decided to retire when the market closed in 2004. Balestier Market bought over by Banquet Holdings. Underwent major development work and was converted into a food centre.
History of Balestier
During the mid-19th century, Balestier referred to the area along Balestier Road that connected from Thomson Road to Serangoon Road. The area was first established as a sugarcane plantation by American Joseph Balestier (b. circa 1788, France?–d. 1858, York, Pennsylvania, United States), situated around three kilometres away from the main settlement of Singapore, consisting of 1000 acres of land, of which one-fifth was planted with sugarcanes. His contributions significantly assisted the development of Singapore, especially in the Balestier region. As mentioned by Sharon Ahmat (Fig. 15), Joseph Balestier’s role as the first United States consular in Singapore was mainly to foster trading relations with America. He later left Singapore to recuperate as he had suffered from a health breakdown due to the death of both his son and his wife in 1844 and 1847 respectively. Prior to his departure, he was forced to sell his plantation to pay off his debts as the limited import privileges given to sugar produce by the British market caused the sugar industry in Singapore to decline.http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/newnation19740919-184.108.40.206?ST=1&AT=filter&K=balestier&KA=balestier&DF=&DT=&Display=0&AO=false&NPT=&L=&CTA=&NID=&CT=ILLUSTRATION&WC=&YR=1974&QT=balestier&oref=article
Background of Balestier Market
The government obtained Balestier’s estate and leased a portion of it to Chinese farmers while another segment was turned into a burial area for patients from Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Due to the good condition of the soil and a proper irrigation system left over from the previous plantation, the new residents who moved into Balestier were able to establish their villages and new plantations such as taro, lime and sugarcane. As Balestier became more reputable, tradesmen and merchants started to emerge, operating shophouses and selling their wares along the main road, turning Balestier Road into one of the busiest streets in Singapore.
The rise in hawkers present in Balestier Road resulted in the sidewalks constructed for pedestrian being transformed into a makeshift market selling vegetables, fruits, cooked food and beverages. The hawkers and their customers spilled over onto the main road and created traffic obstructions, which caused motorists to drive on the opposite side of the road and increased the likelihood of accidents occurring. Residents even claimed that the hawkers were hostile when motorists asked them to shift their stalls.
Hence, many residents wrote to the authorities regarding the legalization of hawkers and related road safety concerns. These issues not only occurred in Balestier but also in other parts of Singapore. In response, the government designated marketplaces for hawkers to alleviate the road issues and to facilitate the legalisation of hawkers. Balestier Market is one of the first few wet markets in Singapore which was established as the result of this government measure. However, even with such measures, police officers were still needed to patrol the area and ensure that hawkers who possessed a hawker license do not sell their products out of their allocated area.
One highly publicized example of this problem occurred in Balestier Market and arose due to the unavailability of pork in the market - three pork vendors possessing hawker licenses elsewhere were arrested and fined for illegally selling their products outside the market premises. In effect, the establishment of Balestier Market did not completely eradicate the traffic complaints from residents as there were still makeshift stalls along the road outside the market. Furthermore, residents wrote to the newspapers, expressing their difficulty in obtaining pork from the market and requesting the government to take actions. Therefore, despite having an allocated space for hawkers to sell their products, Balestier Market failed to gain popularity amongst residents.
Whampoa Wet Market and Hawker Centre also known as the Tua Pah Sat (big market in Hokkien), located a few streets away from Balestier Market was constructed in the 1980s to provide food for the rising population of Whampoa and to replace Raymond Market located at Jalan Tenteram. As the new market supplied both raw produce and cooked food, it became more popular among the residents in both Balestier and Whampoa. Moreover, the new market operated both during the day and at night, with an allocated car park – making the market highly accessible for both drivers and residents.
In 1999, even after Balestier Market underwent renovation, it ultimately still failed to compete with her “neighbouring brother” because during that period of time, most of the residential developments were situated around Whampoa Market. Meanwhile, Balestier was still in the phase of redevelopment into a commercial, industrial and private residential district, resulting in existing residents relocating elsewhere. Furthermore, after the upgrading, a handful of vendors decided to relocate or to discontinue their business resulting in patrons from Balestier Market shifting over to Whampoa Market instead. Consequently, the business of remaining hawkers in Balestier Market continued to deteriorate, causing many stall owners who had been serving for decades to cease their operation entirely when the market closed for redevelopment in 2004. Due to its historical and cultural significance, Balestier Market was placed under the Conservational Act by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and subsequently plans were made by the authority to further modernise the market. After the closure, Balestier Market was bought over by Banquet Holdings Pte Ltd and was then opened in June 2008 after the latest renovation which converted the market into a food centre. This is likely because operating as a wet market would not be economically viable, especially with the competition from the neighbouring big markets.
Today, Balestier Market is home to many stallholders who were from markets which were either demolished, undergoing renovation or relocated. Many of these stallholders were from Upper Thomson’s Long House and Lavender Food Square. Similarly to Balestier Market’s resilience through the evolution of the Balestier area, these hawkers try their best to maintain their business operations despite the changing needs of society that diminish the need for hawkers and the service they provide. By providing a space for these valuable hawkers, Balestier Market is able to preserve the hawker heritage while preventing itself from becoming obsolete.
Balestier Market also provides a home for two lion statues previously from the Oasis Restaurant next to the former National Stadium, both of which were demolished in 2010 – a further example of how Balestier Market serve as a repository of cultural elements
Architecture Features and Issues
The most iconic feature of Balestier Market is its rows of pitched zinc roof which were later installed with lighting elements to make the roof structure prominent even at night. However, in the past, the roof design was built to shelter the wet market without considering its possibility to be converted into a food centre. After the transformation from a wet market into a food centre, the ceiling is too low to adequately contain the exhaust pipes which radiate heat throughout the interior of the place. Furthermore, as the material of the roof is made of zinc, it conducts heat when it is exposed to direct sunlight, making it uncomfortable for customers to be eating within the space, especially in the afternoon.
The only way to access the front entrance into Balestier Market is through the flight of stairs beside the main signage. The elevation of the market is a measure to deter flooding due to high surface runoff and typology of the site which occurred quite frequently in the past. A disadvantage of this feature is that the stairs cause difficulties for patrons in entering the market, as a majority of such patrons are from the older generation.
Publicity of Balestier Market
Many of these architectural issues are left unresolved in order to retain the structural integrity and original ambience of the market. There are a handful of heritage trails and guides that introduce users to the market, promoting the last and only rural market of Singapore, in light of its historical and cultural significance.
From a humble wet market for farmers to a food ration distribution centre and finally to a food centre selling local cuisine and delights, Balestier Market is one of the few markets that have survived through the rapid transformation of Singapore. Its value and identity as an example of vernacular infrastructural design, preserved for the newer generations as an educational tool to illustrate the phenomenon of wet markets and hawker centres in the past.
- Victor R Savage, Brenda SA Yeoh (2004), Toponymics A Study of Singapore Street Names, Eastern University Press, ISBN 981-210-364-3
- Vernon Cornelius-Takahama (2004). "Joseph Balestier". Singapore Infopedia. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-07.
- "Balestier, a mix of new and old". Urban Redevelopment Authority. 12 January 2007.
- Template:The Straits Times, 8 July 1903, Page 4
- Balestier : A Heritage Trail by the Central Singapore Community Development Council. PDF guide here.