St James Power Station

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St James Power Station

St James Power Station (Chinese: 圣占姆士发电厂; pinyin: Shèngzhànmǔshì Fādiànchǎng) is a music and nightlife venue in the HarbourFront area of the Bukit Merah Planning Area, Singapore, near VivoCity. Built in 1926, it was Singapore's first coal-fired power plant supplying electricity to nearby shipyards, industry and residences.

Cape St James[edit]

The site was a headland that was mostly a tidal swamp with small inhabitations of Orang Laut (sea gypsies) that lived on stilt houses and fished for a living.

Sir Stamford Raffles purchased this plot of land as part of Telok Blangah Estate from Temenggong to set up a trading port. Its naturally sheltered and deep waters was to meet the requirements of British colonists attempting to establish a Far East maritime colony in this part of the world, and thereby setting the stage for the eventual formation of Singapore as a successful independent state.

Electricity situation[edit]

Electricity was first generated in Singapore for public infrastructures such as Port of Singapore by Singapore Harbour Board in 1897[1] and electric trams and street lighting by Singapore Tramway Company in 1902.[2] Later, it was it was found that the electricity generated to drive the trams could also be used to supply to towns like Tanglin, steadily increasing demand over the years. Electricity was fast becoming a necessity rather than a luxury as businesses and households needed to power their electrical appliances. Those power plants proved to be inadequate, and the British Administration desperately needed a power plant to meet growing industrial and domestic needs, and allow for Singapore’s future growth and development.


In 1924, Cape St James was chosen by A. H. Preece,[3] consulting engineer as the location for the new power station as it had 1) proximity to sea for free, unlimited access to seawater for the plant’s water circulation system 2) proximity to sea-borne coal 3) proximity to the Federated Malay States Railway Station for freight train-imported coal and building materials, and 4) large area of five acres.

In order to meet urgent power demands, a 2,000 kW generator was rushed to be completed. However, since more than half of the site was tidal, a considerable amount of preliminary work to reclaim 12,000 square yards before the actual work of laying the concrete foundations and erecting the huge steel skeleton.[4] That one generator was completed in June 1926 but would only run during peak loads from 6pm to 11pm.

On 7 November 1927, St James Power Station was officially opened by Sir Hugh Clifford,[5] the Governor of Singapore. At its full capacity, the power plant produced approximately 22,000 kW of electricity mostly to Pasir Panjang, Bukit Timah, Tanglin, Geylang, Katong and East Coast. It connected 28,255 people, which was 19x more Singaporeans than before. Locals could hire electric fans and domestic appliances in a scheme from an electricity showroom at Orchard Road.[6] Equipped with the most modern construction and machineries, it was capable of supplying the needs of Singapore for a good many years to come.

Singh Mohinder recollects that during this period, St James Power Station became a landmark and had the effect of entirely transforming the appearance of this part of the Teluk Blangah Bay. The bungalows in the surrounding areas were not for civilians, but for Harbour Board officials and Europeans, “mostly whites”.[7]


The building was designed by Alexander Gordon and Preece, Cardew & Rider, following Edwardian architecture. This style of architecture was popular during the reign of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and was notable for being less ornate, big spaces and natural light, and used lighter colours because there was less concern about soot with the introduction of electricity. Edwardian architecture perfect for public buildings and was also used for Central Fire Station 1909 .

It comprised a boiler house, turbine room, switchgear house, pumps, and storage areas for coal and its boiler house, turbine room and switch house lay parallel with the seafront.

The most distinctive feature was the red brick walls, rows of full-length windows and its chimney.

Victor Koh Dut Sye recalls its beautiful red bricks that stands so grand, especially during those days, where anything red gives you a feeling of high class.[8] The architecture signified the great significance of St James Power Station as brick claddings were only used for prestigious buildings.[9]

The building is the only historical industrial building in Singapore with triple level arch shaped windows, which enabled natural light to penetrate. It has voluminous space in the interior which was initially designed to house the electricity generators. After the power station was decommissioned in the 1970s, these machines were removed.


Throughout its life, the power plant suffered from many temporary shutdown and a power stoppages. Victor Koh Dut Sye, a storekeeper there recalled that the workers were mainly Cantonese and Indian, and were very unskilled and not literate. Assisting the British engineers through lots of trial and error, that would sometimes fail.[10]

This led to the most extensive power cut in 1948 which lasted for eight and a half hours, affecting all the non-city areas of Singapore from 8am to 4.30pm[11] and a widespread blackout in 1950 when electricity to the entire island was cut off for one and a half hours.[12]

Many thousand dollars worth of ice cream in private houses and restaurants melted and hawker stands had to rely on oil lamps and candles. Restaurants most people ignored the power failure and went on dancing by candlelight. Many men stripping off coats and bowties because of cutting AC and fans. In Victoria Memorial hall, the Singapore Repertory Company was playing, when the outage occurred and a car was driven into the entrance with its lights reflecting on a large mirror directed to the stage.

Over the years, locals were told repeatedly to cut down on electricity consumption so as to lighten the load on the generators by Electrical Engineer Mr Waddle,[13] but the demand for electricity continued to rise. Singapore again, had to a problem of electricity shortage and was forced to introduce electricity rationing during peak hours in June 1926.

In an effort to increase efficiency, the plant undergone renovation to equip with new machines and generators to increase the power output with a gas turbine and new chimneys. However, the effort was futile as St James Power Station remained expensive to operate at 3.57 cents for per unit, against 1.4 cents at Pasir Panjang Power Station. Power station was decommissioned in 1976 due to high operating costs and the island’s growing demand for electricity with its last gas. The machineries were removed and the building was vacant.


In the 1980s, the sheer volume of container traffic at the nearby port stretched the capacity of its staff and placed pressure of running a global port. As a result, the Port of Singapore Authority decided to go high-tech using automated and computerised machinery for the port operations and converted the former power plant into a high-bay semi-automated warehouse. It kept most of the architectural elements, but a few light fittings and windows were broken.[14]

The location of St James Power Station was no longer drawn on maps since 1975. It was not considered to officially be a part of Keppel Terminal and lost its relevance to the community, except for port employees.

Entertainment hub[edit]

St James Power Station at night

In 1991 Concept plan, the area was zoned from an industrial harbour to a commercial area, which led to massive redevelopment in the area, after operations at Keppel Harbour moved to Jurong.[15] HarbourFront Centre was relaunched and VivoCity and HarbourFront Office Park was built.

Dennis Foo, "King of nightlife" pioneered the venture to restore the power station into its first multi-concept entertainment hub and nightclub at a cost of S$43 million, of which half was for conservation works to restore the power station’s unique 1920s architecture, while the other half was spent on its interior and club furnishings. Inside, the turbine rooms and engine rooms were converted into spaces for clubs. According to Mr Ang “95% of the original monument, in terms of facade and structures, has been preserved, even the flag pole and the steps leading to it”.[16]

In 2009, St James Power Station was gazetted as a national monument to represent Singapore’s modernisation and urban development during the colonial era. As such, its owners cannot alter its facade, build any extensions or hack any walls, leaving partygoers to dance in its iconic brick walls. The chimney that used to spew hot gases is now used for light projections.

It opened its doors to the public on 24 September 2006 as one of Singapore’s biggest entertainment complexes, housing several night clubs and restaurants, hosting a variety of entertainment and music such as dance, world music and trapeze acts. Both the indoor and outdoor locations can accommodate more than 10,000 people.

The area is said to have great feng shui with its back to a mountain (Mt. Faber) and its front to the water. Ms Lim, a tenant, was drawn to the venue's big space and the fact that the club can run till 6am, which cannot be found in town. Another tenant Mr Chan, found St James Power Station over shopping centres and hotels because of its 20m-high ceiling, which provides enough space for light projection. “We need space to project lights, and give partygoers a sense of spaciousness.” Although there were initial worries about piping and electrical points in such an old building, it has been all good, so far.[17]

St James Power Station regained its grandiose and entertained the public, with more than 2,500 people partied at its official opening[18] and brought in a revenue of about $30 million in 2013.[19]

St James Power Station was distinguished by the type of crowd it attracts, which consists of mostly what Singaporeans label as Ah Lians and Ah Bengs. 80% of customers are Singaporeans and rest is tourists. Performers here play a good mix of live English and Mandarin hits, while dancers do what they do best by transforming the place into a slightly classier than usual getai, which is a traditional Chinese stage performance consisting of old classic tunes, dancing and bright colorful costumes.

When asked if partygoers know of the venue's history, not many do, as most come for the music and nightlife. Mr Ryohei Sakai, biggest tenant said that while the older generation may know its significance as a national monument, "the hype about it has been piped down".

Unfortunately, there were occasional cases of unruly drunk patrons who vomit or urinate on the premises, there were also cases of serious bar brawls and damage when Molotov cocktails (lit beer bottles filled with petrol) were thrown in September 2016[20] and serious cases of bar brawls in 2012.[21]

After six years, Dragonfly, the anchor venue and one of the biggest Mandopop clubs in closed its doors. St James once again reinvade themselves by entering the lucrative Thai disco market with its culture of patrons buying $50 flower garlands for their favourite singers. In 2016, the St James Fitness Festival was created to enter the wellness trend by hosting its first ever all-day fitness and music festival.


St James Power Station has 11 nightclubs and live entertainment destinations rivaling the Zirca at Clarke Quay and Zouk, with 70,000 sq ft (6,500 m2) of floor space. Customers need only pay one charge to gain access to all outlets.


  1. ^ "CHAPTER THREE". PSA International. 
  2. ^ Khoo, Betty (November 17, 1972). "Singapore's First Power Station". New Nation. 
  3. ^ Ramlan, Nuradilah. "St James Power Station". Singapore Infopedia. 
  4. ^ "SINGAPORE'S NEW POWER STATION". The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser. 8 January 1926. 
  5. ^ Opening of St. James Power Station on November 7th, 1927 by His Excellency the Governor Sir Hugh Clifford. [Singapore : Municipality, 1927]. 
  6. ^ Gretchen, Liu (2001). A Pictorial History 1819 - 2000. Richmond: Routledge Curzon. 
  7. ^ Singh, Mohinder. "Communities of Singapore (Part 2)". National Archives of Singapore. 
  8. ^ Victor, Dut Sye, Koh. "Transportation in Singapore 新加坡运输业". National Archives of Singapore. 
  9. ^ "Edwardian (1890 - 1916)". Ontario Architecture. 
  10. ^ Victor, Dut Sye, Koh. "Transportation in Singapore 新加坡运输业". National Archives of Singapore. 
  11. ^ "All-Day Power Failure". The Straits Times. 8 April 1948. 
  12. ^ "WORST S'PORE POWER CUT DARKENS CITY". The Straits Times. 20 September 1950. 
  13. ^ "All-Day Power Failure". The Straits Times. 8 April 1948. 
  14. ^ "Keppel Automated Warehouse, Former St James Power Station". National Archives of Singapore. 
  15. ^ "CONCEPT PLAN 1991". Urban Redevelopment Authority. 
  16. ^ Koh, Fabian. "St James Power Station: And the power... it' still electrifying" (NOV 24, 2016). The Straits Times. 
  17. ^ Koh, Fabian. "St James Power Station: And the power... it' still electrifying" (NOV 24, 2016). The Straits Times. 
  18. ^ "Singapore social". The Straits Times. Jul 15, 2015. 
  19. ^ "Dennis Foo To Retire, Son To Step Up". St Jobs. 7 April 2014. 
  20. ^ "Fifth suspect charged over Molotov cocktail attack on club at St James Power Station". Straits Times. 5 October 2016. 
  21. ^ "St James fight lands him in intensive care". AsiaOne. 3 December 2012. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 1°15′53″N 103°49′29″E / 1.2647°N 103.8247°E / 1.2647; 103.8247