St James Power Station

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St James Power Station
Saint James Power Station, Nov 06.JPG
Location3 Sentosa Gateway
Governing bodyNational Heritage Board
Designated11 November 2009
St James Power Station is located in Singapore
St James Power Station
Location of St James Power Station in Singapore

St James Power Station (Chinese: 圣占姆士发电厂; pinyin: Shèngzhànmǔshì Fādiànchǎng) is a music-themed and major nightlife venue in the HarbourFront area of the Bukit Merah Planning Area in Singapore and located next to VivoCity. Built in 1926, it was Singapore's first power station (also previously the one and only coal-fired power plant in Singapore) and supplied electricity to the nearby port and the surrounding industries, shipyards and residences.

Cape St James[edit]

The site on which the power station sits on was a small headland that was by and large a tidal swamp with a small inhabitation of "Orang Laut" (local sea-gypsies) that lived on stilt-houses and fished for a living.

Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, purchased the land as part of Telok Blangah Estate from the Temenggong of Johor to set up a trading port. The deep and sheltered waters directly to the south of the area was able to meet the requirements of Raffles and other major British colonists (of Singapore) looking to establish a significant maritime colony in the Far East, in this part of the world, thus helping to set the stage for the eventual formation of Singapore to become a successful independent state.

Electricity situation[edit]

Electricity was first generated in Singapore for local public infrastructures, such as the port of Singapore, operated by the Singapore Harbour Board (SHB) in 1897.,[1] electric trams and street-lighting by the Singapore Tramway Company (STC) in 1902.[2] Later, it was considered that the electricity generated, which was mainly channelled to power the trams, could also be used to supply local small-towns and districts like Tanglin, at around a period of time when there was a generally-steady increase in demand for electricity over the years. Electricity was rapidly becoming a necessity rather than a luxury as businesses and households needed to power their electrical appliances, gear and equipment. The few and small power plants run by the STC proved to be inadequate to fulfill such a growing need and the British colonial administration of Singapore desperately needed a power plant that would be able to meet growing industrial and domestic needs and allow for Singapore's continued development and future growth.


In 1924, Cape St James was chosen by A. H. Preece,[3] the chief consulting engineer in-charge, as the location for the new power station as it had, firstly, a proximity to the sea for free and unlimited access to seawater for the power plant's water circulation and cooling systems; secondly, a proximity to sea-borne coal delivered by ships and/or barges; thirdly, a proximity to the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) train station at Tanjong Pagar for rail-borne coal and building materials required for the construction of the power station; lastly, a large area of five acres.

In order to meet the urgent demands for electrical power, a 2,000 kW power generator was rushed to be completed. However, since more than half of the construction site was swampy and the natural conditions were tidal, a considerable amount of preliminary work to reclaim 12,000 square-yards was to be carried out before the actual work of laying the concrete foundations and erecting the power station's huge steel-frame skeleton could begin.[4] The sole power generator was finally completed in June 1926 but it would only run during peak-demand loads from 6pm to 11pm each day.

On 7 November in 1927, St James Power Station was officially opened by Sir Hugh Clifford,[5] who was then the Governor of the British Straits Settlements (comprising the three British colonies of Penang, Malacca and Singapore). At its full output-capacity, the power plant produced approximately 22,000 kW of electricity, much of which was supplied to the Pasir Panjang, Bukit Timah, Tanglin, Geylang, Katong and East Coast areas and districts. It reached out to around 28,255 people, which was at least 18 times more people on the island than before. Locals could hire electric fans and other domestic electrical appliances in a scheme from an electricity showroom located at Orchard Road.[6] Equipped with the most advanced and modern construction and machinery, it was deemed to be capable of supplying the power needs of Singapore for a good many years to come.

Singh Mohinder recollects that, during this period, St James Power Station became a major landmark of its surroundings and had the effect of entirely transforming the appearance of that part of the Telok Blangah Bay area. The bungalows within the nearby areas were not for local civilians but for SHB officials and other Europeans and Eurasians (the so-called "Mostly Whites").[7]


The power station's building was designed by Alexander Gordon and Preece, together with Cardew & Rider, being based on Edwardian architecture, which was quite popular during the reign of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and was notable for being less ornate, being composed of big spaces and the offer of much natural lighting and the use of lighter shades of colours because there was less concern about soot and thick dust with the introduction of electricity (instead of relying on fire from candles and oil-lamps, amongst others, for lighting). It was regarded that Edwardian architecture was generally perfect for public buildings and the same architectural style was also applied for the Central Fire Station, located in Singapore's town-centre, in 1909.

The building comprised a boiler-hall, a turbine room, a switchgear house, numerous pumps, and several storage-areas for coal, with its boiler-hall, the turbine room and the switchgear house laying parallel with the sea and the shoreline.

The most distinctive features of St James Power Station was its large red-brick walls, its long rows of full-length windows (made up of stained glass) and its two chimneys.

Victor Koh Dut Sye, a local shopkeeper running a business near the power station, recalls its beautiful red-brick structure that stood so grand, especially during those days when the power station was first commissioned, when anything in red helps give one a sense of high class and prestige.[8] The architecture signified the great significance of St James Power Station as brick outer-claddings were only used for grand and prestigious buildings.[9]

The building is the only historical industrial building in Singapore with triple-level arch-shaped windows, which enabled much natural light to penetrate in and provide generous lighting in the interior of the power station. It also has voluminous space in the inside which was initially designed to house the large electricity generators and power equipment. After the power station was closed down and decommissioned in the 1970s, these heavy machinery were cleared away and removed.


Throughout its service-life, the power plant suffered from many temporary shutdowns and frequent power failures and stoppages. Victor Koh Dut Sye, a storekeeper nearby there, recalled that the power station's workers were mainly of Cantonese and Indian origins and were very unskilled, or limited in skills at best, and mostly illiterate. These were the workers assisting the British engineers in charge through lots of trial-and-error tests and experiments that would sometimes, if not often 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, residences and restaurants melted and hawker-stands had to rely on oil-lamps and candles. In restaurants throughout the city, most people ignored the power failure and went on dining and/or dancing by candlelight, with many men stripping off coats and bowties because of the heat from cut and downed air-conditioning (AC) and fans. In the Victoria Memorial Hall, the Singapore Repertory Company was performing when the power outage occurred, which led to a car being driven into the entrance of the hall with its headlights reflecting on-to a large mirror directed to the stage in front.

Over the years, the locals were told and reminded repeatedly to cut down on and reduce electricity consumption so as to lighten the heavy load on the power-generators by the power plant's chief electrical engineer, Mr Waddle,[13] but yet the demand for electricity continued to rise. Once again, Singapore had a problem of electricity shortage and was forced to introduce rationing of electricity during peak-hours in June 1926.

In an effort to increase general efficiency, the plant undergone a fair degree of renovations and improvement works to be equipped with new machinery and power-generators to increase the overall electrical power output with a brand-new gas turbine and new tall chimneys. However, these efforts were futile as St. James Power Station remained expensive to operate at 3.57 cents for per unit of electrical power produced against 1.4 cents of the same amount yielded at the nearby (also, then-new) Pasir Panjang Power Station, first constructed during the 1950s. The power station was finally decommissioned in 1976 due to its high overall operating costs and the island's continually-growing demand for electricity and was shut down after consuming its last reserves of gas fuel. The old power plant's machinery were removed and the entire building was left vacant.


During the 1980s, the sheer volume of shipping container traffic at the nearby port at Brani stretched the capacity of its staff and resources and placed enormous pressure of running a global-looking port. As a result, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) decided to go high-tech using automated and computerised machinery for its port operations and converted the former power plant into a high-bay semi-automated warehouse. It kept most of the original architectural elements from the British colonial era but a few light-fittings and windows were broken in the process of refurbishing the old power station for its new use.[14]

The location of St James Power Station was no longer drawn on local maps since 1975. It was not considered to be officially a part of the PSA's Keppel and Brani Container Terminals and lost its relevance to the local community except for the port employees working there or nearby.

Entertainment hub[edit]

St James Power Station at night

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

Dennis Foo, the so-called "King of Nightlife" of Singapore, pioneered the venture to restore the power station into its first multi-concept entertainment hub and nightclub at a total cost of S$43 million, of which half was for conservation works to restore the power station's unique 1920s-era architecture while the other half was spent on its interior and modern club furnishings. Inside, the old turbine-rooms and engine-halls were converted into spaces for clubs and pubs. According to Mr Ang, "95% of the original monument, in terms of authentic facade and structures, have been preserved, even the former flagpole 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 its time-period of British colonial rule. As such, its owners cannot alter its facade, build any new extensions or hack any of the old walls, leaving partygoers to dance and enjoy themselves within its iconic red-brick walls. The chimneys from where hot gases resulting from power generation once spewed out is now used for light projections (rarely used nowadays).

It opened its doors to the public on 24 September in 2006 as one of Singapore's biggest entertainment complexes, housing several nightclubs and posh 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, lying to the north) and its front to the water (the sea, lying to the south). Ms Lim, a tenant at the premises, was drawn to the venue's big space and the fact that the club can run till 6am, which cannot be found elsewhere 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. He said, "We need space to project lights, and give partygoers a sense of spaciousness." Although there were initial worries amongst tenants about worn-out piping and electrical points in such an old building, it has been all good so far.[17]

St James Power Station regained its grandiosity and entertained the public, with more than 2,500 people partying 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" (rebellious and counter-cultural female and male youths respectively). 80% of its customers are Singaporeans and rest are 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, it is apparent not many do, as most come for the music and nightlife rather than about its significant past and colourful history. Mr Ryohei Sakai, the biggest tenant, said that while the older generation may know its significance as a historically-important national monument, "the hype about it has been piped down" considerably.

Unfortunately, there are the quite a number of cases of unruly drunk patrons who vomit or urinate on the premises, making a public nuisance of themselves, as well as ere cases of serious bar-fights and ugly brawls and damage when Molotov Cocktails (fiery-lit beer bottles filled with petrol or flammable liquid) were thrown in a fight 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 the premises, closed its doors for good. St James Power Station once again reinvented 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 housed under one roof, rivalling Zirca at Clarke Quay and nearby Zouk, with 70,000 sq ft (6,500 m2) of floor space. Customers need to only pay one charge to gain access to all its outlets within.


  1. ^ "CHAPTER THREE". PSA International.
  2. ^ Khoo, Betty (17 November 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.[permanent dead link]
  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. 15 July 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. Archived from the original on 7 December 2012.

External links[edit]

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