The History of 42 Waterloo Street

42 Waterloo Street

42 Waterloo Street, circa 2012, home to local theatre company Action Theatre. On the left is an outdoor performing area called The Stage Under The Mango Tree. On the right is the alfresco seating of Mexican restaurant Casa Latina. (Credit: Casa Latina)

Records are sketchy as to when the main bungalow on 42 Waterloo Street was first built.

Doraikannu Jawharilal, a previous resident of 42 Waterloo Street, said in a 1999 New Paper article that he believes the bungalow had been built in the early 1930s. An advertisement in the Malaya Tribune in 1939 mentions the availability of a “compound house” at the address that was “suitable as [a] school, hotel [or] boarding-house”. And a 1943 map of Syonan clearly shows the outline of the bungalow in its present form.

These records date the bungalow’s age at around eighty years old. But it may be much older.

The book Singapore Eurasians: Memories of Hopes refers to Waterloo Street and its neighbouring streets as “the foremost Eurasian enclave” at the turn of the 20th century. The bungalows in the area were described as “large compounds with massive trees and stone pillars at the entrance to the compound”, which sounds very much like 42 Waterloo Street.

According to Jawharilal, the bungalow on 42 Waterloo Street had once been divided into “about 20 rooms but only one kitchen and one toilet which all the tenants used to share.” An estimated 50 tenants used to live at 42 Waterloo Street in the ’60s.

Here are some of the previous residents of 42 Waterloo Street:

1909 – Home of the de Souza family. The family experienced the death of the family’s matriarch, as well as fell victim to several burglaries in the year.

1915 – Home of Mr A.F. Cornelius of the Singapore Municipality. His daughter, Miss Adelaide Agnes Cornalius wedded Mr. Theodoro Jean Louis Leijsius, who worked for the Nestle and Anglo Swiss Milk Company.

1937 – Francis Almonte was a resident.

1940 – M. R. Reyes was a resident.

1952 – Mr. Mathenis tried to sell his “Austin Eight four-door saloon with Pye Radio”.

1952 – Mr. Martin tried to sell his “Chevrolet DeLuxe Sedan, specially imported 1951 with lots of extras, a rare bargain”.

1953 – Miss Sally Solomon was part of a ten-way tie in the Straits Times‘ “Pick the Brides” Contest. The winners had to split the $5,000 prize money.

The property was sold in a public auction held on 22 September 1969.

In 1972, 42 Waterloo Street became the operating address of the Dharmapala P. Company, which offered “engraving on all types of metals, cups & trophies by hand”. The business ran for five years, but appeared to cease operations following a notice for the sale of its equipment in 1977.

Under the Arts Housing Scheme, the National Arts Council (NAC) allocated 42 Waterloo Street to theatre company Action Theatre in 1996.

Beginning October 1998, the rundown property underwent restoration and refurbishment works amounting to S$1.3 million. NAC helped foot about half of the bill while Action Theatre raised the remaining amount on their own.

The renovations included gutting the main bungalow to create a black box theatre on the second floor, rehearsal studios on the ground floor, and space for an F&B outlet. An L-shaped annexe was also built behind the bungalow to house Action Theatre’s office.

Action Theatre’s artistic director Ekachai Uekrongtham had a clear vision for 42 Waterloo Street as a “tropical theatre resort”. According to architect Vincent Lee, “Ekachai’s vision was a cross between Jim Thompson’s house in Bangkok – a landscaped setting in the middle of the city – and experimental, fringe theatres like Nimrod in Sydney”.

Action Theatre’s new home was intended to be an “off-Broadway-type space” for theatre practitioners to experiment and develop new work.


42 Water Street, circa 2012. (Credit: Casa Latina)

42 Waterloo Street was opened on 12 November 1999 by Professor Tommy Koh, who had been Chairman of NAC when Action Theatre was allocated the property.

Action Theatre operated at 42 Waterloo Street until 2012.

In 2013, NAC announced intentions to refurbish 42 Waterloo Street and create a centre for the development of text-based works. It sought proposals from interested and like-minded partners. A collective called TAFY (Two-And-Fifty-Years) – comprising industry veterans Casey Lim, Michele Lim, Robin Loon and Chiu Chien Seen – submitted a proposal for a centre that would not only help to create new Singaporean works, but also document and promote Singapore theatre. This, of course, was Centre 42.

NAC welcomed TAFY’s plans for Centre 42. With a bold new look, the now-blue bungalow officially opened its doors on 7 July 2014.

By Daniel Teo
Published on 25 May 2018