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America's First Home in Singapore

Walking by Spring Grove Condominium, you may think it's an ordinary condo, but it has a fascinating history. In 1845, the East India Company gave a large estate of "19 acres, three rods, and 33 poles boarded by Grange Road, Irwell Bank Road, and River Valley Road" to Hoo Ah Kay, better known as Whampoa. He was a community leader and business leader in early Singapore as well as a member of the legislative council and one of the first Chinese to use European-style housing. The land changed hands many times, including being owned by a laundry company, the Singapore Steam Laundry. Subsequently, the Read family owned the land from 1868 to 1885.

The Spring Grove house was initially a bachelor's quarters, built before 1868 using neoclassical architecture. Nobody knows when the house was built for sure (estimates say between 1849 and 1857). The house was remodeled in 1891 when the roof was rebuilt, and two side bays were added. The house was sold to Han Becker in 1906 of the Behn Meyers and Co, a German company. Employees of the company lived in the house until World War I. The British government seized the house during World War I as enemy property, and it was subsequently owned by a private family and The Straits Trading Company. The Straits Trading Company leased it in 1936 as the first official home of American diplomats. It was the home of the US Consul General from 1936-1941. During World War II, a Japanese general used the Spring Grove house as his home, and a bomb shelter was built in the garden. After World War II, the British Military used Spring Grove as a home for the British Air Vice-Marshal. The US Government bought the house from The Straits Trading Company in 1950 for US$83,438.

When Singapore became a country in 1965, Francis J. Galbraith was appointed the first US Ambassador to Singapore. Galbraith admired the history of Spring Grove and had improvements made to the house. The house had a banquet room, two upstairs porches, conference rooms, and living quarters. Singapore's American community celebrated many events at Spring Grove, including the first Fourth of July event, Easter egg hunts, and fundraisers. Former residents of the house remember playing soccer on the large lawn with the Ambassador's children and recall fruit trees, including mangos, guavas, bananas, jackfruits, figs, and durian. The land was sold in 1991 for $82.5 million with a 99-year lease and was re-developed into a condominium.

Today when you hear Spring Grove, it refers to an extensive development in the Orchard district. The development now consists of several buildings, all 20 stories high. There are 325 units in the complex. Units have up to four bedrooms; some are even two stories high. The original building is now the Spring Grove clubhouse. The development company chose to keep many of the original features inside and the architecture outside. The building looks very similar today as it does in historical pictures. Currently, the bungalow is used for many different things. There is a minimart, gym, library, management office, and party function room. Residents of the development are allowed to use all of these. Nowadays, Spring Grove is a good mix of past and present, and the building is a good reminder of the past.

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