One last look at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel before it closes

Specially curated guided tours by National Heritage Board and the hotel will be held from now until Aug 12.

Raffles Hotel, the grand old dame of Singapore. (Photo: Raffles Hotel)

“I have been at Raffles Hotel before, during and after the hotel’s restoration in 1989,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “And during that restoration, there were some discoveries like the flooring of the original 10-room bungalow under the lobby’s marble. I also saw fine sea sand as the original building was by the beach, so I kept a little of it in a small container as a souvenir!”

At 78 years old, Mr Danker is Raffles Hotel’s oldest staff member. He’s also their longest serving; he first joined as a maintenance supervisor in 1972. Now the hotel’s resident historian, Mr Danker is a treasure trove of the hotel’s facts and figures.

Raffles Hotel resident historian Leslie Danker with the late Michael Jackson. (Photo: Raffles Hotel)

“Did you know that British writer W Somerset Maugham who came to the hotel three times and stayed at the same suite for all of his visits left us a beautiful quote?” he asked. “The quote was ‘Raffles stands for all the fables of the exotic East’ and the hotel wanted to use it in their promotions. That original letter, written by Somerset giving us permission to use the quote, is hung up in the suite named after him.”

It’s anecdotes like these that make up the storied history of the 130-year-old hotel, also affectionately known as the Grand Old Dame of Singapore. And as it prepares to close its main hotel building and lobby on Aug 13 for phase two of its restoration, a specially curated tour and exhibition will be conducted daily by a volunteer guide from the National Heritage Board (NHB).

A Raffles Hotel advertisement circa 1903. (Photo: Genevieve Loh)

Initial response was so overwhelming that three new tour days (Aug 7, 8 and 10) have been added, with two sessions a day (10am and 5pm). At S$12 per person, each tour participant will also receive a jar of traditional blended kaya (coconut jam) from the hotel.

The tour offers nostalgic glimpses into the hotel’s legendary past – from learning lesser-known tidbits about the building’s history and heritage to a walk through the feted Sarkies Suite. Named after the hotel’s original owners, this much-celebrated presidential suite has hosted many famous faces including Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton most recently.

The exhibition also includes a recreation of the accommodations of Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling who stayed at the hotel in 1889 en route to Japan. The recreation was based on the then 24-year-old writer’s meticulous travel log and the recorded remarks of his week-long stay at the hotel. Kipling would go on to write, among many other seminal works, The Jungle Book.

A menu from the silver jubilee dinner for King George V held at Raffles Hotel in 1935. (Photo: Genevieve Loh)

Other heritage highlights include a display of the hotel’s menus from the early 1900s to a recreation of the late Prime Minster Lee Kuan Yew’s wedding cake. Mr and Mrs Lee’s wedding reception was held at the Raffles Hotel in 1950.

Evidently, the Raffles Hotel held a special place in Mr Lee’s heart.

For 71-year-old house attendant Dollah Baboo, the fondest memory of working at Raffles Hotel was seeing Mr Lee quietly celebrate his birthday on Sep 16 every year “without fail” at the iconic hotel. Sep 16 is also the same day the hotel officially reopened after its first restoration in 1991. Coincidentally, 1991 was also the same year Mr Baboo, also one of the hotel’s longest-serving staff members, started working at the hotel’s housekeeping department 26 years ago.

“He always goes to the East India Room to celebrate his birthday with his close family. Every year without fail; he never misses,” Mr Baboo said. “I took care of the toilets (during these visits) and I remember him requesting for them not to be sprayed with perfume. He was such a humble man. I really respect him.”

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew celebrating his birthday at the Raffles Hotel in 2007. (Photo: Raffles Hotel)

“Raffles Hotel is a living monument that has witnessed Singapore’s history and development,” said Ms Jean Wee, director of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments division under the NHB. “Our exhibition and tours bring to life some of the many stories of prominent personalities who left their imprints here. Visitors will also have the opportunity to explore spaces which are rarely opened to the public, before the building enters a new chapter in its history”.

Cocktails in Cad’s Alley. (Photo: Raffles Hotel)

Raffles Hotel will close completely at the end of this year, before reopening in the later part of 2018.

Charlie Chaplin and his brother Syd in 1933 adorns the hotel’s wall of fame. Chaplin is just one of the many famous personalities the hotel has welcomed. (Photo: Genevieve Loh)

Source: CNA/gl

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