This was the former mansion of Seah Song Seah built in 1903, third son of Seah Eu Chin. This Nanyang style mansion infused with Teochew traditional detailing was designed by Almeida & Kassim in 1896 and completed with additional buildings no. 251 and no.255 in 1903. The Nanyang Chinese shophouse style developed roughly from the mid 1860s and flourished between 1880 and 1890. It was used in both townhouse and shophouse architecture. As opposed to the Chinese Rococo style that peaked in the 1920’s, featuring dragons and Sikh guards plaster high reliefs, ornamentation was still restrained and relatively flat towards the end of the 19th century. A consistent feature of houses belonging to Teochew merchants in Singapore was the use of an elaborate Teochew style entrance gate. Archival photographs indicate the prominence of entrance gates fronting houses belonging to Seah Eu Chin, Tan Yeok Nee, Wee Ah Hood and Seah Boon Kang’s No. 45 Emerald Hill (still standing today, Seah Boon Kang was a grandson of Seah Eu Chin).
Seah Song Seah stayed here till his death in 1930s. After which, the house was temporarily used as a Chinese antique shop in 1938. In 1949, the building was acquired by the Nanyang Sacred Union as a place for worship of Confucius. The Union’s history can be traced to 1914 when it was known as Straits Sacred Union with Dr Lim Boon Keng as one of early members. After the Japanese occupation, a group of former members from Foochow district in China gathered funds to purchase the River Valley compounds as the headquarters of a sect that has about 10 branches all over Malaysia. Straits Sacred Union was formally renamed as Nanyang Sacred Union in 1949, the only edifice in Singapore dedicated to Confucius.
There are 3 separate buildings in the Union’s compound – no. 251, on the left, for the worship of Goddess of Mercy; no. 253 – the central and main building – for Confucius; and no. 255, on the right, for Lao Tse. This arrangement again reflects the emphasis on placement of male(yang) elements and female (yin) elements. From the altar’s facing, the yang elements would always be on the left while the yin on the right. This rule can also be seen in Wak Hai Cheng Bio, where Ma Cho Por’s shrine sits on the right side of Lau Ya’s shrine (in the direction of the deities’ eyes). Likewise, the dragon gates of traditional Chinese temples represent the yang element whilst the tiger gate signifies the yin. The abundance of plaster relief wall murals depicting symbols of good luck and scenes from Chinese fables can also be seen in few other restored traditional Teochew and Peranakan homes in Singapore. These include the former House of Tan Yeok Nee, Lian Yi Xuan (River House) and Baba house at 157 Neil Road.
History of Nanyang sacred union (in Chinese)
Singapore Shophouse by Julian Davison