Toa Payoh, a pioneering town for Singapore’s public housing, has played a significant role in shaping the development of residential areas across the country. The National Heritage Board (NHB) has updated its Toa Payoh Heritage Trail to shed light on the lesser-known stories and landmarks that contributed to the town’s rich history.
Originally launched in 2014, the trail covers 29 heritage sites, including 10 marked locations. The updated trail features two newly marked sites: Block 53, known as the “VIP Block”, and the iconic Toa Payoh Dragon Playground. These additions complement existing landmarks such as Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery, Singapore’s oldest Buddhist monastery, and Masjid Muhajirin, the first mosque built with support from the Mosque Building Fund.
The revamped trail aims to foster a sense of pride and belonging among residents and encourage exploration of Toa Payoh’s heritage. It also incorporates stories, memories, and photographs contributed by former and current residents.
As the first town designed and developed entirely by the Housing & Development Board (HDB), Toa Payoh served as a testing ground for different architectural styles, features, and community amenities that are now found in HDB towns. For instance, the 19-story Block 53, completed in 1967, offered a panoramic view of Toa Payoh and hosted many foreign and local dignitaries.
Toa Payoh also hosted the first major international sporting competition in Singapore – the 1973 Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games. Four HDB point blocks in Toa Payoh Central were used to house athletes from seven participating nations. After the games, the fully furnished units were sold to the public.
The iconic Dragon Playground, designed by HDB architect Khor Ean Ghee, became a popular feature in playgrounds across Singapore. The updated heritage trail also highlights lesser-known aspects of Toa Payoh’s history, such as the town’s manufacturing hub and the significant role of its female labor force during rapid industrialization in the 1960s.
The refreshed trail includes the first National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Welcome Supermarket, which opened to counter inflation and supplier profiteering. The supermarket was so popular that it had to close its doors every few hours to prevent overcrowding.
Three newly curated thematic routes accompany the updated trail, focusing on the evolution of public housing design, the histories of religious institutions in Toa Payoh, and the everyday heritage of the area’s community institutions.
The Toa Payoh Heritage Trail’s companion guide and map can be downloaded from NHB’s heritage portal, Roots.gov.sg. Limited printed copies are available at various locations, including the National Museum of Singapore, the Asian Civilisations Museum, and community clubs in Toa Payoh. A video of trail highlights can be viewed at https://go.gov.sg/toapayohheritagetrail/.