Buying a piece of history on Mountbatten Road for $54.5 mil

By Cecilia Chow and Nicholas Lam
/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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Irish-born Mary Bernadette Philomena Lee, aka Mrs Lee, remembers when she first came to Singapore: April 1, 1965. “I came from London with my husband and one-year-old daughter,” she says.
For 59 years, her home has been a conserved bungalow on a 32,052 sq ft freehold site on the corner of Mountbatten Road and Crescent Road in prime District 15.
The property dates back to 1851. It was built by the family of Thomas Dunman, the first commissioner of police in Singapore, Straits Settlements (which included Penang and Malacca). The area was formerly Grove Estate, a coconut plantation owned by Dunman, who spent a few years there following his retirement in 1871 before he returned to England in 1875. Dunman Road and Dunman Lane in the Katong area were named after him.
The coconut plantation of Grove Estate stretched from the original shoreline towards the former Grove Road. It has since been renamed Mountbatten Road, after Lord Louis Mountbatten, who later became Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
The house was one of the bungalows built on the estate in the late 19th century and early 20th century for wealthy families who wanted a beachfront home. The entire row became known as “Millionaires’ Bungalows”. According to URA, most of these houses were built in the Victorian and Art Deco styles. Today, only 15 such houses remain along Mountbatten Road, and they were gazetted for conservation in July 1993.
The original title deed from 1926, signed by Robert Dunman and Lee Pang Chuan for the sale and purchase of the property on Mountbatten Road (Photo: Knight Frank)

One of 15 conserved bungalows along Mountbatten Road

Mrs Lee’s home is one of the 15 bungalows within the conservation area. She still has the original title deed for the property, which dates back to 1926, signed between Robert Dunman and Lee Pang Chuan, son of Straits Chinese businessman Lee Choon Guan, co-founder of the Chinese Commercial Bank, one of the three banks that merged into OCBC Bank during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The purchase price for the property on Mountbatten Road was $11,120.76 in 1926.
Lee Pang Chuan was Mrs Lee’s father-in-law. When he passed away, the property was passed to his son, Dr Alfred Lee, who was Mrs Lee’s late husband. When he passed away, the property went to Mrs Lee.
She still remembers her first impression of the house. “It was quite different in those days,” she says. “The exterior walls were pink and yellow. There was a tennis court, but it had been neglected over the years. And there was no fence around the house.”
As her husband’s family was very traditional, Mrs Lee was not allowed to work. She decided to work on the garden by growing fruit trees in the back garden. She began replacing the dirt patch with grass in the front garden and visited nurseries to purchase potted plants. “I began to understand how they grow,” says Mrs Lee. “That’s how I started — bit by bit.”
The garden which Mrs Lee created "bit by bit" (Photo: Knight Frank Singapore)
Over time, she added a pond for goldfish in the garden, which became an even more ambitious project when her husband became interested in koi fish. Then, a treehouse was added about 20 years ago. Even though she has gardeners to help her, Mrs Lee still tends to the garden personally.
Many of the furniture and antique pieces were already present when Mrs Lee moved in. “They were all over the house,” she recalls. “I rescued them and organised everything — all the furniture and antique pieces.”
An example is an antique console table in the front hall against the ancestor gallery wall. Mrs Lee had found it in the staff quarters. It had a nail sticking out of its side and was used to hang plastic bags and personal items. After it was restored and polished, it now occupies a prominent place in the front hall. “My mother-in-law said it’s actually for laying out dead bodies,” says Mrs Lee. “But I’m quite proud of myself for rescuing it.”
Several tables and chairs in the sitting room have “candlestick legs”. Mrs Lee says these furniture pieces were designed specifically for the house by Robinsons, the former department store founded in 1858. She also purchased the sofas and armchairs in the living hall.
The grand hall of the house, which saw many parties and gatherings over the years (Photo: Knight Frank Singapore)

Historic home

The house is very much in its original condition. Even the timber flooring on the second floor and the tiles on the first level are original. Only minor renovations were made to the house sometime between the 1960s and 1970s. For instance, the kitchen was outfitted with new appliances, cabinetry and flooring. The staircase was extended to the wall, and new stained-glass windows were installed to bring more light into the house.
Mrs Lee says her favourite memories of the house were the parties and gatherings they used to hold there.
Today, after nearly 60 years, she has decided to put the property up for sale. “I’m sad about selling the house and that the property will leave the family,” says Mrs Lee. “It has been my home, and the garden has been my hobby for 60 years.”
The courtyard between the main house and the outhouse (Photo: Knight Frank Singapore)
Mrs Lee has appointed Knight Frank as the exclusive marketing agent for the property. It is up for sale at $54.5 million or $1,700 psf based on the land area.
The bungalow has retained its original Victorian and Art Deco architectural styles, with a grand hall and European-style courtyard. The arched beams, stained-glass windows, ornamental fittings and fixtures have also been well-maintained.
The two-storey house, including the outhouse, has a built-up area of about 4,500 to 5,000 sq ft. It has seven bedrooms — two on the first level and five on the second floor. All the bedrooms except two on the second level are en suite. On the first level is the grand hall, a living hall and formal dining space, with the kitchen in an outhouse connected to staff quarters and a garage. The family room is on the second level.
One of the three main gates leading into the house (Photo: Knight Frank Singapore)

Legacy property

The property sits on a corner plot with double frontage along Mountbatten Road and Crescent Road. It has three main entrance gates: two from Mountbatten Road and one from Crescent Road. “In the old days, the family used to host dignitaries,” says Nicholas Keong, head of residential and private office, Knight Frank Singapore. “There were tea parties, dances and many gatherings.” The driveway is extensive enough for about 20 cars, he adds.
The last conservation bungalow transacted in the area was 759 Mountbatten Road, which changed hands for $29 million ($1,391 psf) in April 2022. The property was purchased by Lawrence Leow, chairman and CEO of Crescendas Group. It sits on a smaller plot of 20,847.54 sq ft.
URA’s latest transaction data shows that the median psf price for freehold landed property in District 15 has increased 18.7%, from $1,764 psf in 1Q2022 to $2,094 psf in 4Q2023.
“The Mountbatten area in District 15 is considered ‘the Nassim of the East’,” says Mary Sai, executive director of capital markets at Knight Frank Singapore. “It’s a conserved bungalow and will appeal to sophisticated buyers who appreciate its history. It has been in the Lee family for close to three generations.”
Keong adds: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase a legacy property.” The tender for the property closes on April 2.

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