The severed garden of Eden Hall

/ The Edge Property |
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The second floor verandah of the British High Comissioner’s official residence, Eden Hall at 28 Nassim Road, commands a fine prospect of the front lawn, which is ringed by old trees, with the Union Jack fluttering in the wind. That view and the house itself is still protected, although the rest of the estate is up for grabs.
This is because the UK government has carved up two plots (Plots A and B) on the eastern side of Eden Hall for sale by public tender. The sites have a combined land area of 34,254 sq ft, and amounts to 35% of the existing grounds of 97,889 sq ft.
Plot A has a site area of 18,620 sq ft, and a 36 m frontage along Nassim Road. It includes a huge part of the garden along the driveway and an open air parking space for about six cars. The other land parcel, Plot B, has a long narrow driveway leading up to an elevated rectangular site adjacent to the house. Plot B has a total area of 15,634 sq ft. Both sites are zoned for residential use under the Good Class Bungalow (GCB) area of Nassim Road, the most prestigious address in Singapore.
Given its wider frontage along Nassim Road, Plot A has a price tag of $2,200 psf, with the absolute price amounting to $40.96 million. Plot B is priced lower at $2,000 psf, owing to its long driveway, which translates to an absolute price of $31.27 million. CBRE is the sole marketing agent for both plots.
The front lawn of Eden Hall will be retained by the British government
Why sell now?
The sale of Plots A and B will mean not just the loss of the eastern part of the garden but the swimming pool too. In return, the British High Commissioner will gain two new neighbours among Singapore’s seriously rich.
“The UK government has a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure that its owned estate is of the right size necessary to undertake the functions associated with the estate,” according to a statement by the British government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). The sale was undertaken as part of a regular review by FCO of its overseas estate in order to “achieve better value and efficiency”, it said. “In this instance the garden at Eden Hall is larger than is necessary to accommodate the official functions of the HC Residence.”
Following the sale of these two garden plots, the total land area will be reduced to 63,893 sq ft, which is “the minimum size required to maintain the value of Eden Hall, while allowing the normal residence functions to continue,” adds the FCO.
The British high commissioner’s residence will continue at Eden Hall, which is a 14,000 sq ft double storey house. It has three reception rooms on the first level, and another reception room on the second level with a wraparound verandah. There are also six bedrooms on the second level.
Steeped in history
The house at Eden Hall has a rich history. Designed by renowned architect R.A.J. Bidwell of Singapore’s oldest and most prominent architectural firm Swan & McLaren, it was built in 1904. The owner was Jewish merchant Ezekiel Saleh Manasseh, a trader in rice and opium, as well as a co-owner of Goodwood Park Hotel between 1918 and 1945. Bidwell was also the architect of Goodwood Park Hotel, Raffles Hotel and the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.
The house was initially leased to Elizabeth Campbell, who operated a boarding house, Manasseh purchased the 4.75 acre land which the property sat on from his business partner for $30,000 in 1912. He moved into Eden House four years later with his family, and they lived there until 1942 when Singapore fell to the Japanese.
Manasseh was sent to Changi Prison, where he later died in the prison hospital at Sime Road. His stepson, Vivian Bath, was sent to a labour camp on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.
During the Japanese Occupation, Eden Hall was used by the Japanese as an officers’ mess. It was requisitioned for the use by the British forces after the occupation. And when Bath returned to Singapore, he regained possession of Eden Hall
When Bath decided to retire in Australia, he sold Eden Hall to the British Government in 1957 for a nominal sum of £56,000, with the stipulation that a plaque be installed at the bottom of the flagpole, which reads, “May the Union Jack fly here forever”.
The neighbours
Prior to 2002, the house sat on a sprawling 207,000 sq ft of freehold land, with tennis courts, stables and a swimming pool. The tennis courts and stables disappeared 13 years ago when the FCO sold half the land on the western side of Eden Hall to two prominent businessmen, namely Sam Goi of Tee Yih Jia Foods aka “The Popoah King” who has since ventured into property development investment, and Peter Kwee of Group Exklusiv, a renowned European car distributor, owner of Laguna Golf & Country Club, as well as a string of properties and hotels. The duo reportedly paid $50.4 million for the site, and subsequently split up the site between them.
Kwee took the larger plot of 63,300 sq ft, which he then carved up into two plots. One plot of 39,383 sq ft was sold to Indonesian businesswoman Sukmawati Widjaja or Oei Siu Hua, the executive chairman of Singapore listed company Top Global. She paid $25.5 million ($647 psf) for the site back in 2003. Sukmawati has made the house at Nassim Road her primary residence and is living there with her family.
Kwee sold the second plot of 23,920 sq ft to Tay Liam Wee, the former chairman and managing director of Sincere Watch. The selling price was said to be $47.8 million or $2,000 psf in 2012, in a deal brokered by KH Tan of Newsman Realty.
Goi has since built his home on the Nassim Road plot. The triangular plot fronting Nassim Road is still vacant. Word on the street is that Tay had appointed a Japanese architect to design the GCB, but the property has yet to be built.
Given the shape of plots A and B, which the UK government has offered for sale by public tender, Newsman’s Tan believes that the asking prices are “in line with market values”.
According to Sammi Lim, associate director of investment properties at CBRE, “It’s a fair guide price in the current market” and pegged to the previous price, she adds.
Prices coming off
“Traditionally, people prefer a site with a wider frontage and therefore the price psf of Plot A is higher at $2,200 psf,” acknowledges Sammi Lim, associate director of investment properties at CBRE. “However, the fact that Plot B is on an elevated site, and has a long driveway means that it is more exclusive.” Lim sees expressions of interest for the separate plots, as well as parties interested in the combined sites. She sees the two plots attracting interest of those seeking an empty plot so they can design and build their own home.
At the peak of the market in April 2013, Cheng Wai Keung, the executive chairman of Wing Tai Holdings had launched for sale a two-storey home sitting on an 85,000 sq ft elevated plot at 33 Nassim Road. The asking price for the property was $300 million or $3,529 psf. Had it been sold at that price, it would have shattered all records, both in terms of absolute and price psf.
Over the past year, GCB transactions have come off, and so have average prices. Data from CBRE Research showed that in 2014, there were 28 GCB transactions totalling $626.14 million. Average transacted price was $22.36 million or $1,428 psf in 2014.
For 2015, there have only been 18 GCB transactions – which is the lowest level seen since 1996, according to CBRE Research. Total transaction value for the year to date rang in at $500.78 million. While the average price per GCB was higher at $27.82 million relative to 2014’s $22.36 million, on a price psf basis, it was 18.8% lower at $1,159 psf.
For many interested parties looking at the two parcels offered for sale by the UK government, the main attraction is the house address, No. 28, according to a property agent who declined to be named.
Being able to call the British High Commissioner one’s neighbour may lend a certain measure of prestige and bragging rights. “It is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to stay in a GCB next to the British High Commissioner’s home,” says CBRE’s Lim. However, there is no assurance that one will get invited over for tea.
Interested in apartments / condos near Eden Hall? Click here
This article appeared in the City & Country of Issue 705 (Nov 30, 2015) of The Edge Singapore.

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