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Several prominent personalities have graced Raffles Hotel with their presence since its opening in 1887, including Michael Jackson, and Prince William and Princess Catherine (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). IMAGE: NG KAI

National Monuments Of Singapore: Raffles Hotel

What is a National Monument? Who gazettes them? How many national monuments are there in Singapore? To date, the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, a division of National Heritage Board, has identified and gazetted 75 buildings, structures and sites of national significance as an integral part of Singapore’s built heritage.

And we're here to tell you all about them - one National Monument at a time!

You've probably passed by or stepped into more than a few of them without realising they were National Monuments: Al-Abrar Mosque, Asian Civilisations Museum, the Civilian War Memorial, Saint Andrew's Cathedral, the Esplanade Park Memorials, Fort Siloso on Sentosa - no need to plan an itinerary for friends visiting from overseas; just show them this article ✌️

In this edition, we spotlight a luxury hotel that has seen its share of prominent personalities, including Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin (yes, Charlie Chaplin), pop icon Michael Jackson, and the Prince and Princess of Wales (William and his wife, Kate Middleton).

📍 Location

Raffles Hotel was the 20th building to be gazetted as a National Monument, and is located near other National Monuments such as CHIJMES (Former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Chapel and Caldwell House), Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and Civilian War Memorial. The MRT stations nearest to Raffles Hotel are City Hall and Esplanade.

📅 Significant dates

Dates built:

  • 1830s: Raffles Hotel began as Beach House, a private residence built by Robert Scott
  • 1 Dec 1887: Raffles Hotel was founded and commenced operations as a 10-room hotel
  • 1899: The Main Building of Raffles Hotel was constructed on the site of the original Beach House


  • 1890: A pair of two-storey wings containing 22 new suites was added to the original building
  • 1894: The Palm Court Wing was built
  • 1904: The Bras Basah Wing was added
  • 1989-16 Sept 1991: The hotel underwent large-scale restoration
  • Dec 2017-1 Aug 2019: A major renovation of the hotel was undertaken

Dates gazetted:

  • 4 Mar 1987
  • 3 Jun 1995: Raffles Hotel was gazetted again as a National Monument, superseding the 1987 gazette boundary

📜 History

Raffles Hotel began as Beach House, a private home built in the 1830s by Robert Scott. In 1878, Charles Emmerson leased the building and opened Emmerson’s Hotel. After his sudden death in 1883, the hotel closed. On 1 Jan 1884, it reopened as Hotel Des Indes, owned by a “W. F. Van Erp”. Later on, Raffles Boarding School took up tenancy until its expiry in Sept 1887.

In 1887, four brothers – Martin, Tigran, Aviet, and Arshak Sarkies – leased the building from its then-owner, wealthy Arab merchant Syed Mohamed Alsagoff, and founded Raffles Hotel. The Sarkies were part of the Armenian community, whose religious and social centre was the Armenian Church.

The Sarkies were also successful hotel proprietors who owned Strand Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar, and three hotels in Penang, Malaysia – Eastern and Oriental Hotels (which merged later to form Eastern & Oriental Hotel), Oriental Tiffin & Billiard Rooms (renamed the Sea View Hotel), and Crag Hotel.

At the time, the Sarkies brothers’ investment in setting up Raffles Hotel was timely: the popularisation of steamships in the late 19th century, coupled with the Suez Canal’s opening in 1869, had enabled Europeans to travel to Asia for leisure for the very first time.

When Tigran Sarkies assumed management, he transformed the humble hostel into a magnificent hotel worthy of its reputation. Between 1889 and 1890, new wings were added on both sides of the building. The Billiard Room was built circa 1890 at the Bras Basah and Beach Road corner for the guests’ entertainment, and Palm Court Wing was constructed circa 1894.

However, following Arshak Sarkies’ demise in 1931, it was revealed that the Sarkies brothers had accumulated tremendous debts, threatening Raffles Hotel’s survival. The Great Depression, which had partly caused the Sarkies brothers’ bankruptcy, also greatly affected the tourism and hotel industries in Singapore.

A solution to save Raffles Hotel came only two years later on 28 Feb 1933 with the formation of a new firm, Raffles Hotel Limited, which acquired and incorporated the historic hotel and its land.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), the Raffles staff buried the hotel silverware, including the silver beef trolley, reportedly in the Palm Court. The Japanese renamed the hotel Syonan Ryokan (Light of the South Hotel), and its main entrance was moved to face east to catch the morning sun.

After the Japanese surrender, M. S. Arathoon, whom the Japanese had retained as assistant manager, reopened the hotel in Sept 1945. Many of the local staff had remained with the hotel during the war years, and other displaced staff returned. The silverware was duly retrieved from its hiding place. The hotel also became a temporary transit camp for prisoners of war who were to be repatriated.


Raffles Hotel was gazetted as a national monument in 1987. In 1989, the hotel closed for large-scale restoration lasting two years and reopened on 16 Sep 1991. The restoration was based on the original building plans and old photographs. Taking 1915 as the benchmark year, the restoration process involved replacing the 1920s ballroom with the original cast-iron portico (a covered, roofed walkway), repairing decorative plasterwork, and reinstating the large timber staircase.

Also added was a new block featuring an in-house museum, a shopping arcade and the Jubilee Hall theatre, a reproduction of a 19th-century playhouse. Raffles Hotel was gazetted again as a national monument in 1995, superseding the 1987 gazette boundary.

Over the years, the hotel underwent a series of renovation, repair and expansion. The restored Raffles Hotel, which now houses more than 100 suites, is also known for the Singapore Sling, the famous cocktail created by Ngiam Tong Boon, a barman at the hotel.

📐 Design and architecture

Completed in 1899, the three-storey Main Building replaced the Beach House. It was constructed according to the architectural plans of Regent A. J. Bidwell from the renowned firm Swan & Maclaren. Back then, the hotel boasted one of Singapore’s first complete electrical systems with electric lights, ceiling fans, and call bells powered by the hotel’s generators. In fact, Raffles Hotel was the first hotel in the region to have electric lights.


The Main Building was designed in the Neo-Renaissance style, characterised by a symmetrical composition and layout, and the use of Classical orders (such as Corinthian and Doric columns) and round arches.

Around the building are wide verandahs and rows of Palladian windows (central windows with an arched head that have a usually narrower window with a square head on each side). These features kept the interior cool and well-ventilated in Singapore’s tropical climate prior to the advent of air-conditioning. The angled wings flanking the Main Building ensure the ingress of sunlight during the day.

Outside the main entrance is an elegant cast-iron portico with elaborate tracery. The original portico, designed by the famous Walter MacFarlane & Company of Glasgow, was erected in 1913 and dismantled seven years later in 1920 to accommodate a new ballroom. The present portico, installed during the restoration from 1989 to 1991, is a fine reproduction of that original one.


Raffles Hotel also features some beautiful courtyards, one of which is the aptly named Palm Garden. Underneath the tall palm trees stands an ornate cast-iron fountain, also manufactured by Walter MacFarlane & Company at the turn of the century.

The fountain was first installed at the centre of the Former Telok Ayer Market (today's Lau Pa Sat). In 1902, it was transferred to a plaza outside Orchard Road Market. The fountain was later dismantled and forgotten altogether, and was only rediscovered in 1989. After being certified as authentic, the Victorian fountain was reassembled, restored, and installed in the Palm Garden.

💬 Guests and visitors

Over the years, Raffles Hotel has developed a long list of distinguished guests that includes members of royalty, political figures and celebrities such as King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Indonesian president Suharto, and King of Pop Michael Jackson.

The Writer’s Bar is named for the numerous literary figures that have visited the hotel, such as Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Noël Coward. There are suites named after early hotel guests including Charlie Chaplin and Somerset Maugham, who is reputed to have spent his days writing at the Palm Court.

The hotel has also seen some unusual visitors including a python and a wild boar. In a well-known incident that occurred on an early morning in 1902, an escaped circus tiger found its way under the hotel’s Billiard Room, which stood on stilts at the time. Charles McGowan Phillips, then-principal of Raffles Institution and a member of Singapore’s rifle team, was summoned to the hotel, where, still dressed in his pyjamas, he shot and killed the tiger.

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