Built in 1938, the Kam Leng Hotel has been quiet for the last 20 years as the last recorded hotel license expired sometime in the late 80s or the early 90s. It is one of the few purpose built hotels on the stretch, the other notable ones being the Whitehouse Hotel and the Mayo Inn.
On plan the whole development covers the area of about five shop house units, and although it does look like it was designed as a whole building, curiously, it is actually two buildings side by side, split into a three unit and two-unit structure. No one seems to know the significance of this.
It its original iteration, the hotel had 22 rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors and a restaurant on the 4th. No one can figure out the exact use of the ground floor. It may have just been shops along the 5-foot walk way and unlikely to have been a granStanding on the corner of a row of shop houses, nearer the Lavender street end of Jalan Besar, stands an abandoned hotel called the Kam Leng.d lobby. The only lift shaft serving all the floors is at the 5th and innermost unit, with a snug, yet beautiful terrazzo staircase spiralling around it.
Stories about the market position of the hotel back in the day suggest that the hotel was a place for local businessmen to entertain as a very local alternative to the much more posh Raffles Hotel at Beach Road. It was also the hotel of choice for traveling troupes coming down from Malaysia, who came to entertain at the long defunct “entertainment villages” nearby, like The New World and Gay World. These venues saw their heydays from the 1920s to the 1960s.
A quick tour of the existing structure does not suggest that the hotel was a luxury establishment. The toilets had a sharing arrangement at the rear of each floor and air conditioners may have never been installed in the rooms previously.
The existing rooms have a unique double door arrangement. You could close the one full sized door, or you could have left that door open and partially screened the view into the room with a pair of cowboy swing doors. These were fitted to allow for some privacy and ventilation.
Hard to place a date on when the interior finishes were revamped. Probably all done at different times. All the same, it feels bang on the money, stylewise, for the vintage-leaning flashpacker market:
The 4th floor restaurant has a unique history. It was helmed at various points by the “4 heavenly kings” of local cuisine, and it is claimed that chili crab, pepper crab, fried yam rings and even yu sheng (a raw fish salad served during Chinese New Year) was first served here.
This old stalwart is about to get a new lease of life again and she has been leased out to a new hotel operator for the next 20 years. The interiors are being designed by local design firm FARM. Happily, this area of Singapore has recently seen a resurgence of backpacker and boutique hotels, and this puts the Kam Leng back onto the map! Untapped will follow up on this hotel project as it unfolds.