Along Petain road and the junction with Sturdee Rd, in Jelan Besar district, sits a row of exquisite shophouses beautifully renovated and maintained. They were once in such a sad state of repair that they were due to be demolished in 1979. Many of the tiles were damaged or lost and were replaced by similar pieces sourced from Vietnam.
Jelan Basar is now a conservation area and the name means big/wide road in malay. It was, like many parts of Singapore, a swampland until it was drained in 1916. The Petain Road area used to be known as Keen Chio Kar (foot of the banana tree) in Hokkien giving an insight into the areas old heritage. The swampland which was once home to Chinese farms and vegetable gardens until it was drained became residential. Before the 2nd World War this area was a well known red light district and some areas still live up to the past!
Many of the roads and spaces in Jelan Besar are named after battles of 1st World War - Verdun, Flanders and Somme for example. Many are also named after British admirals and generals and 2 French generals. As mentioned these shophouses sit along Petain Rd and the corner of Sturdee Rd. Sturdee Rd is named after the British admiral Sir Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee (1859-1925) Petain Rd was named in 1928 after the French 1st World War hero Marshal Henri Philippe Petain (1856-1951) - hero of the battle of Verdun, later to be more widely known as the Prime Minister of France who collaborated with Hitler and the Germans during the French Occupation. Because of the 2nd World War history many over the years have called for Petain Rd to be renamed, possibly to De Gaulle.
In 1930 this row of 18 terraced shophouses were commissioned by Mohamed Bin Haji Omar and built by E.V.Miller. These Peranakan styled shophouses are decorated with a mixture of many types of shophouse architecture in the Chinese baroque/Singapore eclectic style. The paler coloured homes were probably home to Peranakan and Malay families wheres as the brighter Chinese. Towards the centre of the row was once a Hockchew temple called Tian Shu Tang.