38@Oxley: What we now know about Singapore’s most infamous property

4 min read
38 oxley road
The 38@Oxley saga continues.


Some time back, all anyone in Singapore could talk about was the 38@Oxley saga. Fingers were pointed, shots were taken, and the brouhaha only subsided when it was concluded that the fate of 38@Oxley would subsequently be determined by a ministerial committee.

Fast forward a few months later, and the ministerial committee has spoken. In a report which was released two days ago, the committee outlined the three available options:

  • Retain the property and gazette it for conservation, or as a National Monument
  • Retain the dining room and demolish the rest of the property
  • Fully demolish the property, with the understanding that this “could result in the loss of a historically significant property”
lee hsien loong siblings
L-R: Lee Wei Ling, Lee Hsien Loong, and Lee Hsien Yang.


In its report, the Ministerial Committee also details the history of 38@Oxley, including nuggets of information about its architectural style.

38@Oxley: A brief history

Built in 1898, 38@Oxley was one of a pair of bungalows. The property was nicknamed “Castor” (and its “twin” at 40 Oxley Road, “Pollux”), referencing twin brothers in Roman mythology. After being bought and sold multiple times, “Castor” was demolished, and redeveloped into three lots.

40 oxley road
What 40 Oxley Road looks like today.

When the Japanese occupied Singapore between 1942 and 1945, they turned the properties along Oxley Road into comfort houses. When the war was over, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew rented 38 Oxley Road together with his wife, Kwa Geok Choo. At that point in time, they paid 80 Straits dollars per month as rent.

By 1965, Lee Kwan Yew and Kwa Geok Choo decided to buy 38@Oxley. Security had became a major concern; in a bid to fortify the property against assassination attempts and other threats, the couple added steel gates, additional brick walls and bullet-proof windows. After a police constable was shot dead at the back of the house in the 1960s, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew wanted to secure the area, and did so by absorbing another house into the property.

The unique architectural style of 38@Oxley

The NHB report bills 38@Oxley as an “Early Style” bungalow which borrows from both the East and West. While the main structure of the house is reminiscent of a traditional Anglo-Indian bungalow, tweaks include a raised-floor construction, verandahs and overhanging roof eaves. Because it’s located on a slope, the house features a single storey in front, and expands to two storeys at the back.

38 oxley road lky
38@Oxley is an “Early Style” which borrows from both the East and West.


In accommodating Singapore’s warm climate, arched openings ventilate the basement space, and an additional jack roof lets hot air rise and escape. Design-wise, 38@Oxley comes with a myriad of features which were “popular in bungalows of its time”; these include full-length French windows, fretted timber balusters, classical columns, pilasters and plinths, and more.

What 38@Oxley says about the late Lee Kwan Yew

In its report, the Ministerial Committee states that 38@Oxley has gone through several additions and alterations, but still has its “original form and architectural character” intact.

lee kwan yew
According to the Ministerial Committee, 38@Oxley stands for the values that Lee Kwan Yew exemplified.


Here’s how the Ministerial Committee puts it: “As the home of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, 38 Oxley Road stands for the values that he and his wife exemplified both in their public and private lives – frugality and discipline in particular. The architectural simplicity of the house is reflective of the times, the site it sits on, as well as the values of its historic occupants.”

Do you think the government should retain the entire property, retain the dining room, or demolish everything altogether? Let us know in the comments below!

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If you found this article helpful, 99.co recommends Beyond 38, the real estate potential of Oxley Road and 6 ridiculous things ministers in Singapore have said about property.

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