In 1896, the King and Queen of Siam were treated to a lavish lunch by Teochew tycoon Seah Liang Seah, at Bendemeer House off Serangoon Road. This was not the first time that the stately mansion embodying Chinese, Malay, and European influences had hosted royalty or prominent people. Originally called Whampoa House, Bendemeer House was originally designed and built in 1840 by Whampoa (also known as Hoo Ah Kay), a prominent Chinese leader who maintained a tradition of hosting magnificent parties. After his death, the mansion was bought over by Seah Liang Seah, who renamed the house. He carried on Whampoa’s tradition and soon became well-known for his gracious hospitality at his magnificent home, which had a ballroom, a tower, and sweeping grounds, surrounded by a vast estate of plantations. A colourful character and entertaining host, Seah Liang Seah would have his guests participate in activities such as miniature rifle shooting, guessing games, and even whistling competitions where the whistler had a biscuit in his mouth, while a teammate had to guess the song!
In 1964, the government acquired the historic building and the 30-acre estate (around 30 football fields in size) on which it stood for the development of the Kallang Basin housing and industrial project. The building was soon demolished to make way for the development of Boon Keng estate. Today, the mansion and estate are no more, and only the names Bendemeer and Whampoa remain. Knowing these names is good, but knowing the stories behind them is even better.