The ongoing public airing of grievances by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang against their brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has once again drawn attention to the Oxley Road house left behind by Lee Kuan Yew (LKY).
The crux of the matter lies in LKY's wish for the house to be demolished after his passing. It is a stance that is well-publicised and documented.
In an interview for the book Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going in 2011, Lee Kuan Yew said that he wanted the house to be demolished after his passing. He cited several reasons, one of which was practical, saying that it is "an old house built over a hundred years ago" and would cost a lot to maintain.
Here's what he said in the interview:
Interviewer: I mean MM, I haven't been there but people who have been there say you've not done much to renovate and to upgrade it.
LKY: I've told the Cabinet, when I'm dead, demolish it.
LKY: Because I think, I've seen other houses, Nehru's, Shakespeare's. They become a shambles after a while. People trudge through. Because of my house the neighbouring houses cannot build high. Now demolish my house and change the planning rules, go up, the land value will go up.
Interviewer: But isn't that part of Singapore history?
LKY: No, no, no. You know the cost of preserving it? It's an old house built over a hundred years ago. No foundation. The cost of maintaining it, damp comes up the wall because there's no foundation. So the piling in the neighbourhood has made cracks in my walls. But fortunately the pillars are sound.
Interviewer: By your comment then, you don't place great store on preserving old buildings? It's like the old National Library, no architectural significance but when it was torn down I think a lot of people still bemoan its loss today.
LKY: I don't think my daughter or my wife or I, who lived in it, or my sons who grew up in it will bemoan its loss. They have old photos to remind them of the past.
LKY had also stated in his will that he wished for 38 Oxley Road to be demolished immediately after his death, or when Lee Wei Ling moves out.
If his children are unable to demolish the house, it was also his wish that the house never be opened to others except his family and their descendants.
This is the quote from his will:
"I further declare that it is my wish, and the wish of my late wife, KWA GEOK CHOO, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 ("the House") be demolished immediately after my death or, if my daughter, Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the House. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out. If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants. My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph 7 may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my Will is private."
Top photo from Lee Wei Ling's Facebook