Emerald Hill was once nothing more than a wide treeless street along whose sides quiet families lived in typical terrace houses, 3/4 residential units similar to shophouses, with a walled courtyard in the front instead of the usual "five-foot way." Toward Orchard Road, the terrace houses turned into shophouses, with their first floors occupied by small provisioners, seamstresses, and dry-goods stores.
As Orchard Road developed, so did Emerald Hill -- the buildings were all renovated. The shophouses close to Orchard Road became restaurants and bars, and the street was closed off to vehicular traffic. Now it's an alfresco cafe, landscaped with a veritable jungle of potted foliage and peopled by colorful tourists -- much different from its humble beginnings.
But as you pass Emerald Hill, don't just blow it off as a tourist trap. Walk through the cafe area and out the back onto Emerald Hill. All of the terrace houses have been redone, and magnificently. The facades have been freshly painted and the tiles polished, and the dark wood details add a contrast that is truly elegant. When these places were renovated, they could be purchased for a song, but as Singaporeans began grasping at their heritage in recent years, their value shot up, and now these homes fetch huge sums.
For a peek inside some of these wonderful places, browse Living Legacy: Singapore's Architectural Heritage Renewed, by Robert Powell, at local bookstores. Gorgeous photographs take you inside a few of these homes and some other terrace houses and bungalows around the island, showing off the traditional interior details of these buildings.