Capitol Singapore-crop

At 52-years old, Singapore is young compared to countries like Rome, Greece, even the USA. The relative lack of years however has not dampened its historical significance. Singapore had a baptism of fire of sorts, when the World Wars rocked the world and like a child missing his parents, it had to grow up fast.

And in many ways, it did.

This maturity can be seen in how its old buildings are either renovated or torn down for something new to take over. For a long time, Singapore has a voracious appetite for upgrading in a bid to remain relevant. This appetite has not waned, instead growing with much gusto over the decades. The progression of the nation’s infrastructure thus, improved steadily and the island-state is unrecognizable today, from its humble beginnings.

These days, towering buildings of glass and mortar crowd the streets and reflect the sun. But among the hilly buildings there are often special places where a relic of history abides, some currently existing while others committed to a memory rapidly fading. In this article and in the spirit of National Day, we return to those bygone days to reminisce on a fading past. 

1. Capitol Building

The Capitol Theatre came into being in Singapore during the Great Depression. But as one of the few air-conditioned theatres here, it was no less a popular venue for the wealthy. Over time it saw its structure grow when in 1933, architectural firm Keys & Dowdeswell built what would become the genesis of its name change to the Capitol Building, around the theatre.

The Capitol

The Capitol

Designed in a Neo-Classical style, like The Fullerton and Singapore General Hospital, the Capitol Building became exceedingly popular in Singapore and was host to many blockbusters right up until the Japanese Occupation marred it. These days, the theatre has seen renovation and rebranding and is now known as The Capitol.  Read more here.

2. Tang Dynasty City

A $100 million now is no joke. In 1992, that much spent is a headline on its own. That amount was what it cost to develop Tang Dynasty City; a village-like replica of the ancient Chinese capital of Chang ’An during its heyday. It was a theme park the size of 18 football fields, surrounded by the Great Wall. Its other purpose was to serve as a movie village of sorts to reignite the Chinese movie industry in Singapore.

However, a combination of high prices, subpar attractions and the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 led to its harrowing tumble until it finally closed in 1999. Several attempts to do something with the theme park started and died quickly over the years until 2008 when it was finally demolished and began its quick fade from public consciousness. Read more here.

3. The Cathay

When the Cathay Building was constructed, it was more than just the tallest building in Singapore. At 17 storeys reaching a height of 250 ft., it was the tallest building in all Southeast Asia. It stood for over 40 years before it was demolished in 1934 and redesigned into the Cathay Cinema for $1 million by architect Frank Brewer.

The new building proved popular and durable among people. Even during World War 2, the ground floor of the Cathay building was used by nearby residents as an air-raid shelter. Following the war, the building would see a few more refurbishments until the largest one in 2006 was made to modernize it. Read more here.

Source: Flickr (Powerhouse Museum)

Source: Flickr (Powerhouse Museum)

When one is prepared to dig just a bit deeper, they would find that many old buildings and sites here have rich stories. And for a country where nothing is sacred and even one-time heritage buildings may face the bulldozer in the future, such stories become our heritage and therefore, deserving of preservation.


Written by Senior Content Specialist, Christopher Chitty