Cathay Building

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Cathay Building
Bangunan Cathay
The Cathay Building in Singapore 1945.jpg
The Cathay Building in 1945
Cathay Building is located in Singapore
Cathay Building
Former namesCathay Hotel
General information
Address2 Handy Road, Singapore 229233
CoordinatesCoordinates: 1°17′57.5″N 103°50′51.5″E / 1.299306°N 103.847639°E / 1.299306; 103.847639
Named forCathay Cinema
Construction startedJuly 11, 1939 (1939-07-11)
OpenedJuly 1, 1940 (1940-07-01)
CostS$1 million
OwnerLoke Cheng Kim (former)
Loke Wan Tho (former)
Cathay Organisation
Technical details
Floor count11
Design and construction
ArchitectFrank Wilmin Brewer
Architecture firmArbenz and Brewer
Other information
Number of rooms170
Number of restaurants1
Number of bars1
Designated10 February 2003

The Cathay Building (simplified Chinese: 国泰大厦; traditional Chinese: 國泰大廈; Malay: Bangunan Cathay) was opened in 1939 by Dato Loke Wan Tho as the headquarters for the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation. Located at 2 Handy Road in the Museum Planning Area of Singapore, the building was most known for its air-conditioned theatre known as the Cathay Cinema, then a technological marvel and the first to be built in Singapore. Cathay Building was the first skyscraper in Singapore and tallest building in Southeast Asia at that time.


The Cathay Cinema in 1945

1930s: Opening and initial years[edit]

The supposed 16 storey (11 storey upon completion) Cathay Building was designed by British architect Frank W Brewer. The Cathay Building consisted of the Cathay Cinema, a restaurant and the dance hall on the ground floor, as well as a roof garden above the cinema and a residential storey block with a penthouse.

The first part of the Cathay Building was opened on 3 October 1939 with the 1,300-seat Cathay Cinema, the dance hall and the Cathay Restaurant. On 1 July 1940, the 11 storey residential block was opened for occupancy, with the owners Mrs Loke Wan and Loke Wan Tho occupied the eleventh floor.[1] The building was the first and tallest skyscraper in Singapore and in Southeast Asia, at a height of 83.5 metres from the Dhoby Ghaut entrance to the top of the building's water tower.[2] Its theatre was the island's first air-conditioned cinema and public building, and where one could sit in an arm chair to watch a film; a rare amenity during that time. The building was also used as a landmark for final landing approach at Singapore's first purpose-built civilian airport, Kallang Airport.

1940s: World War II and Indian National Army[edit]

At the beginning of World War II in 1942, the building was converted to a Red Cross casualty station. When Singapore fell to the Japanese, it was used to house the Japanese Broadcasting Department, the Military Propaganda Department, the Military Information Bureau and the broadcast department of the Indian National Army's Provisional government of Free India during the occupation period.[3] On 21 October 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose announced the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India) at Cathay Building with himself as the Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister of War.[4] The Japanese utilised the building to broadcast propaganda in the Japanese language. It was also the residence of film director Yasujirō Ozu from 1944 till the end of the war.[3]

In the name of God, in the name of bygone generations who have welded the Indian people into one nation, and in the name of the dead heroes who have bequeathed to us a tradition of heroism and self-sacrifice we call upon the Indian people to rally round our banner and strike for India’s freedom. We call upon them to launch the final struggle against the British and their allies in India and to prosecute that struggle with valour and perseverance and full faith in final victory until the enemy is expelled from Indian soil and the Indian people are once again a Free Nation.

— Subhas Chandra Bose proclaiming the Free India at Cathay Cinema Building in Singapore on 21 October 1943, [5]

When the war ended in 1945, it served as the headquarters for Admiral Lord Mountbatten while serving as the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Theatre of the South East Asia Command (SEAC). When the SEAC was disbanded a year later, the building was converted back to a cinema and a hotel. The cinema was the first to show American and British films in Singapore. A new air-conditioning plant was installed in the building in 1948. The colonial government vacated the building to be returned to the Cathay Organisation. The Cathay Restaurant was officially reopened on 1 May 1948 under the management of Cathay Restaurant Ltd.[6]

1950-70s: Hotel and nightclub[edit]

On 9 January 1954, the building reopened as Cathay Hotel with 60 rooms and subsequently expanded to 170 rooms. It had a restaurant, nightclub, swimming pool and shopping arcade.

Cathay Hotel was closed on 30 December 1970, with the 10 floors had been converted into office premises and the top floor occupied by the Cathay Organisation by July 1974.[7]

The building was refaced in 1978 with a new look by STS Leong. The original design was shadowed by the new facade.

1980-90s: Cineplex[edit]

Cathay Building was the location for the first Orange Julius outlet in Singapore, which opened in 1982. In 1990, Cathay Organisation opened Singapore's first arthouse cinema, The Picturehouse adjacent to Cathay Building. The main Cathay cinema was then converted into a two-hall cineplex during that period.

Redevelopment and preservation[edit]

In 1999, Cathay announced the S$100 million plans to redevelop the whole complex. Cathay Building and the Picturehouse would show its last movie in 2000 before closing for redevelopment. The front facade of its theatre building structure was gazetted as a national monument for conservation on 10 February 2003, while the rest of the building structure was later demolished. Thus the new building incorporated conservation of the original art-deco façade of the 1939 and combined together with a modern-day design by Paul Tange of Tange Associates Japan and RDC Architects Pte Ltd Singapore. The Cathay as it is currently known, was opened on 24 March 2006.[8] The building houses retail, food & beverage outlets and an 8-screen Cathay Cineplex which includes The Picturehouse. The Cathay Residences opened towards the end of 2006.

See also[edit]


  • "Singapore Infopedia: Cathay Building". National Library Board. Archived from the original on 2007-07-04. Retrieved 2007-08-05.
  1. ^ "Singapore's Firs "Skyscraper" In The Making". Retrieved 2018-06-08.
  2. ^ "Singapore's Firs "Skyscraper" In The Making". Retrieved 2018-06-08.
  3. ^ a b Hasumi, Shiguéhiko (2003). Kantoku Ozu Yasujiro [Director Yasujiro Ozu] (in Japanese) (Enlarged and definitive ed.). Chikuma Shobo. ISBN 4-480-87341-4.
  4. ^ Provisional Government of Azad Hind, National Archives of Singapore.
  5. ^ Bose in Singapore, Frontline (magazine), December 08, 2017.
  6. ^ "Liquidate THE CATHAY RESTAURANT OPENS MAY 1". Retrieved 2018-06-08.
  7. ^ Singapore, National Library Board. "Cathay : 55 years of cinema / Lim Kay Tong". Retrieved 2018-06-08.
  8. ^ "That golden age..." Retrieved 2018-06-08.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Tallest building in Singapore
70 m (230 ft)
Succeeded by
Asia Insurance Building