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Cathay Building: Wikis


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Coordinates: 1°17′57.5″N 103°50′51.5″E / 1.299306°N 103.847639°E / 1.299306; 103.847639

While the main structure of the Cathay Building has been demolished to make way for the development of The Cathay, the front façade has been preserved and gazetted as a national monument.

The Cathay Building (Chinese: 国泰大厦) 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, it was most known for its air-conditioned theatre, then a technological marvel and the first to be built in Singapore.



The Cathay Building was designed by British architect Frank W Brewer in the 1930s. The building was the first and tallest skyscraper in Singapore and in Southeast Asia, with a height of 83.5 metres from the Dhoby Ghaut entrance to the top of the building's water tower. Opened on 3 October 1939 as Cathay Building, with a 1,300-seat Cathay Cinema, and the tower block as Cathay Hotel, it was the island's first air-conditioned cinema and public building, and where one could sit in an arm chair to watch a film, which was rare in those days.

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 and the Military Information Bureau during the occupation period, utilising the height of the building to broadcast propaganda in the Japanese language in a bid to brainwash the populace. The building was also used as a landmark for a final approach for landing at Singapore's first purpose-built civilian airport built in 1937, Kallang Airport.

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 Cathay Hotel ceased to exist in the 1950s when it was converted into apartments. The building was refaced in 1978 with a new look by STS Leong. The original design was shadowed by the new facade. 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. Cathay Building and the Picturehouse showed its last movie in 2000 before closing for redevelopment.

Redevelopment and preservation

Cathay announced its plans in the late 1990s to redevelop the whole complex. The front facade of the building was gazetted as a national monument on 10 February 2003. Thus the new building incorporates conservation of the original art-deco façade of the 1930s combined together with a modern-day avant garde design by Paul Tange of Tange Associates Japan and RDC Architects Pte Ltd Singapore. The Cathay as it is now known, opened on 24 March 2006. 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.

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