I signed up for a couple of PMB‘s Monumental Walking Tours, and one tour, Tales of the Survivors, took place last Sunday and covered the former Cathay Building, MacDonald House and the House of Tan Yeok Nee. Through the tour, we would “discover how these three buildings are witnesses and survivors of Singapore’s tumultuous past as well as Singapore’s development”.
Cathay Cinema was an important part of my growing up years and I remember watching My Girl there. I can still remember how the old cinema looked and felt like. My generation is more familiar with the ugly metal cladding that used to be the facade of Cathay Cinema.
From the walking tour, I learnt that Cathay was the first air-conditioned cinema in Singapore and the first film they screened was Four Feathers. During the Japanese occupation, it was an air raid shelter and later became the Japanese propaganda department headquarters. There were human heads stuck on poles outside Cathay.
The old photos below are from PICAS (Pictures Archives Singapore) which is by the National Archives of Singapore. I should have tried looking for the old pictures before the tour, then attempt to replicate the angle of the shot for a modern-day version of the original picture!
MacDonald House was the first large-scale building constructed after WWII and was the first fully air-conditioned building. It used to house HSBC and now houses Citibank. In fact, if you look carefully at the building, you can still see the letters HSBC. In the early days, it also housed the EMI studio.
I’m quite familiar with the events that took place at MacDonald House during merger with Malaya because I used to have to teach students about it every year. For several reasons, there was a lot of hostility between Singapore and Indonesia when we merged with Malaya, and during the period of Konfrontasi, MacDonald House was bombed, killing two people.
I thought I knew quite a bit about the MacDonald House bombing but still managed to acquire new information during the tour. I learnt a lot in the first part of this walking tour but the highlight was still to come!