A Pictorial Gallery of Singapore in 1980

Looking back at time, many say that the eighties was a golden era in Singapore.

It was a period of stable economic growth and peaceful society with racial and religious harmony. Inflation was low, as seen in the relatively cheap HDB flats, public transport or vehicle ownership. The manufacturing sector was on the rise, attracting foreign investment and providing plenty of job opportunities for the Singaporeans. With their incomes on a steady rise, the middle-class was contended in starting small families. Social tensions between locals and foreigners were almost unheard of.

Hidden in the corner of my storeroom for many years, my long lost primary school textbooks of Social Studies (1983-1988) finally came to light during one of my housekeeping efforts. Inside the six textbooks, there are many photos portraying the Singapore of the early eighties. Social Studies were excellent educational materials for primary school kids to understand more about our nation, history and society.

We can never go back to the eighties, but for the very least, we can reminisce the lifestyles back then. :)

The tallest building standing in the skyline of CBD (Central Business District) in 1980 was OCBC (Oversea-Chinese Bank Corporation Limited) Centre. Built in 1976 and towering at 198m high, it easily dwarfed other skyscrapers.

Its title as the tallest building at CBD, however, has since been taken over by One Raffles Place (completed in 1986; 280m tall), UOB (United Overseas Bank) Plaza One (completed in 1995; 280m tall), Republic Plaza (completed in 1995, 280m tall) and One Raffles Quay (completed in 2006, 245m tall).

In the early eighties, the Singapore River was filled with sampans, and rows of old shophouses lined up along its banks. It was an interesting mix between the old and the new downtown core.

More than two decades later, Boat Quay would become a popular dining place filled with pubs and seafood restaurants.

The white statue of Sir Stamford Raffles has witnessed tremendous changes in the development of the areas along the Singapore River.

It was a rather quiet day on the roads at CBD in 1980 as compared to today.

The street name signs were made up of black wordings in white backgrounds, and had four-digit post codes listed after the names.

Four-digit postal code began in Singapore in 1979 and lasted until 1995 when they were replaced by the six-digit system. Before 1979, Singapore had 28 postal districts, and each was represented by a single- or double-digit code.

As for the format of the street name signs, it was changed to green background with white letters in Rotis font in the early 2000s.

The construction of of luxury hotel Westin Stamford Singapore began in the early eighties. It would be completed by 1986, becoming the tallest hotel in Singapore at 226m tall. It was renamed as Swissôtel The Stamford in 2002.

This is a scene at the straight road of Shenton Way/Raffles Quay, where Hong Leong Finance Limited has now replaced the Japanese bank of The Mitsui Bank Limited seen in the background.

A traffic policewoman was helping the children to cross the road in front of Victoria Memorial Hall.

The picture here shows a now-defunct white-top blue cab and an old bus, numbered 173, that had been in service since the seventies.

This was the public bus running on Singapore roads in the early eighties. Non-aircon, bumpy and cramped but its fares were definitely much cheaper. The fare of a feeder bus would cost 15c in the eighties, while that of a normal service was anything around 50c.

The old shophouses in the city did not stay around for too long before they were demolished to make way for the development of the prime area.

Telok Ayer Market was the first market in Singapore to be located at the southern bank of the Singapore River. Its history went back all the way to the early nineteenth century, when it began in 1825 as a simple wooden building.

In 1973, Telok Ayer Market was converted into a hawker centre, but was shut down in 1986 due to the tunneling works of the new SMRT (Singapore Mass Rapid Transit) line. The market would be reopened in 1991 as Lau Pa Sat.

The Satay Club has been in existence at many locations but most Singaporeans would remember fondly the one at the Esplanade. It was 1970 when the Satay Club moved to the Esplanade from Beach Road, where it had stayed popular among Singaporeans for a full 25 years.

The Satay Club was demolished in 1995 to make way for the construction of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

It was just another day at Beach Road in the year of 1980. The tall white building was Shaw Towers, built in 1970. The colonial building on the left side of Beach Road has become the refurbished Evershine & Century Complex.

Orchard Road in 1980 looked more like today’s Lavender Street.

Yellow-top black taxis were already plying their trades on the road. They would last more than 30 years till now. The tall white building in the background was the hotel of Meritus Mandarin Singapore (now Mandarin Orchard Singapore). Completed in the late sixties, it was the first hotel to be built at Orchard Road.

There was no SMRT in Singapore in 1980, not until seven years later. Commuters largely relied on public buses, taxis or personal transports. But there were no COE (Certificate of Entitlement, implemented since 1990) and ERP (Electronic Road Pricing, implemented since 1998) either.

This was the early appearance of the popular Ang Mo Kio Central, with its iconic fountain. Oriental Emporium had just opened its branch here in 1980. In the early eighties, a typical three-room flat in Ang Mo Kio cost about $10,000 to $13,000.

Children who grew up living at Ang Mo Kio might remember this little traffic garden at the the town centre. Designed with road signs, traffic lanes and zebra crossings, kids could drive small rented motorised cars or bicycles here, which was probably modeled after the Road Safety Park at East Coast.

This was Marine Parade at its infancy stage. The new town was built on the reclaimed lands in the southeastern part of Singapore. ECP (East Coast Parkway) was officially opened in 1981, after a decade of construction.

East Coast Lagoon became a popular venue for families’ picnics during the weekends.

Benjamin Sheares Bridge, the longest bridge in Singapore at 1.8km long, was completed in 1981. The total construction cost was $177 million.

This flat became a popular landmark at Hougang with its eye-catching rainbow painting. It is still standing proud at Hougang Avenue 7 today, but with a new gigantic rainbow painted.

New blocks of flats also sprung up at other parts of Hougang, decorated with different designs of facade paintings.

The residents living at Bedok, already a bustling new town in 1980, welcomed the new swimming complex.

Hawker centres were built in the residential neighbourhoods since the early seventies to provide affordable and hygienic food for the people. Ang Mo Kio is the new town with the most hawker centres, numbered at nine, while Toa Payoh comes in second at six.

This was a playground in Clementi town centre designed in the shape of a dove.

Many of these locally-flavoured designs, such as the dragon playgrounds and the pelican playgrounds, were the masterpieces of HDB’s in-house designer Khor Ean Ghee in the late seventies.

The areas around the Causeway (seen in the background) were aggressively developed into residential and industrial estates since the early eighties. It would become the present-day Woodlands new town, inclusive of Marsiling and Admiralty.

The other parts of Singapore, such as Punggol and Ulu Sembawang, were still… ulu. Kampong with many attap houses and large areas of farms had existed throughout the eighties.

This was the scene of the busy Central Fish Market at Jurong.

When Jurong Fishery Port and Central Fish Market became overcrowded in the mid-eighties, the government developed the Punggol Fishing Port and Fish Market Complex. Punggol Fishing Port itself was replaced by Senoko Fishing Port in 1997.

A kopitiam operated its business in an old shophouse. Still a common sight today, it has been one of Singaporeans’ favourite venues for meals.

Loud cheers could be heard at the National Stadium (1973-2010) at Kallang during one evening of 1980, when Singapore beat Selangor 2-1 to claim the Malaysia Cup. The winner was scored by a 18-year-old Fandi Ahmad.

Opened since 1973, the Singapore Zoological Gardens was already a well-known place of interest in 1980, attracting countless of tourists and locals. Animal shows and train rides around the zoo were the favourite activities for the children.

The Singapore Cable Car system between Sentosa and Mount Faber was opened in 1974, and was the first aerial system in the world to span a harbour.

In 1983, a Panamanian-registered oil rig hit the hanging cable, resulting in a disaster that claimed seven casualties when the two cable car cabins plunged into the sea from a height of 55m.

Kranji Way was built across the mouth of Sungei Kranji (with the smaller Sungei Peng Siang, Sungei Kangkar and Sungei Tengah) to turn the freshwater river into Kranji Reservoir. The barrage was built between the small island, which was developed into Kranji Reservoir Park in 1985, and the mainland of Singapore.

In 1980, the NS (National Service) personnel wore Temasek olive green uniforms and armed with AR-15 rifles for their trainings. The uniforms were changed to the camouflaged type in 1985.

The RSAF (Republic of Singapore Air Force) had been using the A-4 Skyhawks since 1973 as the main fighter-bomber role of the air force. The project was upgraded to A-4SU Super Skyhawks in the late eighties. The iconic aircraft was eventually retired in 2005.

Published: 26 June 2012

Updated: 05 November 2012

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46 Responses to A Pictorial Gallery of Singapore in 1980

  1. John says:

    Those were the good old days!

    • lau ah pek says:

      yep, the good old day, and i truly missed interesting places lik the old bugis st. stalls and the ah kuas and good food like the beef noodles ad the crazy antics of foreign sailors

  2. Aaron says:

    This is great stuff. Brings back some good memories. Thanks for documenting!

  3. SN says:

    Thank you for this!

  4. zzzisle says:

    wow, i threw those textbooks away long long ago. but good thing u didn’t, else we won’t have these pictures.

  5. GodBlessSG says:

    Thank you for the work!!! Really good stuff. In fact, i teared a little when I was going through it. I really missed those days. I reckon that SG will never be the same now.

  6. Sunny Lim says:

    Thanks for the memory. Love the blog posts that i have read.

  7. ricky says:

    WOW … bring back lots of lots of memories …

  8. rufino1995 says:

    Oh my word, when you showed some parts of Raffles place, Shenton Way .. A flash of fun times rushed through my mind, as that is when I just started work at UIC building (1981)…and the army “Nbr 4″ uniform brought back a pleasant smile… :) thanks agn

  9. As a Ang Mo Kio kid, the photo of the traffic garden brings a smile to my face :D
    I’d almost forgotten about it, it’s where I used to play when I was young

  10. Sean says:

    Thanks!!!!
    Yup, the AMK photos really brings back a lot of happy memories for me.

  11. KL says:

    The street names were in English and Chinese. Do not quite recall since when the Chinese street names had disappeared?

  12. Keeve says:

    Is the 1929 kopitiam the one opp Lim Tua Tow market along Upper Serangoon Road in the 80s? And there used to be a police station across the road ad well?

    • Yes, you are right!
      It’s at the junction of Upper Serangoon Road and Upper Paya Lebar Road

      • Whoa, when I first saw this photo I thought it looked familar, and now I remember as you said, at the junction of Upper Paya Lebar Rd & Upper Serangoon Road… Yes.. and opposite that is the Police station, and in 60’s there was a huge Banyan tree in front of the Police sation, which had sort of a hut on it, which people said was haunted. Took them awhile to remove the Huge tree as people said that the tree had “resisted being cut down for road expansion.
        Luv this area in 5th & 6th mile ( ougang) my childhood playground :)

      • keeve says:

        Not sure about the Banyan tree. On the spooky side, a little further down the ex-polic station along the same stretch of paya lebar road (opposite to the lorong ah soo road), there had been a house that was rumoured to be haunted. The house looked similar to a now still existing house that is nexdt to it then. The site now has been replaced by blocks of condo.

        Yup full of memories around this area. The Lim Tua Tow market… fried doughstick stall at the basement, the chinese barbershop at the shophouses long upper serangoon rd, the Ban Cheong jewellery shop at USSC.

  13. Timothy says:

    I thought the Evershine and Century complex is a new building instead of a refurbished one? There is a row of shop houses as well as the YY cafe which is part of a row of refurbished shop houses?

    • Hmm.. I did a comparison and the map indeed indicates it is now Evershine and Century Complex.
      The structure and design of the building also look the same in both old and new pictures :)

  14. Timothy says:

    Thanks for sharing. I don’t think i still have my secondary textbooks anymore and i think the current batch of texts do not have such extensive range of photos in them.

  15. Typi says:

    AMAZING!! you transported me back 40 years from when I was 7 years old, now I really miss the old feelings resurfacing when reminiscing the nostalgic past, miss the old charm

  16. Joyce says:

    Thank you for sharing such amazing pictures! Really appreciate all the hard work and hours you have invested in making such an awesome website. I was born in the late 80s and many pictures here are very “new” to me and some filled me with so much nostalgia. Please keep up the good work, I’m sure alot of readers do appreciate all the great articles here =)

  17. rl says:

    i remember that the amk traffic garden was just in front of the a&w outlet and my parents always brought me there to eat the curly fries, rootbeer float and waffle with strawberry topping, followed by a ride on the toy car that i can drive around in the traffic garden. missed those days so much!

    • Olivepoi says:

      I remember the traffic garden at AMK central. Always envied kids who got to play there. Back then fast food was a luxury. Remember the A&W outlet, Mac and Kentucky (it was called this rather than KFC). AMK central was the place to go shopping for new school bags and new clothes for CNY. Life was simple then, we shopped at central or neighbourhood shops rather than air-conditioned malls.

      There’s also the polyclinic which was the most dreaded corner of the AMK central. I remember an Indian doctor who can speak hokkien and some mandarin and recently my parents went there and found out that she is still working there as part time doctor!

      Really nostalgic collection of AMK :)

    • Check out more old photos of the AMK traffic garden at the comment column of http://remembersingapore.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/ang-mo-kio-my-hometown/
      :)

  18. VM says:

    Wow thank you for this post! That kopitiam with the 1929 used to be at Upp Serangoon Road, the one near USSC! Now it’s… grass?

  19. Valrosx says:

    really thanks for all these pics and short stories … i tears when i read of the good old days gone by so quickly

  20. Nliew says:

    Thanks. I’ve been following your articles for some time and almost always with mix emotions. Happy to know there are like-minded Singaporeans in this blogsite. Yet sad as what we are reading with fondness will neve return. Keep up the good work. Much appreciated!

  21. Manix says:

    Much of what we read here is filled with bittersweet emotions … stuff that we know causes a small lump in your throat but nevertheless glad that all made way for the developments. However, was it all too much… too soon?
    Anyhow … many many thanks for this website. Fond memories nostalgically rekindled … great work!

  22. George Wong says:

    Very Interesting & informative articles for all generations to come. Would be great if someone can contribute pictures and articles on Singapore in the 60’s & 70′ such as Old Peoples Park Market before the now Peoples Park Complex was built, also if any pictures on Marine Parade Seafront Food Stalls and houses before the reclamation and the now HDB flats were built.

  23. Shereen Boaz says:

    I wasn’t 7 years old and I remember all those places. Thanks so much. Awesome!

  24. Tan Lai Hock says:

    HI Remember Singapore,

    Thanks for sharing your photographs, i believe many of our younger generations may not or even seen the yesteryears public transport especially those who are born in the early 90’s.

    One such pic that your photo show on the white-top blue taxi which belongs to NTUC Comfort are long past phased out.

    Those taxis are know as CBD taxis whereby all its drivers are compulsory required to served at 6 designated taxi stands within the CDB areas during the evening peak hours from 5,00pm to 7.00pm.

    Reason is that during these peak periods, it was very difficult to flag down a taxi within the CBD zone, thus NTUC Comfort has come up with such CDC scheme to alleviate the shortage of taxis problem. Later stage of time, the share-a-cab scheme was also introduced to let passengers shared a common pool of taxi in order to eliminate traffic conjestion in the CBD area.

    But then the taxi fares was very cheap in comparing to present taxi fares that our commuters are paying.

  25. Vj_1974 says:

    Thank you very much for the sweet memories……

  26. A nostalgic footage of Singapore in 1983…

    Ronni Pinsler filmed Singapore when it awakens and its hard working people get out of their beds for their daily tasks. In this case it is the well-known Goh Seng Lai firm employees that start constructing a platform at North Boat Quay for a forthcoming celebration. The lorry’s journey starts at Duxton Hill where the restaurant Broth is, turns right to Duxton Road where there’s an open air carpark on the right & a Chinese hostess/KTV bar on the left. It continues down Duxton where there are tons of pubs, a 7-11 on the left & Berjaya Hotel on the right before exiting Duxton at its intersection with Craig Road where you can see the bottom of a block of flats where Toof dental clinic is now.

  27. Wai Hong says:

    Nicely done! Thanks for the effort!

  28. Wonderful blog. Thanks so much. I remember meeting Ronni Pinsler when I worked in Singapore as a young researcher in the late 70’s. He used to lead us (a bunch of wide-eyed ang mohs) around the temples and Chinese Opera stages. Great to see that 15,000 of his photos and 30 of his films are on permanent loan to the National Archives of Singapore.

  29. Sherina says:

    Thank you very much for sharing. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures and reading the short write-up. I used to stay at Malay Street and missed the stalls along Bugis Street. Food was really good!!

  30. Sam says:

    Great work and effort to preserve these pictures for posterity. The intense feelings of nostalgia that swept through me while viewing the pictures and reading the authors notes, was just beyond words.
    A big Thank you to the creator of this blog/blogpost.
    Growing up in Singapore in the 80s has to be a human/social miracle event.

  31. Pete says:

    I miss the Singapore of the 80s – the sights, sounds, even the smells. Guess I’m one sentimental old fogey. Thanks SO much for sharing the photos.

  32. Norman Low says:

    Thanks for sharing these treasured photographs. So happy to see these old Singapore scenes again, but so sad to realise how time flies. Oh! the good old days! Gone and never return.

  33. figtree23 says:

    Thank you so much. This post moved me immensely and brought tears to my eyes.

  34. Jenny Sito says:

    I grew up (1959 – 1964) around Henderson Road in 2 different kampongs/shanty villages where the current Blocks 110 and 114 are . Across the road were rows of single storey houses for Indian workers. Further ahead where Block 105 is now, was a small Taoist chapel next to an old banyan tree dedicated to a ‘林娘姑’. The ‘Glass factory’ was behind where we lived.
    Although we were about 1km away from the Bukit Ho Swee area destroyed by the BIG fire of May 1961, we nevertheless benefited from the building of the very basic HDB flat. We moved into our own 1 room rented flat at Block 30 Jalan Membina Barat in 1964, home to my family until it was demolished between 1997 – 1998 to make way for the current blocks 19 & 20.
    Anyone out there have photos of that period of above mentioned areas. Thanks a lot!

  35. Peter says:

    There is also a kindergarten just located opposite the coffeeshop. Anybody study or teach there before?

  36. hammer8888 says:

    Hi the old woodlands pic is which part?

  37. Sam says:

    Your website is really incredible.. i cannot get enough of this. and it really brings a tear to my eye. Keep up the wonderful work…

    Singapore might be losing its soul, but I suppose 30 years from now the kids growing up today will say the same.. *sunrise, sunset*

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