Situated just before the Woodlands Checkpoint, the Old Woodlands Town Centre is the last point in Singapore before one crosses over to Malaysia. A resting point for many, it is now a sleepy old neighbourhood, paling in comparison to its glory days during the seventies and eighties, when it was the regional town center of Woodlands.
In the early seventies, kampong in Woodlands were cleared as plans to develop the area as an industrial and residential estates were laid out. By 1972, Woodlands welcomed the completion of its first 1,300 housing units. The establishment of Woodlands Town Centre followed and became the focal point for the residents and workers.
During its heydays, the Old Woodlands Town Centre was bustling with activities both for locals and the visitors from Malaysia. Retail shops selling textiles and electronic goods were popular. The hawker centre, kopitiam and prata houses were filled with people, and more choices in food were offered with the arrivals of fast food restaurants such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s.
One of the highlights of the Old Woodlands Town Centre was the intense competition among its money changers, who offered one of the best exchange rates between Singapore Dollar and Malaysia Ringgit.
With many low-rise brown mosaic-tiled buildings lined up with retail shops, the concept and design of the Old Woodlands Town Centre is similar to that of the Bukit Merah Town Centre and Bedok Town Centre. Like its cousin in the southern part of Singapore, the Old Woodlands Town Centre started to lose its shine and attraction after the mid-nineties.
The size of Woodlands expanded rapidly as hundreds of residential flats sprung up. In 1996, Woodlands MRT Station and its underground bus interchange opened at the Woodlands Regional Centre, which replaced the Old Woodlands Town Centre as the central hub of the new town. Three years later, the seven-storey shopping mall Causeway Point was completed.
The original Woodlands Bus Interchange, established in the early eighties to serve the residents in the northern part of Singapore, was thus replaced by the one at the Woodlands Regional Centre. The old one was converted a bus terminal, providing short intra-town services for travellers between Singapore and Malaysia. The services were soon discontinued and the space became a temporary parking and pick-up points for Malaysian buses ferrying the workers.
Today, the Old Woodlands Town Centre is considered part of the Marsiling Estate.
During the peak of his business empire in 1980, departmental chain giant Lim Tow Yong opened a branch of Oriental Emporium at the Old Woodlands Town Centre. It became a paradise for many, as thousands would flock here every weekends to enjoy shopping, dining or catching a blockbuster at the Woodlands Cinema.
The Shaw Brothers-owned Woodlands Cinema was a popular choice for the residents in the north from the late eighties to early 2000s. Shaw Organisation was the first to introduce the concept of cineplexes in Singapore, offering movie-goers different types of films under one roof. With the success of Prince and Jade at Shaw Towers in 1988, Shaw Organisation began to convert their neighbourhood cinemas into cineplexes. Republic, Oriental, Changi and Woodlands were part of the conversion plan.
Like the old town centre, the popularity of Woodlands Cinema declined in the late nineties and was later outshone by the newer and more dynamic Causeway Point’s Cathay Cineplex at the Woodlands Region Centre. It finally ceased its operation in the mid-2000s and has been left vacant since then.
Located at the end of the Old Woodlands Town Centre is a unique underpass that links to the Lookout Tower of the Woodlands Town Garden (opened since 1982). Underpasses are rarely found in new towns nowadays, due to construction costs, safety and drainage issues.
The design of this underpass differs greatly from a “conventional” one. It is three levels deep into the ground, and equipped with, beside a normal staircase, a large spiral pathway that provides excellent convenience to the cyclists. Today, however, it seems to be under-utilised.
Beside this unique underpass, there is another old underpass located at the nearby Admiralty Road.
Two blocks of high-rise flats stand opposite the Woodlands Town Garden. Resembling nothing like typical HDB flats or condominiums, they are actually the former housing quarters for the staff of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), which had its base in Singapore between 1952 and 1997.
In 1998, the site was taken over by an asset development company and the blocks were available for lease to locals and expatriates. They became known as the Marsiling Apartments.
With little upgrading, the Old Woodlands Town Centre has largely retained its appearance for the past four decades. As a town center, it may have lost its appeal and in certain times, look like a deserted ghost town. But it still serves as an ideal resting point for travellers on both sides of the Causeway, or for anyone who yearns for a quiet meal in an increasingly crowded Singapore.
Published: 21 May 2012
Updated: 28 June 2021