The downtown area saw a couple of changes this year with the demolition and redevelopment of long-time landmarks in Shaw Tower (also known as Shaw Towers) and Liang Court.
Shortly after Singapore’s independence, particularly in the seventies, it was an era of rapid development. Dozens of new multi-million buildings and skyscrapers were springing up at the downtown and city areas, including the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) building, United Industrial Corporation (UIC) building, Robina House, Shenton House, Shing Kuang House (at Shenton Way), Hong Leong Building, Central Provident Fund (CPF) building (at Robinson Road), United Overseas Bank (UOB) building (at Raffles Place), Chung Khiaw Bank building (at Cecil Street), Straits Trading building, Cecil House (at Battery Road), Peace Centre (at Selegie Road) and Textile Centre (at Jalan Sultan).
One set of buildings particularly caught the eye due to their daring Brutalist architectural designs. Built between the early and mid-seventies, they were the Golden Mile Complex, People’s Park Complex and Shaw Tower.
Upon its completion in 1975 at a cost of $36 million, Shaw Tower was one of the tallest buildings in Singapore, standing at 36 storeys and 134m tall. The record was short-lived though, as it was broken a year later with the completion of the 198m-tall OCBC Centre.
Owned by the Shaw Organisation, Shaw Tower became a well-known landmark at the junction of Beach Road and Middle Road with its waffle-like appearance. After the nineties, with the rise of internet, its appearance reminded people of a block of ethernet ports.
But just two years after its completion, the Business Times reported that Shaw Organisation was looking to sell Shaw Tower for $60 million. The Capitol Building, another property owned by the organisation, was also put up for sale but without success.
Shaw Tower consisted of a double-storey podium made up of 242 units for shops, coffee houses and restaurants. It also housed two popular cinemas – Jade and Prince Theatres – which were located on different levels and at the opposite ends of the building.
The 1,952-seat Prince Theatre – its original name was Pearl Theatre – had the largest cinema hall in Singapore. It mainly screened popular movies, whereas the smaller 844-seat Jade Theatre was used for the release of new movies. In 1976, the newly-opened Prince Theatre screened Jaws, one of the biggest US blockbuster movies during that time. It raked in a record $940,000 in just 74 days.
Both Jade and Prince Theatres enjoyed their best periods in the eighties, with almost 9,000 patrons visiting both cinemas each day. However, by the late eighties, the cinemas began to lose their popularity. Hence, in 1988, in order to give the cinema-goers a wider choice of movies and also to prevent the large cinema halls from having too many empty seats, both Jade and Prince Theatres were split into two smaller cinemas, called Jade 1 and 2, and Prince 1 and 2.
But stiff competition from emerging new cinemas in the nineties continued to chip away the businesses of Jade and Prince Theatres. After having their ownership changed several times, Prince Theatre was eventually shut down in 2008 and was leased out to churches for holding religious events. Jade Theatre, on the other hand, was acquired by Indian cinema chain Carnival Cinemas in 2017.
In 2018, the tenants of Shaw Tower were alerted of the building’s redevelopment plan. By mid-2020, most of the tenants had moved out, and the 45-year-old landmark began its demolition process. A new Shaw Tower, 35-storey and 200m tall, is expected to be erected at the original site by 2024.
Another downtown’s landmark that was recently demolished was Liang Court at Clarke Quay. Opened in 1984, the complex with the iconic brownish twin towers by the Singapore River were a mixture of hotels, service apartments, offices, department stores, supermarkets, restaurants and lifestyle shops.
Catering largely to Japanese expatriates and the Japanese community in Singapore, there had been numerous Japanese shops and restaurants at Liang Court over the years, including the likes of Kinokuniya and Meidi-ya. But Liang Court’s first anchor tenant was the immensely popular Japanese department store and supermarket Daimaru, which was opened two months prior to the complex’s official opening.
Towering over the mall were the 25-storey twin towers used as hotel and service apartments, called Hotel New Otani and Liang Court Regency respectively.
Entering the millennium, with many other shopping and mixed complexes established in Singapore, Liang Court was increasingly facing competition and pressure. Hotel New Otani was then sold and became Accor Hotels (later renamed Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay), whereas Liang Court Regency became known as Somerset Liang Court Singapore. The mall also changed ownership several times, in 1999, 2006 and 2019. Daimaru could not survive, closing down in 2003 and exiting the Singapore market.
Long-time tenant Kinokuniya eventually closed in 2019, while the rest of Liang Court’s tenants – shops, hotel and service apartments – ceased their operations by April 2020. The entire Liang Court complex was torn down in July 2021, making way for a new development called Canninghill Piers, a residential-and-commercial complex expected to be ready by 2024.
Published: 23 July 2021