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, the building was most known for its air-conditioned theatre, then a technological marvel and the first to be built in Singapore. Cathay Building was the first skyscraper in Singapore and tallest building in Southeast Asia at the time.
The 16-storey 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, at a height of 83.5 metres from the Dhoby Ghaut entrance to the top of the building's water tower. The Cathay Building opened on 3 October 1939, 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; a rare amenity during that time. The building was also used as a landmark for final landing approach at Singapore's first purpose-built civilian airport, Kallang Airport.
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. The Japanese utilised the building to broadcast propaganda in the Japanese language. It was also the residence of film director Yasujirō Ozu from 1944 till the end of the war.
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 was converted into apartments in the 1950s. 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 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 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.
- Hasumi, Shiguéhiko (2003). Kantoku Ozu Yasujiro [Director Yasujiro Ozu] (in Japanese) (Enlarged and definitive ed.). Chikuma Shobo. ISBN 4-480-87341-4.
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