Singapore’s Transformation

Singapore Transformation Before AfterImage adapted from KFChia & Wikipedia

Before Singapore celebrates her 50th birthday next year, let’s take a trip back to our yester-years. Back to the days when people were using brick phones and there weren’t even any MRTs around for us to fuss about. It’s really quite amazing how far Singapore has come in such a short period of time. We’re one of the youngest cities in the world but we’re already making our presence known on the world stage.

As we take a trip down memory lane together, you may find it hard to believe how much Singapore has achieved before even turning 50 years old.

1. Sentosa

Source: wildsingaporenews

Source: sentosa 

Sentosa used to be called Pulau Blakang Mati which literally translates to “dead back”. Back before Sentosa was a tourist attraction, there used to be a Kampung there! The islanders even shared their space with the Gurkha infantry units. Future generations will now only remember Sentosa as the place with Universal Studios and Resorts World.

2. Big Splash

Source: National Archives of Singapore

You may have passed along ECP and wondered what those slides were doing there, before they were eventually removed in 2008. Back when it was built in 1977, its 85 metre long slide was the longest and highest in the world and it was extremely popular when it opened.

Although it has retained its iconic name, today the Big Splash has evolved into a dining and recreational area with Yoga Schools, Skating schools and mini-golf courses.

Source: George Photos  

3. Singapore Movie Theatres

Source: KFChiab2ap3_thumbnail_capitol-after.JPG
Source: Wikipedia

In the pre-internet era, watching a movie meant you had to head down to either Capitol Theatre (built in 1929) or the Cathay. The last screening at Capitol was shown in 1998 and the building has been gazetted for conversation since then, standing in the very same spot that it stood at in its heyday. There are now concrete plans to turn this into a multi cinema and entertainment complex.


A photographer named Martin Liew realised that with their development in 2011, the theatre which was locked for over a decade had to now open its doors for workers. So he took the chance to explore and take this precious picture above of the inside of the Old Capitol Theatre.

b2ap3_thumbnail_cathay-after.jpgSource: Panoramio – The Original Cathay Cinema in 1955b2ap3_thumbnail_Cathay-after2.jpg

Back then, The Cathay wasn’t the place just known as having Astons and movies. The Cathay Organisation started their empire in 1935 and the opening of this landmark building in 1939 marked the group’s entrance into the Singapore entertainment scene.

Now if you notice, while the rest of the building has been developed, it’s front facade has been preserved to retain its 1930s state. So its not just a retro design, it looked like in the past too!

Oh and here’s a bonus shot back to the time when we had movie drive-ins.

Source: – A picture of Cathay Jurong Drive-in!

4. Singapore Transport



Back in the day, Singaporeans were just happy they had the transport to get us from point A to point B. This picture above looks like its something out of a bad Mediacorp drama that nobody watches. But no, this was Singapore less than 50 years ago!

And here are some pictures that show the evolution of our buses!

Sources of last two pics: SBS Transit

Finally, take a look at what our causeway used to look like in this perfect picture. Vintage car check. Vintage bus check. Vintage random sampan rower photobombing the picture check.

b2ap3_thumbnail_causeway-before.JPGSource: Unknown 

5. Marina Bay Sands

b2ap3_thumbnail_B-Marina-Bay.jpgSource: chensiyuan

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-Marina-Bay.jpgThe first picture shows the plot of land before the Marina Bay Sands was opened. Most of us probably didn’t know what it looked like before the MBS took over, so you’re welcome. 

6. Singapore River

b2ap3_thumbnail_B-Singapore-River.jpgSource: yipcheongfun 

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-Singapore-River.jpgSource: ghettosingapore

I remember back in primary school, my Social Studies teacher would always emphasise on how polluted the Singapore River was back then. It’s hard to imagine its tragic state, looking at how pristine the waters are today. There were also relatively more bum boats back then. On the bright side, the Singapore River is such a romantic place you can bring your date to!

Lastly, here’s a shot of Clark Quay. I wonder if they had drunks buying their alcohol from 7-11 and making the bridge their own personal club back in the day. I don’t think so! Oh those looking to party might also want to check out our ultimate Singapore night life guide.

Source: Sniper888 on photobucket

7. Singapore Zoo

b2ap3_thumbnail_B-Singapore-Zoo.jpgSource: straitstimes 

White Tiger Singapore ZooSource: chensiyuan

Omg, we should totally bring back the days when people could be THAT near to tigers. Nothing beats having an up close and personal experience with such wild animals. Today we can only view them close up with our zoomed in camera lenses, but gosh, if only we could go closer to them!

8. The Bandstand, Singapore Botanic Gardens

b2ap3_thumbnail_B-Botanics.jpgSource: mygreenspace


Many people now would associate The Bandstand with the wooden hut in the second picture but in the 1870s, The Bandstand was only a raised plot of land. People would gather around the land to enjoy music performances put up by the military band. Now the wooden hut has become an iconic structure which people love using for their backdrop in pictures.

9. National Stadium

b2ap3_thumbnail_B-National-Stadium.JPGSource: SSPC


I simply cannot wait for the new National Stadium to be opened, it already looks so amazing. It will supposedly have the world’s largest dome roof covering it and the whole stadium is expected to be completed by April 2014. That’s like in a few weeks! Look how far we’ve come since the days of the old Kallang National Stadium.

Also, here is a bonus shot of how National Day was celebrated, back in 1968!


10. Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall

b2ap3_thumbnail_sun-yat-sen-villa-1970.jpgSource: Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-Sun-yat-sen.jpgSource: panoramio 

The Sun Yet Sen Villa was first built by Boey Chuan Poh in the late 19th century and is now known as the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. It’s quite amazing how this building has been preserved for close to 2 centuries already!

11. The National Theatre


You will be forgiven if you’ve never seen this before. Because we haven’t until we started doing research on this article!

The National Theatre built in 1963 used to be located along River Valley Road. It was Singapore’s first ever theatre and a symbol that commemorated Singapore’s independence. Acts like Louis Armstrong and the Bee Gees performed here so it was kinda like Singapore’s current day esplanade.

Its iconic design was ultimately its downfall, as in the early 1980s its roofing was found to be structurally unsafe. It held its last performance in 1984 before it was unceremoniously demolished. Today, just two heritage markers occupy the spot where it once stood.

Source: Wikipedia

12. Keppel Bay 

Source: National Archives of Singapore


Whenever I hear Keppel Bay, I immediately associate it with ‘atas’ people – those who are rich enough to own yachts and afford an apartment with such an amazing view. If you look at the first picture, that’s the plot of land before Reflections at Keppel Bay was built in 2011. But I must say, Reflections at Keppel Bay looks totally awesome.

13. Great World

Source: msdemeanoursingapore

Singaporeans today would associate the term Great World with the shopping centre along River Valley that is a pain in the butt to get to. But back in the day, Great World was not a shopping centre but an old amusement park! The ghost trains were the most popular and there were also simple carousels and merry-go-round airplanes.

In fact, Singaporeans of the 1960s would recall three amusement parks that held great memories for them. They were simply know as the “Three Worlds” of Singapore – New World at Serangoon, Gay World at Geylang and Great World at Kim Seng.

There was even a rumor that the place became haunted after someone was killed there in the 1960s and how it was a former cemetary. Singaporeans of today would just dismiss this as hogwash. I mean just look at Great World City now, erected in the very same spot that Great World used to be located at!

Source: Wikipedia 

14. Orchard Road

Before: Orchard RoadSource: wikipedia

Source: Unknown. The Cold Storage building on the left used to be one of the hotspots here.b2ap3_thumbnail_Orchard-Road.jpgSource: fanpop – Today’s Orchard Road!

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the first picture. Who knew back in the olden days, Orchard Road was really just a stretch of road? It was aptly named Orchard Road because of all plantations that the road led to in the mid-1800s. In the second picture in the 1940s, you can already see the emergence of some advertising, even way back then!

Now we all associate Orchard Road with shopping, shopping and lots of shopping!

15. C.K.Tang / Tang Plazza

b2ap3_thumbnail_before-ck-tang.jpg Source:

Legendary Singaporean door to door salesman turned entrepreneurial superstar Tan Choon Keng founded Tangs departmental store smack in the middle of Orchard road by buying the plot of land for $10,000 in 1958. Modelled after China’s Forbidden City, it became an iconic landmark on Orchard road.  It was redeveloped in the same space that they now share with Marriott Hotel and the building retains elements of its original design till today.

It’s also worth noting he was once kidnapped, and released after his family paid a $150,000 ransom. Back then kidnapping was all the rage, with towkays being abducted and murdered left and right. Thankfully, Singapore’s safety has come a long way since then. Try pulling this today on the mother of the founder of one of our favourite supermarket chains and you get caught the next day.

Sources: Straits Times Scans

16. Chinatown

b2ap3_thumbnail_singapore-chinatown.jpgSource: Ombugge – Eu Tong Sen Street before People’s Park Complex was built!

Chinatown Singapore

Ah, Chinatown. Cheap food, cheap goods. Chinatown was the place carved out for the residency of Chinese immigrants under the Raffles Plan of Singapore. I remember someone saying that the Chinatown in Singapore is the cleanest Chinatown in the whole world, which is quite a big deal I think.

I’m pretty glad that even though Chinatown has gone through renovations recently, the essence of it all is kept intact.

17. Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery

b2ap3_thumbnail_KMSPKS-B.jpgSource: archivesonline b2ap3_thumbnail_KMSPKS-A-.jpg
Source: ultradownloads

The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery was founded in 1921 by Venerable Sik Zhuan Dao and is the first traditional Chinese monastery in Singapore. It is also the largest Buddhist temple in Singapore. Much has been kept intact since the olden days and it has never looked more stunning.

18. Geylang


b2ap3_thumbnail_Geylang.jpgSource: thefashionatetraveller

Back in the 1960s, Geylang wasn’t known for being a Red Light District yet. That title went to the Bugis area. There used to be a Malay Kampong in Geylang but now, you can still find lots of traditional Malay shops along the streets of Geylang! The bazaar at Geylang is also an amazing place to go to if you love traditional Malay food.

19. Little India

b2ap3_thumbnail_Little-India-B.jpgSource: archivesonline 

Little IndiaSource: cnfle

Let’s forget about the riots for one second.

One of the best parts of Little India is Mustafa Centre. C’mon, a 24-hour shopping centre? Little India was also created as part of the Raffles Plan for Singapore and it used to house Indian immigrants. You can still see shophouses selling Indian delicacies and items in Little India. If you’re bored at night, just head down to Mustafa Centre! You can go here to read our full guide to Little India.

20. Bukit Brown Cemetery

b2ap3_thumbnail_B-Bukit-Brown.JPGSource: jeffreyandflora


Bukit Brown Cemetery is the biggest Chinese cemetery outside of China, holding approximately 200,000 graves. Unfortunately, those graves are being exhumed to make way for a new highway. There goes another rich part of Singapore history.

We recently did a photojournal on Bukit Brown to do our part to preserve this heritage gem.

21. Kampong Glam

b2ap3_thumbnail_B-Kampong-Glam.jpgSource: quod.lib.umich.eduArab Street

Kampong Glam was also created under the Raffles Plan for Singapore but it was used to house Malay immigrants. There used to be so many kampungs (villages) in Kampong Glam but now, it has been replaced with a rows of shophouses. Many youngsters these days love frequenting Haji Lane and Arab Street because of all the hip cafes and shops they can find there.

22. Ice Cream Uncle


Thankfully, some defining parts of Singapore have stood the test of time.

Till today, the Ice Cream Uncle remains a welcome sight, especially on the days you’re dripping in sweat and all you want to do is shove an ice cream in your mouth. They don’t serve the best quality ice cream, but at just $1, you can buy you a slice of happiness and memories of Singapore of a time long gone.

For nostalgia’s sake you also can read more Ice Cream Uncle reviews by our members.

Have Singapore pictures to share?

So there you have it! 22 remarkable before and after pictures of some of Singapore’s most famous spots. We’ve gone through so much transformation, it’s quite unbelievable. This list is not exhaustive, so if you have any more ideas of places to feature, do leave a comment below!

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