If you drove through Geylang today, you’d find KTV lounges, fitness studios hiding on the second floor of shophouses, and numerous popular food joints. What you wouldn’t really expect to see, is a colonial-looking building peeking from the back alleys. But there it is, tucked away on 511 Guillemard Road – the Former Queen’s Theatre.
Image credit: Yu Peiran
Owing to its history as a settlement area for the Orang Laut or sea nomads, the neighbourhood is largely associated with the Malay Community – hence, the annual Geylang Bazaar taking place here.
During the 1920s, the Malay residents here were largely involved in international trade, exposing to them cultures from the region and so the demand for modern entertainment grew. This is when cinemas and theatres started popping up in Geylang.
Image credit: Remember Singapore
The Queen’s Theatre was first opened as the Wembley Cinema in 1930 where 2 shows a day were screened in the evenings. Yes, back then theatres only had 1 screen and patrons didn’t have a choice of which film they’d be watching – you got whatever was playing.
The theatre drew major crowds including families with young kids who enjoyed half-priced tickets on Sundays. Films from then Malaya, Indonesia, and even Egypt were screened for as low as $1. Imagine that.
A postcard featuring the iconic building.
Image credit: cinepostcards
Fun fact: In the 1930s, an Egyptian actor by the name of Abdel Wahab was dearly loved by fans of the local Muslim community and so his movie Long Live Love was one of the movies screened at the Former Queen’s Theatre.
In 1933, the Wembley Cinema was officially renamed to Ritz Cinema then to Queen’s Theatre in 1939. Once WWII struck and movies were banned, the theatre was used to stage Bangsawan shows. These were musicals performed in Malay with a live orchestra.
Image credit: Roots
After the war ended, the theatre was renovated and Shaw Organisation took over it and went back to screening films. Unfortunately, with TVs in homes becoming increasingly common, fewer people started going to theatres. Finally, due to shrinking crowds, the shutters were brought down on the Former Queen’s Theatre in 1982.
Image credit: Singapore Tourism Board
Where the Former Queen’s Theatre once stood, a condominium – Grandlink Square – now occupies the space but the facade of the old theatre has been retained.
The building was iconic back in the day and it remains a popularly photographed building today. In fact, the black spiral staircase on the right side has featured in many a couple’s pre-wedding photos.
Address: 511 Guillemard Road, Singapore 399849
More places in SG that no longer exist:
Cover image adapted from: Yu Peiran, Singapore Tourism Board
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