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Gay World Amusement Park: SG’s Iconic Pre-WW2 Nightlife Spot, A Different Kind Of “Theme Park” For Adults

Gay World Amusement Park

If you’re bored now, you have a million and one options to keep yourself entertained – TV, Netflix, TikTok – the list goes on. But try to picture what people did for entertainment in Singapore nearly 100 years ago. OK, they didn’t just play with gasing tops and marbles, you know.

Back in 1937, people would visit Gay World Amusement Park to be entertained. Now, don’t let the name fool you, this was nothing like Universal Studios Singapore with themed rides and mascots parading around. Here’s a look back on an old theme park that walked so today’s ones could run.

Bustling nightlife & adult entertainment

Later renamed Gay World Park in 1966.
Image credit: National Archives Singapore

Gay World Amusement Park was located along Geylang Road, near the Kallang River. It was 1 of 3 other “World” amusement parks in Singapore. The other 2 were Great World and New World, which also provided similar types of entertainment. All 3 featured cinemas, clubs, and theatres where you could catch dance performances and sports matches.

cabaret girls
Cabaret girls.
Image credit: National Archives Singapore

Where Gay World differed was the offering of more adult entertainment. There were 2 nightclubs right at the entrance to the park where men would go to see cabaret girls. These girls were basically like our modern-day siambus, who would dance and drink with customers to earn tips.

To earn extra money, some cabaret girls, also known as taxi-girls, would offer special services under the table. It didn’t take long before the surrounding area became a red light district known for its brothels and sex workers – a reputation Geylang would carry till today.

Surviving through WW2

As news of World War 2 spread to Singapore, the operators of Gay World started to host events to raise war relief funds to help China. These continued even as Japanese planes started invading Singapore.

The lights and noise from the cabarets, however, made the amusement park a sitting duck during air raids. To curb this issue, they would cut the lights and music whenever the air raid sirens went off.

gay world - big crowd
Image credit: National Archives Singapore

These “blackouts” were often an opportune time for some men to engage in hanky panky with the cabaret girls. No surprises that these “blackout dances” became popular with men in the lead up to Japan’s occupation of Singapore.

When the Japanese did take over, Gay World was allowed to continue operating, but as a gambling den, so that the profits would end up in Japanese soldiers’ pockets. The gambling dens were ultimately ceased when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.

The downfall of Gay World Amusement Park

Despite surviving a war, Gay World wasn’t able to hit the same level of popularity it had in the late 1930s. Geylang by then was known for its sleaze and the amusement park became a hotspot for gangster activities. Even residents were moving out of the area to get away from such vices.

gay world - putting out fires
Image credit: National Archives Singapore

There were also frequent fires that broke out, notably 2 in 1962 that happened in a span of 2 months. There would be 6 more fires up until its closure in 1988, incurring a total cost of $500,000 in damages.

The amusement park did try to offer free admission in 1987 to attract visitors once more, but their offerings were of no match to newer forms of entertainment like TV, shopping malls, and cineplexes. The decline in visitors and the lack of upkeep of the amusement park led to its demolition in 2001 to make room for housing.

Remembering Gay World Amusement Park Singapore

It’s kinda hard to believe that places like Gay World Amusement Park would be able to provide adult entertainment so openly, considering how clean Singapore’s image is today. But perhaps that’s what life was like before TV – you had to find new ways to entertain yourself.

For more major throwbacks, check out:

Cover image adapted from: National Archives Singapore