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New World Amusement Park - Cover image

New World Amusement Park – SG’s First Amusement Park From The 1920s That’s Now City Square Mall

New World Amusement Park in 1920s Singapore

Before Universal Studios Singapore (USS) graced us with its presence, Singaporeans had the 3 “worlds” to get their fill of fun. New World Amusement Park was the first of its kind, followed by Great World, then Gay World.

Best believe it was the one-stop entertainment hub of the 1920s. From cinemas and opera shows to Ferris wheels and carousels, it checked all the boxes for a high-level attraction and made its mark as one of Singapore’s most iconic old theme parks. Although it’s now been buried under the sea of SG’s history, here’s a refresher of what it was like:

Boxing matches, striptease shows & “taxi girls”

New World Amusement Park - Entrance
Image credit: National Archives of Singapore

Founded in 1923 by a pair of brothers, New World Amusement Park wasn’t exactly family-friendly all the way. In fact, it aimed to cater to people from all walks of life, including housewives, couples, and men looking to destress over risque forms of entertainment. 

So if you were to teleport to the past right now, you wouldn’t be spotting just carnival rides – although New World had a bunch of them. There would also be barbers, night clubs, cabaret shows, and boxing matches. Think Clarke Quay, amusement-park style – but with a little more M18-rated zest.

New World Amusement Park - ViewView of the New World Amusement Park compounds.
Image credit: Roots

As you wander in further at this blast from the past, you may see a line of girls, and some dudes approaching them with coupons in hand. Now, it’s not what you’re thinking. Collectively known as “taxi girls”, these roaming ladies were actually professional dancers for hire.

Men would pay them in the form of coupons for a round of cha-cha on the floor – costing up to 8 cents per dance. There would also be bouncers keeping a close eye on them to prevent any hanky panky – since they aren’t call girls, after all. 

Mat Tarzan - Strongman
Ahmad Ali (right), a bodybuilder from Malaysia better known by his stage name – Mat Tarzan.
Image credit: M Star

Boxing enthusiasts back in the day wouldn’t have missed any of the matches with famed boxer, “Felix Boy”, who hailed from Malaysia. He only lost 2 matches in his whole career of a whopping 84 fights. And this was despite his small stature, standing at only 1.5m tall. 

For more feats of strength, amusement park-goers could look forward to shows by strongman bodybuilder, “Mat Tarzan”. At his prime, he would pull crowds in with his famous act of pulling a lorry with his teeth – and the lorry had 15 adults inside, mind you. Another amazing feat of his? Bending iron bars with his throat. 

Striptease show - Rose Chan
Image credit: No Bed of Roses by Cecil Rajendra 

The main star of the amusement park though, was arguably Rose Chan. Dubbed “Queen of Striptease”, her act entailed dancing with pythons, and sometimes rather crude yet impressive acts which involved pulling a string of razor-sharp blades from her nethers. 

Fun fact: even before she shot to fame performing at New World, she already garnered the nickname, “Charity Queen”, because she would often donate her profits from her smaller cabaret shows.

See remnants of New World Amusement Park at City Square Mall

New World Amusement Park - Before it closed down
Image credit: National Archives of Singapore 

Unfortunately, despite its roaring business that lasted for decades since its establishment, New World Amusement Park was ultimately unable to compete with the likes of new shopping centres, discos, and the advent of television. This led to its closure in 1987, and the land it sat on was subsequently sold for $35 million. 

Today, City Square Mall sits in its place. Physically, the only remnant of the amusement park is its entrance – New World’s gateway has been restored and is situated outside Farrer Park MRT. But spiritually, its existence marks a significant chapter in SG’s entertainment history. 

So, next time you’re OTW to some carnival like GastroBeats or Uncle Ringo, just remember that New World pretty much pioneered all this. 

For more history content: 

Cover image adapted from: National Archives of Singapore, No Bed of Roses by Cecil Rajendra