FOTO-FOTO: Capitol Theatre

Curtain call.

30 Mar 2012
"Tonight sees the opening of the epoch-making event in the history of the theatrical and cinema world of Malaya." The Straits Times, 22 May 1930
"The initial Radio picture, Rio Rita, which has been specially selected for the occasion of the opening of the theatre, will doubtless prove a revelation..." The Straits Times, 22 May 1930

Emerging from City Hall MRT station along North Bridge Road is a familiar affair for many. On one side, St Andrew’s Cathedral; on the other, a building site, much like any other in Singapore today. Its metal hoardings were only recently erected. Yet even before these walls went up, for years few passersby seemed to pause and register the squat, cream building within.

This was the neo-classical Capitol Theatre, Singapore’s first single-hall, large screen theatre, which opened on 22 May 1930 to great fanfare in the press. In her illustrious past, she hosted the earliest “talkie” motion pictures, cabaret performances and technicolour Hollywood fare.  

On 29 December 1998 the theatre closed its doors. It has sat dormant a fitful 13 years and counting, after initial plans to convert it into an arts and design centre floundered. But now the site finally stirs with the whirrs and bangs of earth diggers. The Capitol area is “undergoing a major transformation”, the URA has announced, and will become an arts-retail-condo development.

Photographer Philipp Aldrup, who snuck into the theatre last October, seeks to remember “the sounds, smells, the laughter” that once filled the great hall.

“For decades it was filled with stories, with films from Asia and from abroad,” he says. “It became a big part of how people in Singapore saw the world, what they dreamt of and where these dreams could take them. But how about the dreams of people today? Have people been asked what they dream of, for their city?”

Images Philipp Aldrup

Words David Ee

"Behind the idea that motivated the building of the Capitol Theatre there was an ideal ... to erect a modernly-equipped theatre offering comforts hitherto unknown to cinema patrons in Malaya." The Straits Times, 22 May 1930
"The Capitol cost $1,800,000 to build. It was the luxury cinema of the day. Its stage was described by a writer who attended the opening, as being “almost too elaborate for a mere cinema." The Straits Times, 31 January 1940
"In one corner of the vestibule is a soda fountain, and a bar counter runs along the wall on the opposite side." The Straits Times, 31 January 1940
"Extensive alterations to the Capitol Theatre, Singapore, have been progressing for some weeks without interruption of daily cinema shows. The theatre will be air-conditioned and interior improvements are being carried out." The Straits Times, 11 January 1940
"The seats for the $1 patrons are fitted with Dunlopillo cushions manufactured in Sydney, Australia, and patrons of the 50 cents seats also have the benefit of upholstered chairs." The Straits Times, 31 January 1940
"The curtains came down at Odeon Katong for the last time last night, and soon the lights may go out at another old faithful, the 63-year-old Capitol Theatre." The Straits Times, 15 November 1993
"Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Meier is aiming to turn the Capitol project into a landmark building in Singapore ... The theatre will be refurbished and transformed into Singapore's largest single-screen cinema with about 800 seats." The Straits Times, 3 February 2011
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