Memories of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore

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The Vic revived

By Gretchen Mahbubani
[Source:  The Straits Times, 27 September 1980]

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What better example of breathing new life in old buildings then Victoria Memorial Hall’s $4-million restoration?  When the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, opens the splendidly refurbished Concert Hall on Wednesday night, hearts will await the memories stir to the strains of the SSO’s strings.

A theatre painstakingly restored to its turn-of-the-century splendour with fluted columns, arches and glorious architectural details left intact but updated and outfitted with modern comforts.

In Paris, London or New York, such news would not surprise anyone.

But it has happened in Singapore – and concert goers are in for a treat.

Behind the surrounding the Victoria Memorial Hall in the last year, a massive $4-million renovation has been taking place.

The Victoria Concert Hall, to be opened on Oct 1, by the Prime Minister, is not only a fitting home for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, but it also has a historic and dramatic stage set that will make concert-going an exciting experience.

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Design

The Victoria Memorial Hall and adjacent theatre are at the hub of a group of older buildings that stretch from the General Post Office and Immigration to Parliament, the Supreme Court and City Hall, all of which together create a grand civic design.

While remnants of a colonial past, they are also closely associated with the decades of independence.  Since these buildings are considered to be of historic interest, there is no fear of any of them being torn down.

But it is an unexpected surprise that the renovations to the Victoria Memorial Hall have taken into such careful consideration the old and irreplaceable architecture.

Rather than getting the structurally sound building – or doing away with it altogether and replacing it with a totally new building – the Public Works Department architects and engineers have worked around its neo-Classical interior.

For many years the hall was the venue for musical recitals, orchestral and choir concerts.  But it was never renovated like the adjacent Victoria Theatre was in the mid-Fifties.

The only thing that ever happened was a half-hearted attempt to restore the organ, originally one of the finest in Asia, to its original state.  It had been battered and looted during the Japanese Occupation.  Today, it is hidden behind white folding doors at the back of the stage.

Asset

By the mid-Seventies the hall was in a state of disrepair and downright dreary.  But with the formation of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the need for renovation became more urgent.

In March 1977, the then Culture Minister, Mr Jek Yun Thong, said on the question of converting the hall to make it suitable for the orchestra to perform, that it would be cheaper to build a new concert hall elsewhere.

But, he added, the hall was of historic interest because the PAP convened its first meeting there.

Fortunately, the structurally sound hall was saved.

From the beginning the building’s hsitoric flavour was considered an asset.  Said Mr Peter Loh Ying Leong, a PWD Senior Architect (Special Duties) who supervised the project:  “The basic design principle governing the renovations was to retain the old character of the building.

“People come to the theatre for an experience.  If the outside is classical, the interior should be as well.  We hope the concert hall will provide the right kind of atmosphere and environment.”

But leaving the basic structure alone was a major constraint.

Wooden fire staircases had to be replaced with metal ones; rotten roof trusses had to be replaced without disturbing the roof, behind the stage new dressing rooms were built and a glass front recording room for the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation was put in.

A VIP room was built in the clock tower itself and a VIP lift up to the balcony level was added behind the clock tower.

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Marking time – and progress

[Source:  The Straits Times, 7 March 1994]

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Amidst the colony of cranes building the river wall at Boat Quay stands the quaint Victoria Memorial Hall clock tower – past and future juxtaposed in one frame.

As teh seconds tick by, the buildings and scenes that Singaporeans have come to cherish must make way for progress.

Said Straits Times photographer Malcom McLeod who took the picture:  “Time doesn’t stand still when it comes to development.”

An Old Pal of the Tower Clock

rptMr R. F. A. Housman

An “old friend” of the tower-clock of the Victoria Memorial Hall in Singapore.

He is Mr R. F. A. Housman, M. I. Mech. E., consulting engineer of Gillett and Johnston Ltd., bell founders and tower clock makers of Croydon.

The big clock in the tower of the Victoria Memorial Hall was fitted in 1907.

Peek into the past of a national monument

Go on a pictorial walk of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall with Debra Ann Francisco
[Source:  Straits Times, 7 May 2013]

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You cannot help marvelling at the beauty of the architecture of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, which were built during an era of a revival of Victorian design.

The birth of the complex began with the decision to build a town hall in 1862.  Before this, local operas and dramas were held in the Assembly Rooms, which had fallen into disrepair.

When the town hall was completed, it housed a theatre as well as offices and meeting rooms.

In 1901, the Victoria Memorial Hall was built beside the town hall in memory of the late Queen Victoria.  The building opened in 1905.  By 1909, the town hall was also renovated to match the facade of the memorial hall.

During World War II, the memorial hall was used as a hospital for victims of the bomb raids.

When calm returned to Singapore after the war, a series of renovations began.

By the 1970s, the town hall was already functioning as Victoria Theatre and the memorial hall was renamed Victoria Concert Hall.

Today, this complex of two buildings, and a clock tower is joined by a common corridor.

In 1992, the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall was gazetted as a national monument.

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2.  Many exciting events were held at Victoria Memorial Hall.  In 1990, police were called to control a huge crowd that showed up for a children’s party thrown by Chung Khiaw Bank to mark its 10th anniversary.  As many adults as children turned up and this caused traffic chaos on the street outside the hall.

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3.   New Year parties were also held there, such as this one in 1952.

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4  Volunteers are seen here making poppy wreaths at Victoria Memorial Hall.  Thirty members of the Chinese Ladies’ Association worked to complete about $3,000 worth of poppy wreaths ordered for the Rememberance Day ceremony at the Singapore Cenotaph in 1954.

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5.  Political speeches and important events were also held at the memorial hall.

The then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, addressed his Malaysian and Borneo counterparts during his speech at the opening of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association regional conference in 1962.

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6.  Crowds await the 1957 by-election results outside the Victoria Memorial Hall.

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7.  The clock tower, which stands at a height of 54m, was completed in 1906.  The clock, which was donated by the Straits Trading Company, is 4m wide and weights 1 tonne.

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A historical event which changed the lives of many pioneer generation Singaporeans was launched at the Victoria Memorial Hall here .

The Victoria Memorial Hall Today

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The statue of Sir Stamford Raffles at Victoria Memorial Hall looking towards the Fullerton Building and Marina Bay Sands on 16 March 2020.

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The statue of Sir Stamford Raffles at Victoria Memorial Hall looking towards the Fullerton Building in 1930, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.img0069

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