Long before there were Universal Studios Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa, and Marina Bay Sands, Singapore had three amusement parks (or the three “worlds”) that wooed the night crowds from the 1920s to the 1960s: Great World Amusement Park, Gay World (Happy World), and New World Park. What has become of these three parks today?
I gleaned information about these nostalgic three worlds from books at the National Library’s Singapore collection.
1) Beyond Description: Singapore space historicity / edited by Ryan Bishop, John Phillips, and Wei-Wei Yeo. [Call Number: RSING 307.1216095957 BEY]
2) Looking at Culture / edited by Sanjay Krishnan [et al.]. [Call Number: RSING 306.095957 LOO]
New World Park
In 1923, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock set up New World Park, the first of the three amusement parks that coloured Singapore’s night life from the 1920s to the 1960s. New World was located at Jalan Besar, bounded by Serangoon Road, Kitchener Road and Whampoa River. New World was famous for its cabarets, Chinese and Malay opera halls, shops, restaurants, open-air cinemas, boxing arenas, and shooting galleries. New World faded from the night scene after the 1960s, a fate that affected the other two “worlds” – Great World and Gay World. In April 1987, City Developments bought New World’s 42,252.1 sq m site from Shaw Organisation for S$35 million. Today, City Square Mall sits on the site of Singapore’s historic New World Park. It also features the original gate to the former New World Park.
Great World Amusement Park
Great World Amusement Park was also known as Tua Seh Kai in Hokkien, meaning “great world”. The site was bounded by Kim Seng Road, River Valley Road and Zion Road. In the 1920s, the site was a Chinese cemetery. The park had a humble beginning, with 150 wooden shacks. The owner of the land was Lee Choon Yung (relative of philanthropist Lee Kong Chian) who developed the site into an amusement park in the 1930s. Back then, mainly British servicemen and the upper classes patronised Great World. There were free films and Peking operas to watch in addition to wrestling and boxing matches. But business was bland and Lee Choon Yung sold his park to the Shaw Brothers in 1941. Although it closed in 1964, cinemas and restaurants continued to run at the park until 1978. In 1979, Shaw sold the park to Robert Kuok, dubbed Malaysia’s “Sugar King”. Today, the site is occupied by Great World City Shopping Centre. The complex’s snazzy facade bears no resemblance to the old park. The shopping complex presents an almost total break from the loud and luminous old amusement park.
Gay World (Happy World)
Gay World, located between Mountbatten and Geylang roads, was set up in 1936. The founder was George Lee Geok Eng (of George Lee Motors fame), and the park was originally known as Happy World when it started. Happy World catered especially to families with children. Gay World was a popular entertainment joint before the advent of television and shopping malls. It combined a heady mix of eastern and western forms of entertainment including cabaret, operas, movies, gaming, sport matches, stunts and shopping. The fees to these recreations were affordable, even to youths. Gay World was a sporting arena. It had an indoor stadium called the Gay World Stadium that was once billed the greatest covered stadium in Southeast Asia. It was later renamed Geylang Indoor Stadium. Ravaged by fires many times, Eng Wah terminated the lease to the park in 2000, marking Gay World’s exit from Singapore’s amusement park scene. Gay World was the last of the three Worlds to go. Currently, the site is just an empty piece of land.
Contributor: Jeffrey Pramudita, Intern, MA Student (Language Studies), NUS
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