Capitol Building

Singapore Infopedia


Capitol Building straddles the corner of Stamford Road and North Bridge Road and is closely associated with the adjoining Capitol Theatre. Designed by Keys and Dowdeswell and completed by early 1930, the building was originally known as Namazie Mansions. It was later renamed Shaws Building when Shaw Organisation purchased it in 1946. The Singapore government acquired the building and relaunched it as Capitol Building in 1992. Capitol Building, along with the former Stamford House, is now part of a six-star hotel known as The Patina, Capitol Singapore, which will open in the first quarter of 2016.

Designed in the neoclassical style by architectural firm Keys and Dowdeswell, Capitol Theatre and the adjoining block of flats then known as Namazie Mansions were constructed at a cost of $1.25 million. The three-storey Namazie Mansions was completed sometime between the end of 1929 and early 1930.1

As the building fronts the theatre, large billboards announcing the latest films were placed on its frontage. As a result, the two buildings were so closely associated that one was often mistaken for the other; in fact, Capitol Building was sometimes erroneously referred to as the “Capitol Theatre building”.2

The architecture of Capitol Building has been commended for “turn[ing] the corner well” and has a look that gels with earlier buildings nearby such as the Stamford House. However, its design has also been described as “ponderous”. For instance, the long corridor leading from the main entrance to the theatre was viewed as an odd pocket of space and a sign of poor planning. This corridor was subsequently removed during the 1992 renovations.3

Namazie Mansions was named after the owner, Mirza Mohamed Ali Namazie, a Persian businessman who built both the theatre and residences.4 The building was also commonly referred to as the “Capitol flats”, a name that remained into the 1950s.5

In 1946, the Namazies sold Capitol Theatre and Namazie Mansions to Shaw Organisation for $3 million.6 Shaw made the theatre its flagship cinema, while Namazie Mansions was renamed Shaws Building.7

An explosion in 1944 during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) damaged the building considerably.8 In 1948, Shaw spent $100,000 on rebuilding works, partly to restore the damaged parts of the flats and theatre.9

Soon after the war, tenants moved in to rent the apartments. By then, there were about 20 shops and 15 flats for rent. Rentals hovered around $135 a month in the 1940s, and because the building was under the Control of Rent Act 1953, rentals hardly rose in the decades that followed. In the 1980s, a large three-room apartment in Shaws Building could be rented for under S$150, in sharp contrast to apartments on nearby Orchard Road that commanded rentals as high as S$4,500.10

In the early 1980s, Shaw Organisation planned to purchase the land of nearby Capitol Shopping Centre and demolish Capitol Building and Capitol Theatre to construct a mixed-use development comprising shops, residential apartments and a theatre. Shaw thus began evicting tenants in both its shops and apartments. However, under the Control of Rent Act 1953, Shaw had to provide compensation to its tenants and this hefty cost proved a challenge to Shaw.11

In February 1984, the government acquired Capitol Theatre and Shaws Building, gazetting them for redevelopment.12 Shaws Building underwent extensive renovations and, after three years, was relaunched on 30 April 1992 as Capitol Building. The refurbishment cost S$11 million, and offered spaces for 20 retail and 39 office units in the building.13

Magnolia Snack Bar
Originally known as Creameries Milk Bar or Capitol Milk Bar, Magnolia Snack Bar opened in Capitol Building in the 1940s14 and became a popular place for dates and gatherings.15 It offered a reasonably priced menu of light “Western-style” meals with Hainanese influences, as well as Magnolia ice-cream with various toppings ranging from fruits and nuts, to liqueur sauces and chopped ginger. Magnolia Snack Bar closed its shutters for good on 12 July 1988.16

Capitol Shopping Centre
Beside Capitol Building on North Bridge Road was a large open carpark built to serve theatre-goers. The Union Jack Club, which was opened in 1924 as a social venue for British sailors and servicemen, stood on the other end of the carpark.17 By the 1950s, the carpark had become a bus terminus where passengers arrived at via a bus service that began at Changi Point. The accessibility of Capitol Theatre by public transportation made it a popular place even for those living in the suburbs.18 A notable feature at the bus terminus was the large neon advertisement tower.19

Massive urban redevelopment work in the 1970s led the Urban Redevelopment Authority to set up temporary resettlement centres around town to house shops affected by such works. The bus terminus was replaced by Capitol Shopping Centre, which was one of the first resettlement centres to be built.20 The three-storey building was raised in 1976 to temporarily house foodstalls previously located on Hock Lam Street, which was expunged for the construction of Funan Centre (now known as Funan DigitaLife Mall).21 Hawkers from High Street were also relocated there.22 Besides foodstalls and shops, the building also had parking lots.23

In 1985, after the hawkers had been transferred back to the newly completed Funan Centre and Hill Street Centre,24 Capitol Shopping Centre was converted at a cost of S$542,000 into a carpark known as Capitol Car Park Station.25 In 1992, this carpark was transformed into the Design Centre.26 Three years later, however, the Design Centre moved out; by that time, Capitol Centre – as it came to be known – had begun housing shops again.27

In October 2010, Capitol Centre, Capitol Building, Capitol Theatre, and Stamford House – all conserved buildings except for Capitol Centre – were grouped as a single site for redevelopment with construction slated to begin the following year.28

Stamford House and Capitol Building were refurbished as a six-star hotel known as The Patina, Capitol Singapore, which will open in the first quarter of 2016. Designed by the American architectural firm Richard Meier & Partners Architects, the hotel is part of a larger complex that includes Capitol Theatre, Capitol Piazza and Eden Residences Capitol. The latter two are new buildings erected on the site of Capitol Centre, which was demolished.29


Bonny Tan

1. “Cinema and Theatre,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 9 August 19329, 8; “Shock for Lady Motorists,” Straits Times, 15 February 1930, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Untitled,” Malayan Saturday Post, 22 February 1930, 6; Idah Latiff, “Capitol Row Hearings Start in July,” Straits Times, 23 March 1981, 8; “Tea King Charlie Lin,” Straits Times, 31 January 1989, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Peter Keys, “Take a Bras Basah Stroll,” Straits Times, 6 September 1983, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Robert Powell, Living Legacy: Singapore’s Architectural Heritage Renewed (Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, 1994), 194. (Call no: RSING 363.69095957 POW)
4. R. Doraisamy, “Shaw Building Was Called Namazie Mansions Till 1947,” Straits Times, 21 October 1991, 30; “Death of Mr. M. A. Namazie,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 27 July 1931, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Page 2 Advertisements Column 6,” Straits Times, 15 April 1939, 2; “Ladder Man Caught,” Singapore Free Press, 2 February 1954, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Real Estate Deals Reach $25 Million,” Straits Times, 27 July 1947, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
7 “T. F. Hwang Takes You Down Memory Lane,” Straits Times, 7 March 1984, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Kartar Singh, oral history interview by Jason Lim, 19 July 2002, MP3 audio, 31:12, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 002335 – 6)
9. “Capitol Re-Building Gets under Way,” Singapore Free Press, 15 November 1948, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Mathew Yap, “What It’s Like to Live in an Old Building,” Straits Times, 6 September 1983, 10; Bharathi Mohan, “Grand Plans for Next Change at Capitol,” New Nation, 15 March 1981, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Latiff, “Capitol Row Hearings Start in July”; Mohan, “Grand Plans for Next Change”; Wang Look Keah, “Old Shaws Building to Be Preserved,” Business Times, 11 July 1983, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Owners Unhappy over Acquisition of Land,” Straits Times, 26 February 1984, 12; “Capitol Theatre Land Acquired,” Straits Times, 25 February 1984, 1; Conrad Raj, “Robin Hood Tactics Aren’t Desirable Today,” Business Times, 10 July 1990, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Dominic Nathan, “Capitol Theatre to Be Redeveloped?” Straits Times, 15 November 1993, 23; Hong Lee Tiam, “Shaw Building Relaunched and Renamed Capitol Building,” Business Times, 1 May 1992, 22; “All Retail Space at ‘New’ Capitol Building Taken,” Straits Times, 1 May 1992, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Page 3 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 17 March 1948, 3; “Page 2 Advertisements Column 1,” Singapore Free Press, 11 July 1958, 2; Serene Lim, “Time Runs Out for Magnolia Snack Bar,” Straits Times, 12 July 1988, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Philip Lee “The Odeon… ‘More Than Just a Cinema Hall’,” Straits Times, 1 August 1983, 9; Tristan Chan, “Make That a Date!” New Paper, 6 February 2003, 87 (From NewspaperSG); Liao Xiangjun, “Look Back in Hunger: An Interview with Glen Goei,” Peak, 12 November 2015.
16. Violet Oon, “A Snack Bar That Smacks of the ’50s,” Singapore Monitor, 16 December 1984, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Lim, “Time Runs Out for Magnolia Snack Bar”; Vincent Gabriel, oral history interview by Claire Yeo, 3 February 2005, transcript and MP3 audio, 58:25, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 002909 – 3), 83–84.
17. “Union Jack Club,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 28 January 1925, 9; “Union Jack Club to Be Enlarged,” Straits Times, 27 September 1935, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “Page 8 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 20 February 1956, 8; Chan Kwee Sung, “Changi Story: The Good, the Bad and the Nostalgic,” Straits Times, 2 March 1998, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “T. F. Hwang Takes You Down Memory Lane”; Tan Bah Bah, “She’s Lovelier Than Ever,” Straits Times, 9 August 1993, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Resettlement Centre to Go Up at Old Courts Site,” Straits Times, 10 June 1976, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Wang, “Old Shaws Building to Be Preserved”; Ng Puay Joo, “Resettled in Style,” Straits Times, 15 April 1984, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Hock Lam Street Stalls May Move to New Building,” Straits Times, 25 May 1975, 6; “Stalls at Centre for Hock Lam Hawkers,” Straits Times, 9 June 1976, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Wang Look Keah, “Government to Preserve Two Old Buildings in Town,” Straits Times, 12 July 1983, 11; “Capitol Centre Likely to Go?” New Nation, 19 October 1981, 5; Violet Oon, “Take a Pinch of Salt With This New Move,” New Nation, 25 February 1977, 10–11. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Capitol Centre Goes to Cars and Bikes,” Business Times, 4 July 1986, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Oei Sin Giok, “$86M Shopping Centre to Stand Empty,” Singapore Monitor, 28 November 1984, 2; “Coming Home in Style,” Straits Times, 26 January 1985, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Capitol Centre Converted into a Car Park,” Business Times, 4 September 1985, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “One-Stop Shopping Venue,” Straits Times, 11 April 1992, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “TDB Imports and Exports Office in Bugis,” Straits Times, 23 May 1995, 38; “From Cabaret to Blockbusters,” Straits Times, 27 April 2008, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Serene Tng, “Capitol Sale Site,” Skyline (May–June 2011): 6–7 (From BooKSG); Clara Chow, C. (2011, February 14). “Capitol Site Renaissance,” Edge Singapore (4 February 2011): CC4–5. (Call no. RSING 338.7095957 ES)
29. Natasha Ann Zachariah, “Star of the Show,” Straits Times, 16 May 2015, 10; Esther Teo, “New Luxury Hotel for Landmark Capitol Site, Part of $750M Redevelopment Project,” Straits Times, 30 April 2013, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Hock Lam Street, 1950s: General View, 1950, photograph, Peh Heng Huat Collection, National Library Board. 

Untitled,” Malayan Saturday Post, 22 February 1930, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

Yap Boh Tiong, “Hock Lam Mall Gets a Mixed Reception,” Straits Times, 9 October 1972, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 25 January 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.



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