The Odeon Cinema was built in 1953 at the junction of North Bridge Road and Cashin Street, where Odeon Tower and K. H. Kea Building are now situated.1 It was Cathay Organisation’s flagship cinema and its most successful box-office earner in Singapore. The Odeon was often confused with another cinema known as Odeon-Katong, located along East Coast Road. In 1984, Odeon was sold to United Overseas Land, and the building was later demolished to make way for new developments.2
Plans to open a cinema on North Bridge Road were mooted in 1947 by then Cathay chairman Loke Wan Tho and general manager John Ede. By 15 April that year, Cathay had obtained in-principle approval from the municipality to build the cinema,3 which was designed by architectural firm Palmer and Turner.4
On 8 June 1953, Odeon was officially opened by then Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia Malcolm MacDonald at the charity premiere of The Snows of Kilimanjaro, starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner. Among those present were Twentieth Century Fox’s stars Constance Smith and Jeffrey Hunter.5 For over a week, the stars made personal appearances during the evening shows. Cinema patrons could take a photo with them for $10, in aid of the University of Malaya Endowment Fund.6
The air-conditioned Odeon Cinema screened mainly first-run English-language films. It was equipped with four Gaumont-Kalee “21” projectors, which supported Stereophonic Sound, Vista Vision and Cinemascope. It became the first cinema under Cathay to use Cinemascope when The Robe, starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons, was screened in 1953.7
The Odeon had circle, back stall and front stall seats, which were ticketed at $3, $2 and $1 respectively. Marketed as the “Showplace of the Island”, the cinema was defined by its innovative features.8 For example, customers with hearing difficulty could use the cinema’s hearing aid. The cinema also featured a sound-proof “cry room” equipped with an interior speaker system for parents to watch movies with their infants or children. Besides a phone reservation service, it also had a drive-in booking office at its underground carpark.9
Odeon surpassed the Cathay Cinema in almost every aspect when it opened in 1953. The 1,546-seat Odeon could accommodate more patrons than Cathay, and its monthly box-office revenue also exceeded that of Cathay by about $4,000. As the Odeon had its own reception lounge called the Hollywood Room, many important social and staff functions were held there instead of Cathay.10
On 15 February 1980, the Odeon set another record by being the first cinema in Singapore to deliver a movie in Dolby Sound when it screened Zulu Dawn at midnight.11
Due to its prime location, the Odeon became a favourite hangout for students of schools in the vicinity, including the St Joseph’s Institution, Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, St Nicholas and Catholic High.12
In the early 1980s, cinemas were badly hit by the emergence of videos and rampant video piracy. Consequently, the Cathay Organisation accumulated a S$6 million overdraft. As a result of low cinema attendance and high property prices, the Odeon was sold to United Overseas Land in July 1984.13
On 30 June 1984, Odeon screened its last film, Breakdance. The building was subsequently demolished.14
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia
1. Ong Sor Fern, “No Spotlight for Ms Cathay,” Straits Times, 15 July 2005, 4. (From NewspaperSG); Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: G. Brash, 1985), 149. (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BEA)
2. Lim Kay Tong, Cathay: 55 Years of Cinema (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1991), 43–45, 81–82, 89. (Call no. RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
3. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
4. Ong, “No Spotlight for Ms Cathay.”
5. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
6. Ong, “No Spotlight for Ms Cathay.”
7. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
8. “Page 4 Advertisements Column 2,” Straits Times, 9 June 1953, 4; “Page 12 Advertisements Column 1,” Singapore Standard, 11 February 1959, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
10. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
11. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
12. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
13. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
14. Lim, 55 Years of Cinema, 43–45, 81–82, 89.
The information in this article is valid as of 22 September 2017 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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