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Old National Theatre
Photograph: National Museum of Singapore

The lost landmarks and buildings in Singapore

A blast to the past – we take a look at the city’s vanished landmarks and architectural gems

Cam Khalid
Written by
Cam Khalid
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Behind Modern Singapore's shiny skyscrapers are the ghosts of landmarks that once stood the test of time. Not only were they the modern marvels of yesteryears but they held rich histories and lesser-known stories that are worth digging up for. And that's exactly what we've done. Travel back in time with us as we uncover the various amusement parks, theatre, and library that we've lost but not forgotten. Major nostalgia alert: these iconic landmarks will bring back some happy or bittersweet memories.

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Pearl Bank Apartments
Photograph: Huntergol Hp/Shutterstock

Pearl Bank Apartments

Demolished in 2020

Once the tallest residential building in Singapore, the now-demolished Pearl Bank Apartments was immediately recognisable in the Outram skyline as it sat atop Pearl’s Hill. What made it so iconic was its peculiar horseshoe shape that was designed for efficiency where the cylindrical shape allowed for daylight, ventilation and panoramic views to all its units while the west-facing opening in the circular structure minimised direct entry of heat and light from the afternoon sun. 

In 2019, residents had to vacate on a bittersweet note. While they noticed the building going into disrepair over the years, they had an emotional attachment to the unique architecture, making it hard to say goodbye. Perhaps you can say it had a brutal(ist) ending.

Escape Theme Park
Photograph: Flickr/Thomas Timlen

Escape Theme Park

Closed in 2011

Kids in the east will remember the thrill of visiting this outdoor theme park that opened in May 2000. Boasting '360-degrees of fun', the park features a pirate ship, go-kart tracks, fairground style rides, a walk-through haunted house, and the highest log flume in Asia. But it's not all fun and games as rides were removed due to complaints from the public, as well as causing accidents to visitors. Eventually, it ceased operations to make way for the expansion of Wild Wild Wet, a water park adjacent to it.

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Old National Library Building
Photograph: National Museum of Singapore

Old National Library Building

Demolished in 2004

A national icon, the Old National Library Building actually first opened to backlash as its red-brick exterior was deemed aesthetically unrefined back in the 60s. But that became a thing of the past and the library started thriving. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Despite public dissent, it was closed and knocked down for the construction of Fort Canning Tunnel to ease traffic to the city. In memory of the old building, about 5,000 red bricks were salvaged and used to form a commemorative wall in a bamboo garden located within the new National Library at Victoria Street.

Van Kleef Aquarium
Photograph: National Archive of Singapore

Van Kleef Aquarium

Demolished in 1998

A fully-conditioned oceanarium named after a Dutch resident opened doors at Fort Canning Park in 1955, attracting many visitors to see its 6,500 marine creatures of 180 different species in the flesh (or rather, scales). However, it took a huge hit when Underwater World opened in 1991. The Van Kleef Aquarium even had various facelifts to attract visitors. It transformed to World of Aquarium then to Fort Canning Aquarium in a span of five years before closing in 1996, and eventually torn down in 1998. And that's the last we've seen of the aquarium.

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New World Amusement Park
Photograph: National Museum of Singapore

New World Amusement Park

Demolished in 1987

There was once a different kind of world that occupied the area circled by Jalan Besar, Kitchener Road, Serangoon Road and Petain Road: New World. There was even a gateway that led you to it. The first of three amusement parks, New World Amusement Park was a hot spot for night crowds, along with Great World and Gay World at Kim Seng Road and Kallang respectively. Opened in 1923, the adult amusement park hosted stripteases, boxing matches, opera shows, and cabaret events. Today, City Square Mall, City Square Residences, and City Green sit on the site where the park once stood. But it's not completely gone – the iconic gateway located by Farrer Park MRT station remains the only relic of New World.

Old National Theatre
Photograph: National Museum of Singapore

Old National Theatre

Demolished in 1986

What was once a national treasure, the former National Theatre opened in 1963 to commemorate Singapore's self-government achievement. It staged various performances by music titans such as Louis Armstrong, The Bee Gees, and Shirley Bassey. It also held conferences and National Day rallies until it was closed and torn down due to structural reasons and the construction of an expressway. While its structure had some major issues, it was a modern marvel complete with a massive 150-tonne cantilevered steel roof which stretched to the slopes of Fort Canning, and a five-pointed façade that represented the five stars of the flag as the outdoor fountain represented the crescent moon. Did we mention that it had no side or rear walls too?

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Great World Amusement Park
Photograph: National Museum of Singapore

Great World Amusement Park

Closed in 1964

The second amusement park to open after New World, Great World Amusement Park catered more to the middle and lower-income crowds. What was initially a Chinese cemetery grew to become a major part of the nightlife scene as people flood to the nightclub, cinemas, funfairs, and restaurants there. The park was so magnetic that even local director Kelvin Ting based his 2011 film It's A Great, Great World on the history of the park. After the closure of the park, it was sold to a property developer who eventually constructed the present Great World City Shopping Centre.

Buildings galore

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