The Old House in Chinatown (Late 1960s)
Photograph Print by Yip Cheong Fun.
This artwork is mounted on mattboard.
This is the picture of one of the oldest houses in Chinatown located at Trengganu Street and Smith Street junction. There are many buildings like this which are more than 100 years old, but they are structurally sound. Houses like these are architecturally interesting, and they are known as Chinese Baroque – a mélange of Chinese, Malay and European influences. They are referred to as shophouses because the ground levels are originally for shop use, while the upper levels are for residence.
From 1887 to 1942, this historic building was used as a Chinese opera theatre, known as Lai Chun Yuen, which was the centre for entertainment in Chinatown. It became an important part of the life of the people there. The theatre was designed by R.A.J. Bidwell, who also designed Raffles Hotel and the Victoria Theatre. Numerous performances were held in this 834 seat theatre, including two historic performances in 1909 in aid of the Canton Flood Relief Fund and the anti-opium movement. The theatre continued to be popular with the Cantonese community until 1927 when motion pictures arrived in Singapore. In 1942, it was converted into a cinema, changing its name to Sun Seng Cinema. The venture failed with the Japanese Invasion. In fact, the building was badly damaged by a Japanese bomb in early 1942. After the war, the building was converted into a bazaar. In the 1960s, it was further converted for use as a storage space for hawkers. Today, the building still stands majestically after some renovation and repair. It is used by shops and offices and by a Buddhist organization.
A photograph like this sways our nostalgic feelings. Chinatown has changed dramatically in a short period of time. Many of Yip Cheong-Fun’s pictures help us to recognize the speed of such changes in the landscape and the lives of the people. They reflect civilization of the city at its very beginning and exude peerless, spirited potential. Here there is also a keen and conscious recognition of poetic space and the juxtaposition of elements past and present.