Odeon Cinema


Odeon was Cathay Organisation's flagship cinema and its most successful box-office earner in Singapore.  Designed by architectural firm Palmer and Turner, it was built in 1953 at the junction of North Bridge Road and Cashin Street, where Odeon Tower and K. H. Kea Building are now located.  It was often confused with the unrelated Odeon-Katong located along East Coast Road.  Odeon was sold to United Overseas Land in 1984, and the building was later demolished to make way for new developments.

Plans for a Cathay cinema in North Bridge Road were mooted by Cathay's Chairman Loke Wan Tho and General Manager John Ede in 1947. By 15 April that year, Cathay had obtained in-principle approval from the Municipality to build the cinema.  On 8 June 1953, Odeon was officially opened by Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia Malcolm MacDonald at the charity premier screening of The Snows of Kilimanjaro starring Greogry Peck, Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner.  Among those present were Twentieth Century Fox's stars Constance Smith and Jeffrey Hunter.  For over a week, the stars made personal appearances during the evening shows and customers could take a photo with them for $10 in aid of The University of Malaya Endowment Fund.

The air-conditioned Odeon mainly screened first-run English language films.  The cinema was equipped with four Gaumont-Kalee "21" projectors which supported Stereophonic Sound, Vista Vision and Cinemascope.  Odeon was the first cinema in the organisation to use Cinemascope when The Robe, starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons, was screened in 1953.  Odeon's seats were classified according to Circle, Back Stall, and Front Stall and tickets were available at $3, $2, $1.  Marketed as "Showplace of the Island", Odeon was defined by many fine touches.  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 phone reservation service, Odeon also had a drive-in booking office in its underground carpark.  

At that time, Odeon had surpassed Cathay cinema in almost every aspect.  The 1,546-seat Odeon could accommodate more people than Cathay.  In addition, Odeon's monthly box-office takings also exceeded Cathay's by about $4,000.  Many important social and staff functions were held there instead of Cathay as Odeon had its own reception lounge called the Hollywood Room.  

Due to its prime location, Odeon became the favourite hangout for students of the schools in the vicinity such as St Joseph, Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, St Nicholas and Catholic High.  On 15 February 1980, Odeon set another record by being the first cinema in Singapore to deliver movie in Dolby Sound when it screened Zulu Dawn at midnight.   

In the early 1980s, cinemas were badly hit by the emergence of videos and rampant video piracy and Cathay Organisation accumulated a $6 million overdraft.  Low cinema attendances and high property prices resulted in Odeon's sale to United Overseas Land in July 1984.  On 30 June 1984, Odeon screened its last film Breakdance. The building was subsequently demolished.

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

Beamish, J. and Ferguson, J.  (1985).  A history of Singapore architecture: The making of a city (p. 149).  Singapore: G. Brash.
(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 BEA)

Lim, K. T. (1991).  Cathay: 55 years of cinema (pp.43-45, 81-82, 89).  Singapore: Landmark Books for Meileen Choo. 
(Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM) 

Ministry of Culture. (1981).  Singapore street directory (Map 7, A2) [Microfilm: NL 18279].  Singapore: Ministry of Culture.

Cathay Organisation. (1953, June 9).  Odeon: Showplace of the islandThe Straits Times. p. 4.

The stars and you - $10 . (1953, June 9).  The Straits Times. p. 7.

$10 bought a close-up . (1953, June 10).  The Straits Times. p. 7.

Days of low-budget movies and Indian fare . (2001, June 25).  The Straits Times [Electronic Version].

Ong, S. F. (2005, July 12).  No spotlight for Ms CathayThe Straits Times [Electronic Version].  

Further readings
Cathay Organisation. (2006).  Corporate History.  Retrieved 2006, April 17 from www.cathay.com.sg/corporate_history.html

The information in this article is valid as at 2006 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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