Capitol Theatre



The Capitol Theatre, located at the junction of Stamford Road and North Bridge Road, opened in 1930 and was considered one of the finest cinemas of that era.1 Originally owned by the Namazie family,2 Capitol Theatre, along with the four-storey adjoining building then known as Namazie Mansions, was sold to Shaw Organisation after World War II.3 In 1987, the theatre was acquired by the government for conservation. After almost 17 years of dormancy since the last film was screened in 1998, Capitol Theatre officially reopened on 22 May 2015 following a four-year renovation.4

Description
Spanning more than 2,100 sq m, the Capitol Theatre had a neoclassical architecture designed by British architects P. H. Keys and F. Dowdeswell. They drew inspiration from the Roxy Theatre in New York, replicating its seating arrangements, lighting and general plan. Messrs Brossard and Mopin, who were engaged as the builders, began foundation work around July 1929.5 The purchase of the land and construction of the theatre cost $800,000.6

At its opening, the theatre was hailed as having the most modern auditorium with the largest capacity in the Far East. The theatre could accommodate at least 1,600, with 1,100 seated on the ground floor. Another 500 seats were available at the circle that could be accessed via lifts or staircases. The seats were a few inches wider than normal British cinema seats, and the upholstery was supplied by a New York company.7


The Capitol had a large projection room, which was located below the balcony and ran the length of the building instead of being traditionally sited in the rear. It housed the latest Simplex projector and was installed with fireproof protection shutters. Designed expressly for talkies, the theatre’s acoustics and soundproofing were said to be exceptional. Special sound installations costing at least 40,000 Straits dollars were imported from Western Electric Company.8

The theatre’s stage was designed for film as well as stage productions: Changing rooms and organ chambers were built into the theatre, which also featured a multihued lighting system using concealed lamps with a dimmer function. Until the opening of Capitol, multihued lighting had never been used in local theatres. It was said to enhance the look of the silk draping at the stage as when the light fell on the folds of the drapes.9 A journalist at the time described the theatre as “almost too elaborate for a mere cinema”.10

Unlike other cinemas that were decorated simply, the Capitol featured elaborate decorations on its walls and ceilings. The detailing was designed by Messrs Sherwin-Williams Paint Co. in collaboration with local partner Messrs Lohmann and Co. The interior decorations were green and gold, with the golden dome as its highlight. The cinema’s roof could slide open, leaving a 40-foot aperture for ventilation. Besides the floodlit main entrance at the junction of Stamford Road and North Bridge Road, there were two side entrances, one from Stamford Road and the other via North Bridge Road with a carpark space for at least 200 cars.11 The theatre was installed with a ventilation system.12 The iconic Greek zodiac lining the dome and the pair of white Pegasus flanking the stage were only installed in the mid-1960s.13

There were several dining outlets in the theatre building. The main café on the first floor had a dance floor, and adjoining the café was a restaurant. A café lounge was located at the circle. A special cooling room for making French pastries was built in the kitchen on the ground floor.14

During its later years, an arcade from the adjacent Shaws Building (previously known as Namazie Mansions), led to the Capitol cinema. Its walls were plastered with billboards of upcoming shows and between each billboard were mirrors. This passageway was reworked during the renovations of 1992.15

Opening night
Capitol Theatre opened on the evening of 22 May 1930 with the musical comedy, Rio Rita, the film adaptation of a Ziegfeld Follies theatre production and starring Bebe Daniels. Several specially prepared short films were screened to demonstrate the quality of the expensive sound system. These were an overture, “Capitol March”; a cartoon, Finding His Voice, demonstrating the workings of the sound system; and the recorded inaugural announcement by the Capitol’s managing director, Joe Fisher. However, a mechanical fault led to a faulty sound projection during the first screening at 6.15 pm, but this was corrected by the 9.15 pm show.16


Years under the Namazies
Persian businessman, Mohammed Ali Namazie, better known as M. A. Namazie, had commissioned the theatre to be built and formed Capitol Theatres Ltd. to operate it. He served as the company’s chairman with S. A. H. Shirazee as director and Joe Fisher as managing director. The latter had travelled overseas to acquire material for the theatre’s furnishings, decorations and design. Fisher, who became a key figure in the Malayan cinema industry, was also responsible for purchasing films for the theatre.17 Through him, Capitol Theatre gained exclusive first-screening rights for many Paramount and Universal productions, along with exclusive distribution rights for Radio Pictures. The theatre also screened the British Pathé Sound News, as well as a new film every week. The Capitol soon gained a reputation for offering quality programming.18

Soon, however, Capitol faced many issues including financial difficulties. Besides the sudden death of M. A. Namazie in 1931,19 the challenges of the Great Depression in the 1930s coupled with strict censorship laws that led to awkward cuts in dialogues,20 competition also grew in quick succession with other cinemas – such as Victoria Theatre, Alhambra and Bioscope – offering talkies around the time Capitol opened.21

To attract business, Joe and his brother, Julius Fisher, started the Mickey Mouse Club in 1933. Members of the club could watch matinee shows for as little as 25 cents or for free.22 The Fishers also brought in the Marcus Show, a revue with a chorus line of 60 dancing girls. The theatre and its various eateries thus became popular hangouts for the young.23


Close to a decade after its opening, the theatre was revamped. Without closing its doors to business, seats were replaced with new upholstered ones, an air-conditioning system was installed and its vestibule redesigned. Costing $50,000, the refurbishment began in September 1939 and was completed by 31 January 1940. The Wizard of Oz was screened the following day to mark the occasion. Although the changes helped the cinema become more competitive, the onset of the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) threw a spanner in the works.24


Developments during World War II
Before the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), the British forces requisitioned Capitol Theatre as a food depot25 and to screen films to keep morale high. However, the Japanese forces took over the cinema after they landed in Malaya.26 Renamed Kyoei Gekkyo in 1942, it continued screening western films initially, but this was banned after a few months, and thereafter it screened only Japanese or propaganda films.27 An explosion in 1944 severely damaged the facade of the building.28

Postwar developments under Shaw Organisation
In 1946, Shaw Organisation bought over Capitol Theatre and Namazie Mansions, which were then under mortgage to the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, for $3 million. Shaw made Capitol its flagship cinema and renamed the adjoining building Shaws Building.29

A $100,000 rebuilding work was started at the end of 1948, partly to repair what was destroyed by the explosion in 1944. The renovation led to a new restaurant, a ballroom on the first floor, new lifts and an open-air terrace.30


Following its reopening, Capitol hosted the first-ever ice show in Singapore on 31 March 1951 with the Scandinavian Ice Revue.31 A Danish refrigeration engineer was tasked with building an ice rink in the theatre.32 In the 1950s and 60s, Capitol was also the venue for Miss Singapore” or “Miss Malaya beauty pageants.33 A variety show known as “Musical Express” was held at the Capitol in the 1960s, featuring local acts such as singers Rita Chao and Sakura Teng; comedic duo Wang Sa and Ya Fong; and musical group, The Quests.34

However, despite a S$700,000 renovation in 1989, the advent of the multiplex led to a decline in attendance.35 In 1978, Shaw was reported to be putting up Capitol Theatre and Shaws Building for sale, but no deal was reached.36 Thereafter, Shaw revealed plans to redevelop Capitol Theatre and Shaws Building into a commercial and residential complex with a shopping complex and a multiscreen cinema.37 In 1984, however, the government gazetted the two buildings for redevelopment.38 The state then acquired the buildings in 1987, following which Shaw was allowed leased use of the cinema.39

In 1989, the theatre closed for a two-week renovation costing S$700,000 and subsequently reopened with a new sound system and projectors, as well as a fresh coat of paint.40 On 29 December 1998, however, Capitol screened its last movie Soldier, starring Kurt Russell, and was closed indefinitely.41

Tender for redevelopment

In 2000, attempts were made to put up the theatre for conservation and repurposing under the jurisdiction of the Singapore Tourism Board. Despite some interest from theatre groups to lease the space, the cost of refurbishment was exorbitant and thus the cinema languished for almost a decade.42 In 2008, the theatre – together with Stamford House, Capitol Centre (located next to the theatre) and Capitol Building – was offered for sale as a single site, with specifications for conserved renewal.43 Capitol Theatre, Stamford House and Capitol Building were gazetted for conservation in 2007.44

On 27 October 2010, the site spanning the four buildings was awarded to the joint-venture enterprise, Capitol Investment Holdings Pte Ltd. Construction, altogether costing S$750 million, began on 1 February 2011. Richard Meier and Partners Architects were appointed to design a new building as part of a shopping complex-cum-hotel. Their final design involved the demolishment of Capitol Centre and the use of pedestrianised alleys to open up the space around Capitol Theatre, so that events could spill beyond the theatre space.45

Reopening
Capitol Theatre officially reopened on 22 May 2015, almost 17 years since its last film was screened. The opening performance was the US$2-million (S$2.7-million) production,Singapura: The Musical, staged by the 4th Wall Theatre Company.46

Following its refurbishment, the theatre now has 977 seats and is equipped for both theatre productions and film screenings, the only such platform in Singapore. The theatre seats can be rotated, transforming the space into a flat floor in less than eight minutes and thus expanding the range of the events that can be held at the venue.47



Author
Bonny Tan



References
1. Air-conditioned Capitol has 1,000 new seats. (1940, January 31). The Strait Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Today’s opening of The Capitol. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Runme wins damage award. (1956, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Runme wins damage award. (1956, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Khew, C., & Zaccheus, M. (2015, May 23). Nostalgia takes centre stage at iconic theatre. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
5. ‘Sea breezes’ at the Capitol. (1930, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 19; Cinema and theatre. (1929, August 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; Yong, H. (2006, July 2). Capitol downhill. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG..
6. Today’s opening of The Capitol. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cinema and theatre. (1929, August 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Cinema and theatre. (1929, August 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; ‘Sea breezes’ at the Capitol. (1930, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 19; Today’s opening of The Capitol. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. The Capitol. (1929, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 12; Today’s opening of The Capitol. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 16; Cinema and theatre. (1929, August 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; ‘Talkie’ invasion. (1929, December 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The Capitol. (1929, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 12; Cinema and theatre. (1929, August 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; Today’s opening of The Capitol. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Capitol Theatre. (1930, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Cinema and theatre. (1929, August 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; Today’s opening of The Capitol. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 16; ‘Sea breezes’ at the Capitol. (1930, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. The cinema world – Capitol’s cooling system. (1929, August 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 17; ‘Sea breezes’ at the Capitol . (1930, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tong, K. (1998, December 25). Goodbye, Capitol. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. ‘Sea breezes’ at the Capitol . (1930, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Owners unhappy over acquisition of land. (1984, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Powell, R. (1994). Living legacy: Singapore’s architectural heritage renewed. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, p. 194. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 POW)
16. Capitol Theatre – New amusement centre opened. (1930, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 14; Capitol Theatre opening. (1930, May 23). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 10; The critics on ‘Rio Rita.’ R.K.O. – A giant among producers. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Today’s opening of The Capitol. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cinema and theatre. (1929, August 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; S’pore cinema pioneer dies of heart attack in U.S. (1960, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Capitol Theatre to release outstanding films. (1930, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Mr. M. A. Namazie. (1931, July 28). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. What is the future of the talkie. (1931, February 18). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Advent of the talkies. (1929, June 20). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. ‘Talkie’ invasion. (1929, December 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Current cinema chat and comment. (1930, February 15). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Page 7 advertisements column 1. (1937, June 4). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7; Page 7 advertisements column 1. (1937, June 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7; Mouseketeer central. (2007, November 24). The Straits Times, p. 111. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Lee, K. L. (1998, December 31). My fond memories of CapitolThe Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wheeler and Woolsey. (1933, May 27). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Air-conditioned Capitol has 1,000 new seats. (1940, January 31). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. No more shows at Capitol Theatre. (1941, December 20). The Singapore Free and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, J. (Interviewer). Oral history interview with Kartar Singh [MP3 recording no.: 2335/34/13]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
26. Lim, J. (Interviewer). Oral history interview with Kartar Singh [MP3 recording no.: 2335/34/13]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
27. Chan, K. S. (1999, January 8). Capitol screened Japanese movies. The Straits Times, p. 66. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, K. S. (1999, April 3). Thanks, Capitol, for good times. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Lim, J. (Interviewer). Oral history interview with Kartar Singh [MP3 recording no.: 2335/34/6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
29. Real estate deals reach $25 million. (1947, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Runme wins damage award. (1956, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Capitol re-building gets under way. (1948, November 15). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Ice show put off 24 hours. (1951, March 29). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Will build ice rink on stage. (1951, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Singapore Press Holdings. (1962, June 21). Miss Singapore finalists at the Capitol Theatre [Photograph]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Singapore Press Holdings. (1954, June 28). ‘Miss Malaya’ semi-final at the Capitol Theatre [Photograph]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/.
34. Page 4 advertisements column 1. (1967, July 5). The Straits Times, p. 4; Page 4 advertisements column 2. (1967, May 24). The Straits Times, p. 4; Tan, B. B. (1993, August 9). She’s lovelier than ever. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Capitol retains old style. (1989, October 26). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, H. M. (Interviewer). (2005, September 8). Oral history interview with Charlie Khoo [MP3 recording no.: 2961/02/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
36. Capitol Building and Shaw Tower to be sold. (1978, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Wang, L. K. (1983, July 12). Government to preserve two old buildings in town. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Capitol Theatre acquired by the govt. (1984, February 24). Singapore Monitor, p. 3; Owners unhappy over acquisition of land. (1984, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 12; Idah Latiff. (1981, March 23). Capitol row hearings start in July. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Lee, H. S. (1988, December 13). Capitol cinema acquired by govt. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Capitol retains old style. (1989, October 26). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Tay, K. (1998, December 25). Goodbye, CapitolThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Yong, H. (2006, July 2). Capitol downhill. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Tan, D. W. (2008, April 27). Wanted: New ‘director’ for Capitol Theatre. The Straits Times, p. 12; Teo, X. (2008, December 18). Curtain to rise on Capitol, after all. Today, p. 1; Fernandez, W. (2008, April 20). Unwanted child of S’pore conservation?The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Capitol Theatre, Capitol Building and Stamford House. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/Conservation-Portal/Explore/History.aspx?bldgid=SRNBR
45. Tng, S. (2011, February). New lifestyle. Skyline, 17–19. (Call no.: RSING 354.5957091 S); Tng, S. (2011, May–June). Capitol sale site. Skyline, 6–7. (Call no.: RSING 354.5957091 S); Chow, C. (2011, February 14). Capitol site renaissance. The Edge Singapore, CC4–CC5. (Call no.: RSING 338.7095957 ES)
46. Tan, C. (2015, February 11). Singapura: The Musical to open at newly-refurbished Capitol Theatre in May. The Straits Times; Back in the spotlight. (2015, May 23). The Straits Times; Khew, C., & Zaccheus, M. (2015, May 23). Nostalgia takes centre stage at iconic theatre. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
47. Zachariah, N. A., & Lee, J. X. (2015, May 16). Upcoming musicals and films at the Capitol Theatre. The Straits Times; Capitol Theatre to re-open: 10 things about the new Capitol Singapore. (2015, May 11). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.




Further resources
Abul Fazil. (1967, April 12). Worked at cinema 38 years, never saw a show. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Cheow, X. Y. (2008, June 20). A Capitol idea. Today, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Goh, Y. L. (1985, November 26). Shaw group hopes to be third time lucky. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Hong, X. (2009, April 3). Capitol Theatre slated for redevelopment. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Koh, J. (1988, March 12). Civic centre plan unveiled. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lum, Y. M. M. (1999, January 15). How to turn Capitol into an arts centre. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Ong, C. (2014, April 3). Capitol Theatre to re-open next year as part of new $1.1b Capitol Singapore project. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

Opening of Malaya’s premier picture palace – The Capitol Theatre, Singapore. (1930, May 31). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Page 2 advertisements column 4. (1941, October 1). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Page 7 advertisements column 1. (1935, January 30). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Page 11 advertisements column 2. (1932, August 4). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Quek, E. (2015, April 5). Capitol Theatre is next foodie draw. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

Quek, E. (2015, July 19). Feasting in the City: Capitol Theatre. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

Teo, J. (2008, June 20). Capitol site and two new growth areas up for sale. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The Capitol Theatre. (1930, May 17). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The Capitol Theatre. (1930, May 22). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tong, K. (1999, January 8). Get reel, multi screens rule. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Untitled. (1930, October 18). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Zachariah, N. A. (2015, Jan 24). New Capitol Singapore will be a green urban haven with water walls and themed gardens. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 31 December 2015 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. 

Subject
Arts>>Theatre
Arts
Commercial buildings
Streets and Places
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Leisure and entertainment
Motion picture theaters--Singapore
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