Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall
The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall (VTCH) along Empress Place is Singapore's oldest performing arts venue. Gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992, the VTCH comprises two blocks of building constructed more than 43 years apart, in 1862 and 1905, and joined by a clock tower. The present theatre and concert hall were originally known as the Town Hall and Victoria Memorial Hall respectively. Historically they were both used for functions ranging from public events and political meetings to musical and stage performances. The space has undergone a series of renovations over the years, the most recent being a four-year restoration, following which the VTCH was reopened to the public in July 2014.
The foundation stone for the Town Hall was laid in 1855, after the Assembly Rooms – a popular venue for local dramas and operas, located at the site of the Old Hill Street Police Station from 1845 to 1846 – fell into disrepair. Designed by John Bennett, the municipal engineer, the Town Hall was completed in 1862. In addition to various government agencies, the space housed the Singapore Library from 1862 to 1876. The Town Hall originally served a dual function with a theatre on its ground floor and offices and meeting rooms on its second floor. However, with a growing administration and an increasing population requiring entertainment, it eventually proved too small for both functions. By 1893, the offices had moved out.
At a public meeting held in the Town Hall on 13 December 1901, a resolution was passed to build a memorial hall for Queen Victoria, who had passed away on 22 January 1901. The following year, after deliberation by a select committee, it was decided that the memorial hall would be built on the land adjacent to the Town Hall. The original design was drawn up by the colonial engineer Alexander Murray, with R. A. J. Bidwell of architectural firm Swan & Maclaren expanding on it and executing the final plans. The memorial hall was designed in the Palladian style, which was popular in 19th-century Singapore, and would be joined to the Town Hall by a clock tower. The colonial government led a fund-raising scheme for the construction work, raising $368,000. The Victoria Memorial Hall, which cost $340,000, was opened on 18 October 1905 by then Governor John Anderson.
The 54-metre clock tower joining the two blocks was not completed until 1906. This was partly because the sponsoring company, The Straits Trading Company, was delayed in its donation of the clock and chimes. The clock has a diameter of 4 m, weighs a tonne and cost $6,000.
The extra cash from the construction funds for the Memorial Hall was used to convert the Town Hall into a new municipal theatre and renovate its facade so as to maintain a look consistent with that of the new Memorial Hall. Swan & Maclaren produced the design, and renovation works began in July 1906. By May 1908, construction had nearly completed. Renamed Victoria Theatre, its opening performance was a staging of The Pirates of Penzance on 11 February 1909.
For the centennial celebrations in 1919 to commemorate 100 years since the founding of Singapore, the statue of Stamford Raffles was moved from the Padang to the front of Victoria Memorial Hall. A special colonnade with a pool was raised to house the statue.
The Victoria Memorial Hall has played a critical role in Singapore's political landscape. During the early stages of World War II, it served as a hospital; at the war's conclusion, it was the location for the trial of Japanese war criminals after their surrender. From 1948, the Hall was also the centre for the briefing of election officials and the counting of ballot papers. On 21 November 1954, the newly formed People’s Action Party used it for their inaugural meeting.
Between 1952 and 1958, the buildings underwent major renovations with the interiors restructured so that air-conditioning and soundproofing could be added. In 1979, the Victoria Memorial Hall was renovated again, with a gallery added to bring the total seating capacity to 937. With this extensive renovation, the Victoria Memorial Hall was renamed Victoria Concert Hall. It has since been the home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO).
In June 2010, the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall was closed for major renovations costing S$158-million and undertaken by local firm W Architects. The VTCH, whose facade was retained, reopened on 15 July 2014 with a performance by the SSO to mark the occasion. The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall will be fully operational from 2015.
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The information in this article is valid as at 11 September 2014 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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