New World Park

Opened in 1923, New World Park, an amusement park, was a popular nighttime haunt in Singapore from the 1920s to the ’60s. It was the first of three renowned amusement parks known as the “Worlds”, the other two being Great World and Gay World. New World was located between Jalan Besar, Kitchener Road, Serangoon Road and Petain Road.1 In its heyday, New World had open-air cinemas, cabarets, opera halls, shops and restaurants. It was the oldest amusement park in Singapore when it closed in 1987.

Development
In 1923, businessman Ong Boon Tat and his younger brother Ong Peng Hock set up New World Park under the company Ong Sam Leong & Company Limited.2 New World was opened with the aim of providing affordable and wholesome entertainment for the masses. Shaw Brothers initially owned a 50-percent share of the Park, but bought out its partners in the 1930s.3

New World was officially opened on 1 August 1923 by prominent Straits Chinese businessman Lee Choon Guan. In the beginning, it featured amusement rides such as the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, while there were also cinemas and boxing matches.In the 1930s, New World was expanded with new attractions.5 Before the advent of New World, night entertainment in Singapore was only accessible to the Europeans and wealthy individuals.By the late 1930s, New World was patronised by the wealthy and the poor, with visitors of all ethnicities.7

Description
New World Park was famous for its cabarets, Chinese and Malay opera halls, shops, restaurants, open-air cinemas, boxing arenas and shooting galleries.8 Within three months of its opening, New World had hosted 16 first-class boxing contests, wrestling matches, variety shows and operas. Within two years, New World’s City Opera was hailed as the best in Malaya.9


Singapore’s first public cabaret opened in New World Park on 19 December 1929, with vaudeville artists and 30 dancing partners who were “the cream of Manila” and personally recruited by Ong Peng Hock.10 The park also screened Singapore’s first open-air talkie (theatre screening movies with soundtrack, as opposed to silent movies) in 1930. The following year, on Boxing Day, New World launched its boxing stadium. The amusement park’s imposing entrance at Jalan Besar, illuminated with neon lights and animators, was installed in 1932.11

A new cabaret costing $290,000 was completed in 1938, featuring air-conditioning, an octagonal floor and a revolving stage. It was Singapore’s first air-conditioned cabaret.12 A dollar would buy patrons three foxtrots or waltzes with cheongsam-clad “taxi dancers”.13 Due to its large dance floor, 500 couples could dance comfortably at a time. The cabarets, which were highly raved about, remained popular until the 1950s.14

The Bunga Tanjong dance hall attracted the lovers of joget (modern Malay dance).15 Patrons could buy a dance with a taxi-dancer for 50 cents for one joget or opt to dance the ronggeng (traditional Malay dance), cha-cha or rumba accompanied by a band of Malay musicians.16 On some nights, Bunga Tanjong could pack up to 500 people. The popularity of the dance hall also inspired acclaimed playwright A. Samad Said to write a play on the life of a cabaret girl, entitled Lantai T. Pinkie (T. Pinkie’s Floor).17

New World Park had a number of venues for Chinese opera performances. It had two locations for Peking opera: Bajiao Ting (Octagonal Pavilion) and an indoor stage named Wa Wutai (Great Stage). It had one for Fujian opera and another one for Chaozhou opera called Bai Lao Hui, which frequently presented Lau Sai Thor Guan Teochew Wayang, one of the most popular Chaozhou opera troupes in Singapore. Cantonese opera was performed at Riguang Tai (Sunshine Stage), which was said to be its biggest theatre.18

New World featured performances by famed personalities. Wrestling matches, for example, starred the famous Hungarian wrestler, King Kong.19 Rose Chan, known as the “undisputed Queen of Strip”, performed Singapore’s first striptease show at New World’s Fong Fong Café in 1949.20 She also wrestled pythons and bent iron bars with her neck during her shows.21 New World was where Sakura Teng (樱花), a well-known 1970s Malaysian songbird, launched her musical career at the age of 17.22 Other famous acts at New World included strongman Mat Tarzan (Ali Ahmad) and boxer Felix Boy (S. Sinniah).23

The restaurants at New World Park served Cantonese and Western cuisines.24 Restaurants like Chui Choon Yuen25 were also popular locations for matchmakers to introduce prospective marriage partners and for wedding banquets.26

Another form of entertainment found at the three “Worlds” was getai (literally “song stage” in Mandarin). In its history, about 22 getais operated in New World.27 Unique to Malaya, getai had started off as “beer gardens” and Japanese restaurants with musicians during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45).28 The first getai in Singapore is believed to be Da Ye Hui (大夜会) at New World Park,29 which began during the war.30 Due to the success of Da Ye Hui, the trend of getai caught on, leading to more getais opening in the other amusement parks.31 Besides singing, getai also featured skits, dances and plays. While admission was free, audience members had to purchase drinks.32

New World was also where the first Malay singing café in Singapore, Terang Bulan, was opened in 1953, named after the famous song “Moon over Malaya”. Its draws were performances by popular Malay artistes like Nona Asiah and S. Roomai Noor.33

During the Japanese Occupation, New World Park was renamed Shin Segai and reopened to the public on 19 November 1942.34 It was converted into a gambling farm opened only to civilians and not Japanese soldiers.35 At the time, gambling was banned islandwide save for certain gambling stalls in New World and Great World.36

After the war, New World resumed as an amusement park, with a new open-air stadium37 and cabaret dance hall in 1947 to replace the original one that was destroyed by Japanese bombing.38 Business at New World and other entertainment venues in Singapore soared in the 1950s due to the boom in rubber and tin prices, which led to higher incomes.39

Closure
New World Park faded from the night scene after the 1960s, along with the other “Worlds”. Their decline was possibly due to the availability of alternative entertainment options such as radios, which had become more affordable to the masses, increased accessibility to television sets, shopping centres, discos and nightclubs.40

By the 1970s, New World was a shadow of its former self, consisting mostly of shops, with some entertainment venues like cinemas, performance stage and dance hall still open.41 Daily visitorship had dropped to about 2,000 to 3,000 people on a weekday and 5,000 on weekends.42 To woo the crowds, New World held more trade fairs, exhibitions and carnivals, which reportedly attracted 20,000 to 30,000 visitors daily.43  Despite this, by the 1980s, even the three cinemas – Grand, Pacific and State – were closed.44

In 1987, City Developments Limited (CDL) bought the four-hectare plot on which New World sat.45 The site today is occupied by City Square Mall and City Square Residences.46 The front gate of New World Park was reconstructed and situated at City Green, a public park near the main entrance to City Square Mall.47



Authors

Marsita Omar & Goh Lee Kim



References
1. National Heritage Board, Jalan Besar: A Heritage Trail (Singapore: National Heritage Board, 2006), 11. (Call no. RSING 959.57 JAL-[HIS])
2. The company was named after their father, Ong Sam Leong. “Motion Adjourned,” Malaya Tribune, 13 April 1939, 5; Eisen Teo, “A Walk Down a Big Road,” Straits Times, 17 July 2012, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 200 (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); “Amusement Parks” Great World and New World,” Shaw Organisation, n.d.
4. “New Entertainment Centre,” Straits Times, 2 August 1923, 10; “Singapore’s New Playground,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 27 April 1937, 1; "Xin shijie de gushi" 新世界的故事 [new world story], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 26 October 1996, 76. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “A New World Takes Shape,” New Nation, 12 June 1975, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Relive Colourful Life of New World,”Straits Times, 10 April 2015, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Singapore’s New Playground.”
8. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 200; Jeman Sulaiman, “Bunga Tanjong: Once the Fun Seekers’ Haven,” Straits Times, 3 August 1988, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Development of the New World,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 8 October 1935, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Development of the New World.”
11. “New World Takes Shape.”
12. “Singapore’s Latest  Cabaret,” Straits Times, 15 May 1938, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Lee Kip Lee, “New World Has Colourful History,” Business Times, 6 February 2004, 14 (From NewspaperSG); J. Rudolph, “Amusement in the Three ‘Worlds’,” in Looking at Culture, et al. ed. Sanjay Krishnan (Singapore: Artres Design & Communications, 1996), 26 (Call no. RSING 306.095957 LOO); Shaw Organisation, Great World and New World.”
14. Phan Ming Yen, “Three Worlds and a Time When Life Was a Cabaret,” Straits Times, 9 June 1995, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Rudolph, “Amusement in the Three ‘Worlds’,” 25.
15. Rudolph, “Amusement in the Three ‘Worlds’,” 27; Shaw Organisation, “Great World and New World.”
16. Sulaiman, “Bunga Tanjong.”
17. Sew Jyh Wee, “Drama Jaya Papar Tragedy Cinta,” Berita Harian, 13 June 1996, 7; Marliana Abu Bakar, “A New Woman Dances into Samad Said’s World,” Straits Times, 6 May 1996, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Tong Soon Lee, Chinese Street Opera in Singapore (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 33–34 (Call no. RSING 782.1095957 LEE); Chan Kwee Sung, “Worlds of Fun and Games,” Straits Times, 12 June 2000, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Pete, “Wrestling at the New World To-Night,” Malaya Tribune, 10 December 1938, 14; “Chairs, Stones for Kong,” Singapore Standard, 23 April 1951, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Rudolph, “Amusement in the Three ‘Worlds’,” 28–29.
21. “When Three Parks Ruled Singapore’s Night Life,” Straits Times, 25 March 1990, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Charissa Feng, “Whatever Happened to... Sakura Teng?” Straits Times, 9 February 2005, 6; Gwendolyn Ng, “Sakura Teng Says Goodbye,” Straits Times, 25 December 2013, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
23. National Heritage Board, Jalan Besar: A Heritage Trail, 13.
24. Shaw Organisation, “Great World and New World.”
25. “Restaurant No Longer a Matchmaking Venue,” Straits Times, 19 January 1996, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Peter Holden, “At Home in the Worlds,” in Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity, ed. Ryan Bishop, John Phillips, and Wei-Wei Yeo (London: Routledge, 2004), 89 (Call no. RSING 307.1216095957 BEY); “Restaurant No Longer a Matchmaking Venue,” Straits Times, 19 January 1996, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Wang Zhenchun 王振春, Xinjiapo ge tai shihua 新加坡歌台史话 [Singapore Getai History] (Singapore: Singapore Youth Book Company, 2006), 68. (Call no. Chinese RSING 792.7095957 WZC)
28. Hsuan Tsung, “The Chinese Stage and Screen,” Straits Times, 21 September 1952, 14; “Ko Ting,” New Nation, 13 October 1971, 9; E. Leong, “The Jap Corporal Who Called the Tune,” Singapore Free Press, 20 March 1951, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Wang Zhenchun, Xinjiapo ge tai shihua, 3–5; Li Jinquan 李金泉, “Ge tai de jueqi yu moluo” 歌台的崛起与没落 [The rise and fall of Getai], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商, 22 August 1974, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Li Jinquan, “Ge tai de jueqi yu moluo”; “Page Advertisements Column 3,” Syonan Shimbun, 7 March 1944, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Mo Meiyan 莫美颜, “Ge tai, wu ‘xie’le!” 歌台,舞“谢”了! [Getai, dance ‘thank you’! Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 22 May 1988, 50. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Fu Hsi, “Pretty Girls, Songs, Dance and Comedy,” Singapore Free Press, 26 February 1953, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Malay Stars in a Night Cafe,” Singapore Free Press, 22 October 1953, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “Former Capitol and New World Park Open to Big Crowds,” Syonan Shimbun, 21 November 1942, 4; “Page 3 Advertisements Column 4,” Syonan Shimbun, 18 November 1942, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Lee, “New World Has Colourful History”; Rudolph, “Amusement in the Three ‘Worlds’,” 29–30; Chan, “Worlds of Fun and Games.”
36. “Gambling to Be Restricted to Two Amusement Parks Only,” Syonan Shimbun, 10 August 1944, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “Stadium for New World,” Straits Times, 30 October 1947, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “New World to Have New Cabaret,” Malaya Tribune, 19 November 1947, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
39. “Colony Goes Gay in the Boom,” Straits Times, 15 April 1951, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Rudolph, “Amusement in the Three ‘Worlds’,” 30–31; “When Three Parks Ruled Singapore’s Night Life.”
41. Geraldine Heng, “Oh, So Many Worlds Apart!” New Nation, 13 July 1976, 10–11. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “Providing for Family Fun,” New Nation, 8 June 1972, 11; “$500,000 Revue Hall for New World,” New Nation, 12 March 1975, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
43. “Providing for Family Fun”; “Goods and Games Galore,” New Nation, 3 February 1975, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
44. Helen Chia, “The End of a World,” Straits Times, 8 July 1987, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
45. Chia, “End of a World”; “Church Loses Bid to Buy New World Land,” Straits Times, 22 May 1987, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
46. “People and Places – City Green: Family Fun at a Unique Eco-Park,” NParks Buzz 3, no. 10 (2011); Kalpana Rashiwala, “CityDev’s Kitchener Project to Start in Q4,” Business Times, 29 January 2004, 8; “New World Park’s Original Gate to Front New Park,” Straits Times, 14 April 2005, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
47. Tay Suan Ching, “Gate to New World,” Straits Times, 28 January 2011, 3. (From NewspaperSG)



The information in this article is valid as at 
July 2020 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
Amusement parks--Singapore--History--20th century
Places of interest