New World Park

by Marsita Omar

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. (2006). Jalan Besar: A heritage trail. Singapore: National Heritage Board, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 JAL-[HIS])
2. The company was named after their father, Ong Sam Leong. Motion adjourned. (1939, April 13). The Malaya Tribune, p. 5; Teo, E. (2012, July 17). A walk down a big roadThe Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 200. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Shaw Organisation. (n.d.). Amusement parks: Great World and New World. Retrieved from Shaw Theatres website: https://www.shaw.sg/About/4-amusementparks.html
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15. Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusement in the three “worlds”. In S. Krishnan, et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture (pp. 21–33). Singapore: Artres Design & Communications, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO); Shaw Organisation. (n.d.). Amusement parks: Great World and New World. Retrieved from Shaw Theatres website: https://www.shaw.sg/About/4-amusementparks.html
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35. Lee, K. L. (2004, February 6). New World has colourful historyThe Business Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusement in the three “worlds”. In S. Krishnan, et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture (pp. 21–33). Singapore: Artres Design & Communications, pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO); Chan, K. S. (2000, June 12). Worlds of fun and gamesThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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44. Chia, H. (1987, July 8). The end of a WorldThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Chia, H. (1987, July 8). The end of a WorldThe Straits Times, p. 2; Church loses bid to buy New World land. (1987, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.\
46. National Parks Board. (2011). People and places – City Green: Family fun at a unique eco-park10(3). Retrieved from My Green Space website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/mygreenspace/issue-10-vol-3-2011/lifestyle/people-and-places/city-green-family-fun-at-a-unique-eco-park/; Rashiwala, K. (2004, January 29). CityDev’s Kitchener project to start in Q4The Business Times, p. 8; New World Park’s original gate to front new park. (2005, April 14). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Tay, S. C. (2011, January 28). Gate to New WorldThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved 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
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Leisure and entertainment
Recreation>>Places of Interest
Places of interest