Remembering the old Queensway Cinema

Elizabeth Soh
·Elizabeth Soh
The crumbling mosaic-tiled facade of Queenstown Cinema (Photo courtesy of Valence Sim)
The crumbling mosaic-tiled facade of Queenstown Cinema (Photo courtesy of Valence Sim)

Built in 1977, Queensway Cinema was one of the most popular places in Singapore in the late 80s.

With its two screens, two movie halls and 1,715 seats – revolutionary for its time – Queensway Cinema would bustle with life every night as long queues of dating teenagers and families stood in line for tickets to their favourite movies.

Besides housing a movie theatre, the Queensway Centre also adjoined an 18-lane bowling alley, fast food restaurants and private karaoke lounges.

The bowling alley, in particular, would attract residents and students from secondary schools nearby eager to show off their prowess at knocking pins down, and was always crowded.

The Cinema was also one of the first cinemas to incorporate sound-proofing by using wood-wool slabs, acoustic ceiling boards and carpeting. Seats in the cinema were arranged hexagonally so cinema-goers could watch the movies with minimal obstruction.

When it finally closed in 1999, it marked the end of an era for a generation of cinema-goers and nearby residents while remaining indelibly present in their memories growing up.

For local documentary photographer Valence Sim, Queensway Cinema and Centre held a special significance – he used to bowl regularly at the alleys and spend his afternoons as a teenager chowing down fried chicken at KFC after catching a movie.

“I realized that many old buildings I grew up with are being torn down, especially in the past couple of years,” said Sim, 31, who stayed nearby.

The crumbling mosaic-tiled facade of Queenstown Cinema (Photo courtesy of Valence Sim)
The crumbling mosaic-tiled facade of Queenstown Cinema (Photo courtesy of Valence Sim)

“I remember that the price of one ticket was only S$4 back then. I was informed by friends about the demolition of the cinema recently and I hope to capture the last glory before this wonderful building is gone for good.”

Together with local filmmaker Royston Tan, Sim ventured into the crumbling, nostalgic remains of Queensway Cinema and Centre to take photos and footage for posterity, even as demolition crews work to bring down the last of the colorful, garish mosaic tiles which make up it's facade.

Taking the photographs was an emotional experience for Sim. At the site, he met the construction foreman, who shared that he had also been a regular movie-goer at the Cinema and that he was sad to see the place ago.

Local photographer Sim captures filmmaker Royston Tan in this ghostly shot in Queenstown Cinema (Photo courtesy of Valence Sim)
Local photographer Sim captures filmmaker Royston Tan in this ghostly shot in Queenstown Cinema (Photo courtesy of Valence Sim)

“It was almost pitch dark. Rows and rows of cinema seats remained there, though dusty was still in pristine condition. I wondered how many people have one time or another sat here to be entertained. As compared with the modern day cinemas, there’s nothing to be wowed about, but back in those days, it was considered a luxury to go to the cinema,” mused Sim.

“On the wall, there are still wordings and instructions left behind by the management of the cinema to operators about what to do and what not to do. The dates were during June 1999, which is almost exactly 14 years ago. The movie that was screening then was “Liang Po Po”, a local production by Jack Neo.”

Memories also came flooding back for Sim as he saw the hand-stapled posters and the sliding ladders cinema staff used to fasten them to the manual billboards.
“After putting up the photos, I was touched by many who have shared with me their stories with this place as they were growing up. I’m sure there are many stories to be told of this place and I hope that we can compile these stories,” said Sim.

Check out our slideshow of Sim's nostalgic photos here

What are your memories of the Queensway Cinema and Bowling Centre?