Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall
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The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, along Empress Place, are two separate buildings built more than 40 years apart and joined by a Clock Tower. Also known as the Town Hall and the Victoria Memorial Hall, respectively, they have long been a meeting place for Singaporeans, for various functions ranging from political meetings to musical and stage performances. The Town Hall once housed various government services, including serving as the home for the Singapore Library (later renamed Raffles Library and Museum) from 1862 to 1876. The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall were gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992.
The foundation stone for the Town Hall was laid in 1855 after the older Assembly Rooms, where local dramas and operas were held, fell into disrepair. Designed by John Bennett, the municipal engineer, the Town Hall was completed in 1862. Originally, it 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 Town Hall was to be incorporated into the design. This task was executed by R. A. J. Bidwell of Swan & Maclaren. The design is considered Palladian in style, a common style for 19th century British Singapore.
The colonial government led a fund-raising scheme for the construction work, raising $368,000 with $28,000 to spare. The extra cash was used to refurbish the theatre in the Town Hall and to unify the facades of the two buildings. The Victoria Memorial Hall was opened on 18 October 1905 by Governor Sir John Anderson, with the Town Hall renamed the Victoria Theatre.
The 54m Clock Tower joining the two buildings 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 itself has a 4m diameter, weighs a tonne and cost $6,000. Opening night on 11 February 1909 featured an amateur version of The Pirates of Penzance.
For the Centennial celebrations in 1919, the statue of Sir 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 and, 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 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 the Victoria Concert Hall. It has since been the home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO).
In June 2010, the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall were closed for major renovations. The S$180-million refurbishment is being undertaken by W Architects. The buildings, whose facades will be retained, will reopen in 2013. Until then, the SSO will perform at other venues such as the Esplanade.
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(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 RES)
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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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