The History of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall finally reopened on 15 July 2014 following a four-year refurbishment. The two impressive buildings have not always just been venues for the performing arts. As some of the oldest buildings to exist today, they have been the sites of some of the most monumental events in Singapore’s history.
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall have served as a library facility for the Singapore Library (later Raffles Library), a memorial for Queen Victoria, a hospital during the Japanese Occupation, and even a trial court for war crimes. It was however first built in 1862 as a town hall. The town hall occasionally hosted performances as the building had two large halls on each of its first two floors. The municipal offices moved out from the town hall by 1893.
When Queen Victoria passed away in 1901, the colonial government decided to add a hall to the existing town hall in her remembrance. The new building was constructed in the same architectural style in 1905 and christened Victoria Memorial Hall. The town hall was then renamed Victoria Theatre. The iconic 54-metre high clock tower was completed a year later in 1906.
The buildings survived air raids during the Second World War and later acted as a hospital facility during the Japanese Occupation. After the war, it was the place of trial for some war criminals like the Old Supreme Court nearby.
Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall was also a site of political milestones. The People’s Action Party was officially launched at the Memorial Hall on 21 November 1954. During the inauguration, the hall was filled with students, supporters and union members. Nine members of the People’s Action Party were elected into their Central Executive Committee with Toh Chin Chye as chairman and Lee Kuan Yew as secretary-general.
Zubir Said’s original Majulah Singapura was also performed for the first time at Victoria Theatre in 1958. It was intended to be a theme song for the City Council’s official functions and was performed by the Singapore Chamber Ensemble as a concert item to mark the reopening of the refurbished Victoria Theatre. Majulah Singapura would later be amended to the version that became Singapore’s National Anthem.
Singapore’s first television station was also launched at Victoria Memorial Hall. Television Singapura was launched on 15 February 1963 and thousands of Singaporeans had gathered at the building to witness the first pictures and sounds appear onto 17 television sets.
Victoria Theatre and Memorial underwent another round of renovation in 1979 and was renamed the current Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. It became home to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and an established venue for more concerts, musicals and plays.
Many firsts have occurred at Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, just as how they have been the scenes of some of the most important milestones in Singapore’s history. As we wind back the clock and marvel at the grand history of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, let us remember how far we have come as a nation and look ahead.