10 Facts About The Cathay Cineplex at Handy Road, 1 of the Oldest Cinemas in S’pore That’s Closing Soon


Growing up, everyone probably has a memory or two tied to the The Cathay Cineplex in Handy Road—

But it’s time to bid au revoir to the cinema on 26 June.

According to The Straits Times, the cinema will be closed as part of the “cost rationalisation process” for mm2 Asia’s cinema operations.

So before it goes, here are ten facts to celebrate The Cathay Cineplex and its rich history at Handy Road.

Behind Cathay was Associated Theatres Ltd

The masterminds behind Cathay was Associated Theatres Ltd, a family-run film business headed by Mrs Loke Cheng Kim.

The organisation was only renamed later to Cathay Organisation Pte Ltd in 1959 when the cinema business continued to prosper for the family.

Founded by Son of Influential Tycoon

The cinema operations were first established by the Cathay Organisation and founder Dato Loke Wan Tho.

Tho was known as the youngest son of businessman Loke Yew (1845 – 1917).

Yew was known as an ambitious person and played a key role in the development of Kuala Lumpur.

Tho was only two years old when his father passed on. Later, between 1947 to the 1950s, Tho propelled the expansion of the family’s film business as an adult.

Join our Telegram channel for more entertaining and informative articles at https://t.me/goodyfeedsg or download the Goody Feed app here: https://goodyfeed.com/app/

This includes the running of cinemas, film studios, and film distribution arms by Cathay Organisation from 1959.

Cinema in Operation since 1939

The establishment opened its doors on 3 October 1939 with 1,321 seats in the cinema.

It was Singapore’s first public space equipped with air-conditioning and decorated with black marble pillars, green-tiled floors, and gold ceilings.

The opening film for the cinema was a British adventure film Four Feathers starring Ralph Richardson and C. Audrey smith.

Tallest Building in Singapore

At one point, the building housing the cinema was also dubbed as the highest building in Singapore and Southeast Asia in 1939.

The building was designed by architect, Frank Brewer from Swan & Maclaren—one of the oldest architectural firms in Singapore.


Used as Landmark for Pilots

Given that it was at one point, the tallest building in Singapore, pilots also used the building housing the Cathay Cineplex as a landmark for them as a final approach before landing.

This means the building was used as a marker for pilots to get lined up with the runway and begin their descent for landing.

Key Property During World War 2

But many are unaware that in 1941, the cinema was one of the few entertainment venues running as war approached Singapore.

The cinema continued to show movies even when the movie crowd decreased due to the war.

As the war got closer, the main building of The Cathay was rented out to the government and war departments such as as the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation and Royal Airforce.


War Broadcast Updates Came from Studios in Building

When the Japanese troops increased their attacks on Singapore, updates on their advances came from the studios located in the Cathay building.

During this period, the cinema was hit by at least 14 shells on February 1942.

It was also turned into a Red Cross casualty station.

Brief Takeover by Japanese Forces

The surrender of Singapore by the British led to the brief takeover of the building’s broadcasting facilities by the Japanese Broadcasting Department.

Screenings were held occasionally for the public with existing stock in the storerooms.

The fourth-floor preview theatre inside the cinema screened American movies only for Japanese officers.


Conversion into Hotel and Cinema after War

When the Japanese surrendered, the building was later returned to founder Loke Wan Tho who converted the space into a hotel and a cinema.

(Essentially, they took ‘Netflix and Chill’ to another level before us.)

The hotel was named the Cathay Hotel which opened in 1954 starting with 60 rooms before expanding to 170 rooms. It was dubbed as a hot spot for celebrities to meet, tourists, and families.

The hotel also had a nightclub, restaurant, swimming pool, and shopping arcade.

Had a Drive-In Cinema

The Cathay Organisation also set up Singapore’s first and only drive-in cinema.


The drive-in cinema started in 1971 and was the largest in Asia as it consists of a 5.6-hectare site with 899 speaker stands, 300 seats for walk-in customers at the gallery, and the screen was elevated 7.6 meters from the ground.

Read Also:

Featured Image: The Cathay & Google (Bing Xuan Ho)