Old meets new at Golden Mile Tower

Old meets new at Golden Mile Tower
Golden Mile Tower is sandwiched between Golden Mile Complex (left) and The Concourse in Beach Road. Built in the “brutalist” style common in the 1970s, the complex features an exposed concrete exterior.

MANY of the shops are shuttered, and the paint is peeling, but the remaining eateries and KTV lounges in Golden Mile Tower carry on business as usual.

However, since late last year, a different kind of crowd has been turning up at the tower, adding a new shine to a complex that has been around since 1973.

With lattes and film brochures in hand, the well-heeled visitors take the lift to the fifth floor to what used to be the Golden Theatre, now home to independent arthouse cinema, The Projector.

The Projector occupies two halls on the fifth floor, renamed the Green Room and the RedRum.

The Green Room is a 220-seat cinema hall, and the RedRum - "murder" when reflected in the mirror a la Stanley Kubrick's 1979 movie The Shining - is a multi-purpose space seating 150.

Officially launched in January, The Projector was conceptualised by Pocket Projects, a development consultancy specialising in adapting old areas for reuse.

Its founder, Ms Karen Tan, 34, was tipped off about the availability of the cinema halls by Mr Randy Chan, principal of Zarch Collaboratives, an architecture firm on the fourth floor of the building.

Her team saw the potential to offer a different experience from other cinemas, by creating a space for people to watch films and meet like-minded people.

Her sister, Ms Sharon Tan, 30, a former urban planner with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, is now manager of The Projector.

"We chose this area because we're interested in 'problematic areas', and wanted to make old areas relevant, where people could enjoy themselves and not feel adverse about it," she said.

She cited a previous project, The Lorong 24A Shophouse Series, where they restore shophouses in Geylang, notorious for being a red-light district.

Golden Mile Tower, too, had a whiff of the disreputable, as anchor tenant Golden Theatre used to screen adult films in addition to Chinese blockbusters.

Launched by Chong Gay Theatres in 1973, Golden was the biggest cinema here when it opened with 1,500 seats.

In the 1990s, the main hall was split into three halls.

These days, the single-hall 1,000-seat Golden Digital Theatre on the third floor shows Hindi and Tamil films, while The Projector screens films curated by Mr Gavin Low of Luna Films daily.

There is a mix of indie, foreign, local and classic films, plus cult favourites.

The redesign of The Projector, which was handled by FARM, a cross-disciplinary practice, has kept many elements of the past.

These can be seen in the old signage of the two halls, Golden 1 and 2, and the coloured wall fabric in the cinemas - all kept mostly untouched.

The seats have been reupholstered but their old numbers and steel frames, with chipped paint, remain.

Ms Sharon Tan explained: "We didn't want the place to look brand new, just refreshed."

The new cinema has attracted many film buffs to the boxy building, which has the "brutalist" style of architecture common in the 1970s, featuring an exposed concrete exterior.

Many might not have previously noticed the 24-storey tower, usually overshadowed by Golden Mile Complex next door, known as "Little Thailand" for its numerous Thai restaurants, massage parlours and supermarkets.

Mr Andrew Ang, 21, an undergraduate who saw a movie at The Projector during the Singapore International Film Festival last December, said: "I was watching a film called As You Were, which featured its characters being transported back in time, and I felt the same way watching it in such a historic location."

While The Projector has made the building hip, the new crowd has not led to increased takings for businesses there.

Some were not even aware of the new tenant.

Mr Yong Guan Heng, who is in his late 60s and the owner of Loong Siang Coffee House, said: "There has been no change in business. I didn't even know about the new cinema."

The eateries rely on their regular customers, mostly office workers, to get by.

Golden Mile Tower has a deserted feel. Most shops are shuttered, the owners having moved out or not opening regularly.

One tenant, whose shop is open regularly and who has been there since 1974, is Mr Steven Aw, owner of Happy Philatelic Agency.

His basement shop is full of collectibles such as the first stamp issued in the world, the British 1840 Penny Black.

"This place has remained largely unchanged, but has gone a bit downward recently, due to other owners renting out their shops to other tenants. They don't take care of the place, and throw rubbish everywhere," said Mr Aw, who is in his late 60s.

Ms Shinn Teo, 24, a hotel company executive, has frequented the popular Golden Mile Thien Kee Steamboat Restaurant in the basement for almost 10 years.

Her family eats there often as her grandmother enjoys it, but she does not explore the building.

"It feels a bit empty at night inside the building. I don't really dare to walk around after my meals."

But Mr Ang, the undergraduate, who felt the place is written off by many younger Singaporeans as it is old, urges them to give it a chance, saying "you might be surprised at what you find".

isaacneo@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 27, 2015.
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