Photos Of The Orchard Road Our Parents Knew
You ever had those times when ah gong or ah mah took out aged photo albums to show you what life was like “during their time”?
They peel apart the pages to reveal sepia coloured photographs depicting a Singapore that looks very different from the one today — almost foreign, even. But then again, there are little bits here and there that seem a touch familiar.
In celebration of National Day, MS News takes a leap into the past — to the malls, supermarkets and movie theatres that grew, expanded and modernised alongside Singapore.
1. The Centrepoint
Yep, you’re looking at Singapore’s first ever supermarket, Cold Storage — opened in 1905.
The ‘Fresh Food People’ – extra points if you can hear the iconic ring – manufactured Singapore’s first homemade ice cream.
The ice cream brand was called Paradise, and as the name suggests, it most probably took the folks then to paradise, especially during the warmer seasons.
The ice cream brand eventually changed its name to Magnolia and the store integrated itself into the present day The Centrepoint.
Today, you won’t only find Magnolia ice creams, but all ice creams of all brands lying in colourful array beneath the frosted glass of their freezers. And needless to say, there isn’t just one exclusive Cold Storage outlet, but over 40 of them, littered all over Singapore.
2. Orchard Road Market / Orchard Central
Just across the road from Cold Storage was where the former Orchard Road Market used to sprawl itself. Those who know their history well would know that the market eventually transforms into the current day, glitzy Orchard Central.
The municipal market sold fresh produce and was a popular go-to for the nearby residents, such as those from Emerald Hill.
Spot Singapore’s first supermarket in the background
Apart from doing the groceries, your folks may also have picked up a plate or two of char kway teow and satay beehoon from the interspersed hawker stalls. It’s almost like their pasar malam, only with a more expansive menu.
Or if they were looking to treat themselves to something more exquisite, they would’ve hopped across the road to Cold Storage. Back then, the supermarket sold lots of imported food from Australia such as frozen lamb, beef and butter.
For convenience, there was even a railroad track running through the area. The only problem was that the train often had problems and really long delays. One reason to be thankful for our MRT today.
Today, the area has been converted into the metallic and modern Orchard Central.
3. Cathay Building / The Cathay
Cathay Building, as it was called when it opened in 1939, would’ve been to your grandparents like the Marina Bay Sands is to us today. After all, the building was Singapore’s first ever skyscraper – 16 storeys tall – and housed the country’s only air-conditioned theatre.
Imagine that, one air-conditioned theatre for the entire country. We’re just not sure if our grandparents queued as long for tickets as we do now for freebies and franchise store openings.
4. Great World Amusement Park / Great World City
The older folks who speak Hokkien would probably have referred to this as “Tua Seh Kai”.
Once situated along Zion Road – since its opening in 1929 – the park itself teemed with carnival lights, jostling life and probably the gleeful screaming of children.
There were rides to go on, game stalls to win prizes from and even a handful of restaurants to satiate the post-playtime hunger.
But as it were, people got bored of it and business declined. The park was sold to Kuok Holdings – yes, the billionaire brothers – who rebuilt it into Great World City. The 6-storey shopping mall now houses everything from restaurants and cafes to fashion outlets and even one of Cold Storage’s flagship outlets.
5. Plaza Singapura
Unlike the behemoth complex that is Plaza Singapura today, the younger version of mall in 1970s was much, much smaller.
But, because Singapore didn’t have many malls back then, Plaza took the spot of the largest. Like the current location, the mall sat on an especially touristy stretch in Orchard — sandwiched by hotels, entertainment centres and the business district.
It was very popular among families because of a family-oriented department store inside called Yaohan, where kids could pick up little soft buns filled with red bean paste, called “an-pan”.
As time passed, Plaza Singapura continued adding more stores to keep families coming back — Yamaha music school and Swensen’s to name a few. The mall also eventually brought in major tenants like Guardian, Starbucks and Cold Storage to complete the all-in-one retail experience.
Growing with Singapore through the years
It is certainly interesting to imagine, pictures laid before you, how life was like for our eighty-something, ninety-something grandparents or even parents.
But more than just a sense of wonder, it helps us appreciate what we often take for granted these days.
For example, we talk about visiting a supermarket or taking the MRT without thinking much about it. But a few decades ago, these things weren’t there — or at least, they were very sparse, as when Cold Storage opened its first store in 1905 or when there was only 1 train running through town.
Cold Storage is one of the very few homegrown companies founded in Singapore in 1903 that still exists. Started off as a humble grocery store, it has evolved into a major supermarket. It fought alongside Singapore in one of her darkest periods, staying open throughout the Japanese occupation to provide food for resistance fighters.
Fast forward a few decades to 1993, Cold Storage introduced bar-coding and scanning technologies in all its stores, paving the way for other companies to do the same. Soon after, www.coldstorage.com.sg was born, becoming the first website that allowed Singaporeans to shop from home. Innovation was constant — it is precisely this spirit which allowed Singapore to flourish.
We’ve definitely come a long way. And it never hurts to look back into the past, to trace the history of what we see around us today and of the conveniences we enjoy.
So the next time you head to a Cold Storage, remember how the imported beef steak, the fresh sushi counter, the self check-out stations and all around you are products of a century of advancement and innovation.
This post is brought to you in collaboration with Cold Storage.