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Flashback Friday: Precursor to Cathay Organisation set up on July 18, 1935

Published on Jul 18, 2014 3:33 PM

SINGAPORE - The film conglomerate Singaporeans now know as the Cathay Organisation was set up on July 18, 1935.

Founded by Dato Loke Wan Tho and his mother, Mrs Loke Cheng Kim, as Associated Theatres, it opened its first cinema in Kuala Lumpur, a 1,200-seater called the Pavilion.

Dato Loke, the son of self-made China business magnate Loke Yew, saw the potential for the film business in Singapore, and opened the landmark Cathay Cinema in Dhoby Ghaut on Oct 3, 1939.

Designed by British architect Frank Brewer, the original Cathay Building marked two firsts here. It had the first air-conditioned cinema in Singapore; and it was the first and tallest high-rise building not only in Singapore but also in South-east Asia, reaching a height of 79.5m.

It was also used as a landmark by pilots as a final approach before landing.

The first movie to be screened there was the 1939 Technicolor adventure film called The Four Feathers, starring C. Aubrey Smith. In 1942, The Cathay Building hosted wartime broadcasts which alerted Singaporeans to the Japanese invasion. During the war, the Japanese military propaganda and broadcasting arms used the building.

After the Japanese Occupation, the 1,300-seat theatre was the first here to reopen for business.

Associated Theatres was renamed Cathay Organisation in 1959.

In 2000, the Cathay Building was closed for an overhaul. It reopened in 2006 as The Cathay, with its front facade preserved to its 1930s state and the rest of the building redeveloped.

To commemorate the company's 80th anniversary next year, Cathay Organisation is starting production on a film.

Touted as their first big-screen production in 15 years, the film will star Moses Lim and Michelle Chong, and is written by playwright Michael Chiang.