Goodbye to Jubilee Hall in Raffles Hotel makeover

The main lobby of the Raffles Hotel, which marks its 130th anniversary this year. Singapore Heritage Society executive member Yeo Kang Shua said he hopes non-paying members of the public will be allowed to visit its historic areas, including the main
The main lobby of the Raffles Hotel, which marks its 130th anniversary this year. Singapore Heritage Society executive member Yeo Kang Shua said he hopes non-paying members of the public will be allowed to visit its historic areas, including the main lobby, after the restoration, which will be completed mid-next year.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Arts venue at the Arcade to be turned into a grand ballroom for wedding dinners

Jubilee Hall, the Victorian-style theatre playhouse which opened in 1991 after the Raffles Hotel's last makeover, is bowing out.

When the hotel's ongoing restoration is completed mid-next year, the arts venue at the Arcade extension will be transformed into a wedding dinner venue - as a grand ballroom that will be able to host 300 people under its high ceiling.

General manager Simon Hirst, in unveiling the changes set to take place at the world-famous luxury hotel, told The Straits Times that the new hall "will enhance our status as a social hub of Singapore, especially as a wedding destination".

Most of the hotel's other major changes are also set to take place at the Arcade. For instance, its junior ballroom, which can accommodate 216 guests, will be upgraded.

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Mr Hirst said that the hotel will also open a new spa and a "rejuvenated" retail experience there.

  • Go-to playhouse lost its shine over the years

  • When it first opened in 1991, the Jubilee Hall at Raffles Hotel's Arcade extension was the go-to small-sized theatre venue but over the years, it lost its lustre.

    Performance arts groups said it lacked technical support and was generally not well maintained in recent years. The Victorian-style theatre is being overhauled into a grand ballroom that can seat 300 people.

    Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun, artistic director of Drama Box, said it has served its purpose and will be missed. "In those earlier days, being in the city centre, it was a good location and convenient. So many productions were done there," he said.

    Mr Alvin Tan, founder and artistic director of The Necessary Stage, added: "After a while, they stopped taking care of it and we stopped using it. It had the potential to be better but the lighting and sound were poor.

    "I feel it's a waste that it is closing but, on the other hand, if it's not going to be accorded respect, it might as well be turned into a ballroom."

    Mr Aravinth Kumarasamy, artistic director of Apsaras Arts Indian dance company, said: "It's a huge loss. It was unique for a performance venue to be housed within a national monument's compound.

    "Due to its location, tourists used to stream in for our shows. We are going to miss it."

  • Melody Zaccheus

It will also have at least three new dining concepts across the compound, while other existing ones will be "re-imagined". For instance, its Long Bar and Tiffin Room will be refreshed and updated, while its Writer's Bar will be expanded.

The Writer's Bar pays tribute to literary luminaries who have written about or resided in the hotel, including Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling.

The hotel, which is owned by Katara Hospitality, did not reveal the cost of the restoration, which is taking place in phases and started in February.

The hotel, which is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, will close completely to guests and the public from mid-December.

The restoration project is being led by Aedas Singapore, a global architecture and design firm.

Tourism expert Michael Chiam described the restoration as timely, adding that while the hotel attracts tourists with high net worth, locals will be able to better tap the new amenities for weddings and corporate events.

Mr Chiam said: "It has been more than 20 years since the hotel's last renovation and it is time for it to renew its facilities and facades to give it a fresh look."

Singapore Heritage Society executive member Yeo Kang Shua said he hopes that non-paying members of the public will be allowed to visit the monument's historic areas, including its main lobby, when it reopens.

He added: "I also hope that they will better distinguish between the old and the new there, since the Arcade was built in a neoclassical style to mimic the original historic structure. People who don't know its history could be misled."

Since its $160 million restoration in 1989, the hotel in Beach Road has suffered from wear and tear across its structure.

Parts of the national monument's historic plasterwork and brickwork have suffered from rising damp, and some of its marble tiles are stained.

Its timber flooring is also chipped and cracked in parts, according to a detailed architectural heritage survey report by Studio Lapis, an architectural conservation specialist consultancy.

Studio Lapis co-founder Ho Weng Hin said: "We found some design liberties that were taken during the last round of restoration where slight adjustments and modifications were made. Our report comes in handy where official guidelines are silent."

The report also clarified how the hotel's room suites should be conserved. The interiors of the project are being undertaken by interior design firm Champalimaud. For instance, Studio Lapis highlighted that the interiors of bedrooms, as they were originally designed, should be retained although the designer had other ideas initially.

Based on the research and after consultation with the National Heritage Board's Preservation of Sites and Monuments division, it was decided that the dividing walls between the lounge, bedroom and bathroom in each suite should be retained as they have more than 100 years of history and are part of the original fabric of the hotel.

Mr Ho said: "This very suite layout is the hallmark of the Raffles experience."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Goodbye to Jubilee Hall in Raffles Hotel makeover'. Print Edition | Subscribe