Pearls Centre

Text by Eugene Tan

One of the earliest planned urban renewal projects in the Chinatown area, the building draws its last breath as it prepares for redevelopment.

Pearls Centre in 2013 (Photo credit: Eugene Tan)

At the time of its conception, Pearls Centre was to be one of the earliest urban renewal development projects in the Chinatown area. Unfortunately, the disruption caused by various problems held it back, reaching completion only in 1977, four years after the completion of People’s Park Complex just down the road. Developed in two phases, the podium block was completed first, containing the retail spaces and office units. The 23 storey tower block followed after, with 12 storeys of residential units atop more commercial space.

Pearls Centre in the 1970s

Pearls Centre at Eu Tong Sen Street in 2012

The building is occupied by a hodgepodge of tenants, such as mobile phone shops, massage parlours, KTVs and small Chinese food stalls. But its most infamous tenant is arguably the Yangtze cinema, with its own external entry. With the Oriental, Chinatown and Majestic cinemas having been shut down, it is the only surviving cinema in its locality. Screening arthouse, erotic, and blockbuster movies, it sustained itself on the patronage of elderly men and avid movie buffs, inadvertently earning itself a reputation focussed on erotica. It's parking lot also offered a privileged view of Singapore's business district and found a niche purpose as a photo shoot location.

Ground floor shops and kiosks at Pearls Centre

Carpark at Pearls Centre

View of Pearl Bank Apartments from Pearls Centre carpark

The building weathered the years under the radar, but was brought to the centre of public attention in 2012 when the Singapore Land Authority announced plans to acquire the building to make way for the construction of underground tunnels for the upcoming Thomson Line. Tenants were given two years to vacate the building, which would be demolished and replaced with a “high-density mixed-use development”.