Monday, November 12, 2012

Singapore, 1960s – The National Neon Tower by Tim Light

Singaporeans in the 1960s were used to seeing neon advertisements, and for me they added enormously to the colour of urban Singapore, especially after dark.  My favourite was an animated neon sign at Newton circus, which showed somebody drinking something.  I can’t remember what the product was, but the animation consisted of three stages in which the character started with a full glass, then showed it at his lips and half empty, then finally with his head bent right back and the last drops going into his mouth.

As well as neon, there were giant objects displayed on buildings, or by the road.  I remember a giant bottle of Soy Sauce at Bukit Timah Circus, and an enormous jar of Brylcream somewhere. These were some of the things that made Singapore different and interesting.

Does anyone remember the National Showroom Neon Tower at North Bridge Road next to the Capitol Theatre?  According to the remarks at the National Archives Picas website, the National Showroom was opened by the former Minister for Culture, the late Mr S Rajaratnam in 1963.  It was highly controversial, because it was, to say the least, insensitive to its surroundings, and not at all in keeping with the classing buildings that surrounded it.  It was several stories high, and towered above buildings like the Municipal Building and St. Andrews Cathedral.  At night it was fully illuminated, and could be seen for miles. 

Opinion was divided.  The conservative view was that it was a blot on the landscape, and destroyed the historic character of the area.  The converse view was that it symbolised the modern Singapore, and that the old architecture of the colonial era should no longer be dominant.

Who was right?  It’s a matter of opinion. Personally I liked it at the time, but I would probably think differently today. 

What happened to it?  It’s not there today, and if it was, it would itself be dwarfed by other buildings. 

Below are 3 photos from the National Archives Picas collection showing the dismantling of this iconic National Neon tower in July 1974.


Lam Chun See said...

Yes I remember that advertisement at Newton Circus that Tim mentioned. But I too cannot recall the product. If I have to make a guess, I would say Eno Salt.

At one time Eno was advertised aggressively. I remember this advertisement on TV where a chef was frying something over a huge wok. He needed a glass of Eno to cool down.

Lam Chun See said...

As far as I can remember, in the old days, National and Panasonic were separate brand names. There was also Technics which was more for hifi equipment.

At one time, National adopted this tag line; "National creates better living". I've read a book by National's founder, Konosuke Matsushita. His philosophy was that his products must help to make the customer's life better.

Anonymous said...

Yes it was eno salt. somemore there were bubbles in the drink and the advert actually showed it. It was whitish-blue neon light.


Thimbuktu said...

Creative Ad Slogans of the 1960s here on a related post.

I remember the National Showroom Neon Tower at North Bridge Road next to the Capitol Theatre in my schooldays.

Thank you for the memories, Chun See.

FL said...

I had visited the Neon Tower during my teen in the sixties. In the heyday, the showroom was a place for movie-goers to "kill time" while waiting for their movies at the nearby Capitol Cinema to start. Those years National was one of the top electronic brand, for table-top radio, gramophones, cabinet TV, etc. There were also on display in the showroom the kitchen appliances, etc.

Leon said...

Thanks for the post and photos. Neon-lit cityscapes is a little pet subject of mine. I think Singapore today has too many buildings that are, as I put it, "lit for no reason" - like Ion. Besides festive seasons, most of our city buildings are plain, sporting no more than a logo or two. While fanciful lighting like that at Iluma and Jcube is nice, they still do not compare to the brilliant life conveyed by neon. I've been wondering for many years why neon is not allowed in Singapore - is this some URA policy? Why can't we enliven our cities with colour - I'm sure it can be done tastefully.

FL said...

Leon, the ban on neon lights, I think, it's probably due to interference with the drivers' driving their vehicles at nights. The multi-color of the neon lights may , I think, cause the drivers' mistaken reading of the colour the traffic lights (red, amber & green) at nights. I think LTA and Traffic Dept are the right agencies to explain this.

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ekg said...

Finally! Someone else who remembers that animated neon sign above the post-office at Newton Circus! It was advertising a medicine of some kind. As children, we used to describe it in Teochew dialect thus: "tau tia" (headache) for Stage 1, "chiak yeoh" (take medicine) for Stage 2, and "hor" (all better) for stage 3.