Mention the name Tivoli today, and what probably comes to mind to most of us is that magical gardens set in the heart of Hans Christian Andersen’s Wonderful Copenhagen where we can be immersed in the fantasy world that Hans Christian Andersen conjured up in the many tales he told, of which at least one, his most famous, the Nightingale, was inspired by the gardens in which he was said to have been fascinated with. The beautiful setting of the amusement park, with its theatres and restaurants, and wonderful gardens, best seen in spring when one is greeted by the multitude of colours that the flowers that delightfully decorate the gardens bring, served as an inspiration not just to Andersen, but also to a certain Walt Disney for his own wonderful fantasy land. The gardens had apparently also provided the inspiration to Singapore’s own Tivoli in Orchard Road, and it was this Tivoli that would have come into the minds of many of us back in the 1970s.
Singapore’s own Tivoli was a fantasy land of a different kind, one that transported us into a world that amused us in other ways – with a delightful menu inspired by the cuisines of Denmark and the continent, an array of beverages – including alcoholic ones, as the parasols that provided shade on the tables that spilled onto the sidewalk testified to, pastries and desserts. Tivoli in Singapore wasn’t so much there to amuse us in the way that the gardens from which it got its name would have done, but provided amusement to our palates. It was a coffee house, what would today be called a cafe. Back in the 1970s, coffee houses were everywhere, appealing to young and old in search of a banana split, a vanilla milk shake, or perhaps an iced coffee, which could be savoured in the cool comfort of the air-conditioned premises that attracted many. The Tivoli, which opened in 1971, perhaps drawing on the inspiration that its name provided, was the coffee houses of all coffee houses, serving its selection of food and beverages twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. By day, it drew couples on an outing, families out shopping, and by night it was a popular watering hole, attracting a regular crowd of locals, expatriates, and the boisterous men serving with the Australian and New Zealand forces in Singapore. The Tivoli Coffee House was then located in a two storey building, one that was purposed built as a car showroom that housed Orchard Motors, the distributor for the General Motors (GM) brands such as Vauxhall and Chevolet, converted into a shopping complex around 1970 and named The Orchard. Located at the corner of Orchard Road and Bideford Road, on which the original wing of the Paragon now stands, the shopping complex was right next to Fitzpatrick’s supermarket and housed some upmarket shops including Charles Jourdan, The Elizabeth Arden Salon, Diethelm Furniture, Jade Palace Restaurant and Thong Sia, as well as a branch of Robina Department Store, which made an unsuccessful attempt at breaking into the local retail scene in the 1970s.
Since I am on this area of Orchard Road, I would also touch a little on what the rest of the area would had been like back then. Moving down towards Scotts Road from The Orchard, which was demolished in 1980, along with neighbouring Fitzpatrick’s which was fronted by a opened car park. The Promenade Shopping Centre was built on the land occupied by Fitzpatrick’s, and was later torn down to accommodate an extension to the Paragon (this clarifies a comment posted by a reader, JC Carino, who lived in the area on a previous post on my impressions of Orchard Road of the 1970s). Right next to this was a petrol kiosk, which can been seen in the photograph labelled “Photo 4″ on Peter Chan’s post on on the petrol stations in Singapore’s CBD on the Good Morning Yesterday blog. This was in front of a squarish looking building which housed the Phone Book Company, which published the telephone directory and the Yellow Pages.
Next was the road that was Mount Elizabeth and Champion Motors in a building that was similar to the car showroom that became The Orchard, which later also housed Orchard Motors together with Champion Motors (I think both were owned by the same company) which was the distributor for Volkswagen then. Where Champion Motors stood, Lucky Plaza now stands. Right next to this was of course the distinctive Chinese architecture inspired CK Tang building, home of CK Tang, which then opened six days a week and never on a Sunday. Here now stands part of Tang Plaza, which occupies the entire stretch up to Scotts Road, also displacing the old curved row of two shop houses that stood at the corner of Orchard and Scotts Roads.
Looking down the area today, we see a totally different Orchard Road, one dominated by the cold modern steel and glass fronted shopping malls that have sprung up in place – it amazes me to think that it wasn’t really that long ago that Orchard Road had a very different and perhaps more homely feel about it …