Lai Chun Yuen was the main landmark on Smith Street. It was built in 1887 and was a very popular theatre for Cantonese opera. It was designed by Regent Alfred Bidwell from Swan and Maclaren. In fact, the nickname given by the Chinese for this street is "theatre street". However it is probably named after Sir Cecil Clementi Smith who was the Governor of the Straits Settlements. He was very popular with the Chinese community.
Smith Street was a well-known red-light district in the early 1900s. Lai Chun Yuen was the epitome of vice and there were private cubicles designed for discreet activities and opium smoking was a common sight in the theatre. The most notorious brothel was located at No 65 which has been demolished to build the Chinatown Complex.
Now Smith Street is popular with tourists due to Chinatown Food Street.
Yip Yew Chong painted three murals here:
1) "My Chinatown Home" -It depicts his first home in Sago Lane. His grandmother was portrayed sewing a patchwork blanket. The children playing Ludo were the artist and his siblings. His mother was frying the new year sticky cake in the kitchen. He also painted common things used long ago such as the cassette player, the cane, mosquito coil, door bell, wall gecko and the rat trap.
2) "Detective Conan in Chinatown"
3) "Letter writer"-in olden days, letter writers often wrote letters for the migrant workers to their families back in China. They also wrote calligraphy for Chinese New Year couplets. he painted this mural with his two children.
Many of the Chinese Baroque shophouses here have secondary pilasters, Corinthian capitals. cornices and Regency fanlights