ultramarinus – beyond the sea

MORE THAN JUST A DOCK: Central Piers (中環碼頭), Central (中環) Hong Kong

At midnight 12th of November 2006, Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier (also known as Star Ferry Pier 天星碼頭) Clock Tower played its last chimes of its 48-years service, before being decommissioned and demolished along with the third generation Star Ferry Pier. Manufactured by Dent (London clock maker who was responsible for the clock of the Big Ben), the clock had told the time and chimed every 15 minutes since 1958. Although the timepiece mechanism was eventually preserved, the clock tower was discreetly toppled in early morning on 16th December 2006 amid public outcries and activist protests. Then four months later, just a stone throw from the toppled clock tower, Queen’s Pier (皇后碼頭) became the next harbourfront icon to fall victim for the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project. Named after Queen Victoria, Queen’s Pier was the main arrival and departure point for all colonial governors since 1925, and the landing spot for British royal visits (Queen Elizabeth II in 1975, and Prince and Princess of Wales in 1989). After their failed attempt to save the Star Ferry Pier, local conservationists reunited at Queen’s Pier to held rallies, hunger strikes and candlelight vigils to fight against the demolition. While winning support from the public and even some celebrities, the activists once again failed to convince the government to consider preservation the colonial pier. Despite their fruitless attempts, the incidents of Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier have significantly raised public awareness on heritage preservation in Hong Kong, and triggered widespread support for later conservation projects such as Central Market, Police Married Quarter (PMQ) and Tai Kwun Police Headquarters.

As a port city, pier structures have always been essentials to Hong Kong. Based on an university study of photos from 1863, there were once 56 piers and jetties between Western District and Causeway Bay in mid 19th century. Excluding the restricted zones, that works out to be 56 piers in 5.5km of shoreline, or roughly a pier every 98m. As port facilities were moved away from the heart of Victoria Harbour and the opening of Cross Harbour Tunnel in 1970’s, pier activities along the north coast of Hong Kong Island have significantly declined, except for the pleasant Star Ferry and the other boat services to the outlying islands. I still remember the excitement as a kid in 1980’s when arriving at the Outlying Islands Ferry Pier (港外線碼頭) boarding a boat for day trips to Lantau or Yamma Island, or rubbing shoulders with foreign tourists taking photos of traditional rickshaws at Star Ferry Pier (天星碼頭), or watching couples taking wedding photos at Queen’s Pier (皇后碼頭) after tying the knot at the adjacent City Hall. Each pier had its own ambience and scenery. Each pier has become a unique piece of memory. Since the completion of Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project, the old Central piers are all but gone. About 300m north of the former piers, a cluster of ten new piers were established between 1990’s and 2000’s as the new Central Piers. Assigned with Pier No. 7 and 8, the current Star Ferry Pier was erected in Edwardian style mimicking its second generation predecessor from 1910’s. The “fake antique” and “theme park” approach of the architecture have drawn heavy criticism from the public. Between Pier No. 9 and 10, Hong Kong Observation Wheel, a 60m Ferris wheel, was erected in 2014 as a new tourist attraction. Despite being skeptical about the necessity of a new attraction, many do see the Ferris wheel as a delightful focus for the harbourfront, and a welcoming feature upon arriving at the Central Piers by ferry.

In colonial times, certain piers were designated to play ceremonial roles for the city. A Triumphal arch was erected at Pedder’s Wharf for the visit of Duke of Edinburgh in 1869. [Photograph by John Thomson, 1869, Wellcome Library no. 18643i, public domain]
Landing of The Duke of Edinburgh at Pedder’s Wharf in 1869. [Image courtesy of National Archives, Kew, University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net)]
Located at the junction of Pedder Street and Chater Road, the Second Generation Star Ferry Pier was constructed in 1910 in front of the former Queen’s Building. [Photograph by Eleanor Mitchell, 1912-1917. Image courtesy of E.G. France, University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net)]
In 1925, Cecil Clementi became the first colonial governor to land and sworn in at Queen’s Pier. [public domain]
Similar to modern taxis, rickshaws drivers line up outside Blake Pier and Star Ferry Pier in 1930. [Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]
Blake Pier (middle left) and Star Ferry Terminal (right) had served the Central community for decades before being torn down for the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project. [Photograph by Martin Funnell, 1955. Image courtesy of Martin Funnell, University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net)]
The Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier or Star Ferry Pier, its clock tower and car park structure belong to be a single building complex. Today, only the carpark remains. [Photo of Edinburgh Place, 1957, public domain]
At midnight 12th of November 2006, the Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier Clock Tower played the last chimes. [Photography by WING, Image courtesy of Wikipedia user -WING, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons]
Taken from the 10th Floor of City Hall High Block in October 2005, the former Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier (Star Ferry Pier) can be seen on the left, former Queen’s Pier on the right, and the current Central Piers under construction at upper left. [Photography by Carismith, Image courtesy of Wikipedia user -Carismith, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons]
After failing to stop the demolition of Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, local conservationists shifted their focus to the adjacent Queen’s Pier. [Photography by CX257 in September 2007. Image courtesy of Wikipedia user -CX257, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons]
Local celebrity Chow Yun Fat signed the petition at Queen’s Pier in April 2007. [Photography by Leo Cheung, Image courtesy of Wikipedia user -Leockh, CC-BY-SA-3., Wikimedia Commons]
Locals gathered for the last night of Queen’s Pier on 31 July 2007. [Photography by Wing1990hk, Image courtesy of Wikipedia user -Wpcpey, CC-BY-SA-3., Wikimedia Commons]

***

A series of pier structures lined across Central Harbourfront as the current Central Piers. [Photo taken from Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The former Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier has become Lung Wo Road and the Central Harbourfront Event Space. [Photo taken from Lung Wo Road outside the City Hall, 2020]
As part of the former Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, the Star Ferry Car Park remains as a prominent modernist structure in Central. [Photo taken from Lung Wo Road outside the City Hall, 2020]
A footbridge links the Central Piers with the main financial district further inland. Each time a land reclamation projects is completed, the time it takes to reach the piers f would increase. [Photo taken from Lung Wo Road, 2020]
With reference to Edwardian architectural features, the fourth generation Star Ferry Pier has been criticized for failing to represent the contemporary spirit. [Central Pier No. 8, 2020]
For many, the new Edwardian clock tower of the current Star Ferry Pier in Central appears like a theme park backdrop. [Central Pier No. 9, 2020]
The real antique at the Star Ferry Pier is the ferry boats themselves, such as the 58-year old Day Star (晨星號). [Central Pier No. 7, 2022]
At the upper deck of Star Ferry Pier, a farmer’s market selling local organic produces is held every Sunday. [Central Pier No. 7, 2019]
Across the harbour, the 1957 Streamline Moderne pier structure of the Star Ferry Pier (天星碼頭) in Tsim Sha Tsui offers a glimpse of what its counterpart in Central, the now demolished Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier used to be like. [Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2021]
In June 2020, regular ferry service between Central and Hung Hom has resumed after a 9-year service suspension. [Central Pier No. 8, 2020]
The easternmost Pier No. 9 and 10 offer fine views of Victoria Harbour. [Central Pier No. 9, 2020]
It is pleasant to linger at Pier No. 9 and 10 at dusk. [Central Pier No. 9, 2020]
The public Pier No. 9 and 10 are occasionally used by private boats. [Central Pier No. 10, 2020]
Pier No. 9 and 10 have become a popular place to hang out after work. [Central Pier No. 10, 2020]
As casual public spaces, Pier No. 9 and 10 are often shared by different groups of people. [Central Pier No. 10, 2020]
Between Pier 7 and 8, a Ferris wheel known as Hong Kong Observation Wheel has become a new focal point in Central Harbourfront since 2014. [Central Pier No.8, 2022]
Sitting up to five people, all gondolas of the Ferris wheel are equipped with air conditioning [Central Pier No.8, 2020]
The pandemic has prevented outside visitors coming to Hong Kong in the past two years. Most tourist related businesses, including the Hong Kong Observation Wheel, have suffered a considerable time. [Central Pier No.8, 2020]

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