ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Central

STAR FERRY (天星小輪): Nostalgic Journey in the Victoria Harbour (維多利亞港), Hong Kong

In 1888, the same year when Peak Tram began operating up the slope of Victoria Peak, “Kowloon Ferry Company” was also established for managing the first regular steamboat services between Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island. Soon, the company expanded to a fleet of four ferries, and was renamed to “Star Ferry Co Ltd” (天星小輪), the name that is still in use today. Named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime” and topping the list of “Top Ten Most Exciting Ferry Rides” by the Society of American Travel Writers, it is no doubt that Hong Kong’s Star Ferry has been on the radar of international travelers for quite some time. For about HK$4 (US$ 0.50), anyone can enjoy a moment of peace crossing Victoria Harbour. In the past century, as a series of land reclamations have shortened the distance between Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island, piers in Central and Wanchai have been moved numerous times, and ferry rides across the Harbour have become shorter. No matter how short the ride has become, the star ferry experience still offers some of the most rewarding views of Hong Kong’s skyline. To have a moment of relaxation, we always prefer taking the ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side when time allows. The ride is particular lovely at sunset and night.

In 1888, Indian Parsee businessman Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala established Kowloon Ferry Company and operated the first regular ferry service between Hong Kong and Kowloon, taking bread, cargo and passengers with his steamboat Morning Star. In 1890, three more boats, Evening Star, Guiding Star and Rising Star joined the service. Upon retirement, Mithaiwala sold his ferries and company to another British-Indian businessman Sir Paul Chater’s (遮打), one of the first business mogul who was responsible and involved in establishing many large corporations in Hong Kong, including Hongkong Land (置地), Hongkong Electric (港燈), Dairy Farm (牛奶公司), Kowloon Wharf (九龍倉), etc. In the 20th century, the fleet of Star Ferry continued to grow as different generations of ferry piers were erected in Central, Wanchai and Tsim Sha Tsui. Today, the Star Ferry has eight boats in total, with an average age of 58 years old. Since the completion of Cross-Harbour Tunnel in 1972 and the Harbour crossing Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in February 1980, Star Ferry is no longer the main means of public transportation between Hong Kong and Kowloon. It does, however, carry a sense of history and collective memory of the bygone era. For both locals and tourists, the ferry also offers arguably the best way to enjoy the skyline of Hong Kong. Taking the MTR or driving through the Cross Harbour Tunnel, one can hardly notice the famous harbour.

“Night Star” [Photo: Gordon Arthur Richards Collections, University of Bristol Library (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1920’s]
Built in 1963, the second generation Night Star (夜星) was painted in the colourful dragon motif to promote Brand Hong Kong, Asia’s World City. [Star Ferry near Admiralty, 2020]
As of 2020, there are eight boats in the fleet, serving the two main routes in Victoria Harbour. [View from Ocean Terminal towards distant skyline of Causeway Bay and Tin Hau on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Both of the two main routes depart from the pier of Tsim Sha Tsui in the Kowloon Peninsula, where the Clock Tower, Museum of Art, Cultural Centre, Planetarium and Ocean Terminal Retail Complex make up one of the most popular tourist area in the city. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, Cultural Centre and Star Ferry Pier, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Night Star (夜星) usually serves the route between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Wanchai on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Sailing in the Harbour during sunset is a relaxing way to enjoy urban Hong Kong, away from crowded streets and busy traffic. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Wanchai on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The decades-old ferry offer an open experience to take in the sea breeze and scent of the ocean. [Star Ferry, 2020]
For Hongkongers, the wooden seat on Star Ferry is part of their collective memories of the city. [Star ferry, 2014]
In summer, the front end of the boat would sometimes come with air conditioning. [Star ferry, 2014]
Everything from the lacquered timber to the metal window pulls have been around since the mid 20th century. [Star ferry, 2020]
Taking the Star Ferry would allow passengers to experience the busy boat traffic of Victoria Harbour. [Star ferry, 2020]
As Central Pier 7 and 8, the Star Ferry Pier in Central is the fourth generation. It was part of the Central and Wanchai Reclamation project in the 2000’s. Despite the controversy of mimicking the past, the Edwardian building design was based on the historical second generation pier at Ice House Street from the 1910’s. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Every Sunday, the upper deck of the pier would house the city’s largest organic farmer’s market, selling local produces from New Territories and Outer Islands. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2014]
Star Ferry occupies Pier Number 7 at the Central Piers in Hong Kong Island. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Despite much controvesy, the building was built based on the historical second generation pier. [Wanchai Star Ferry Pier, 2021]
The present third generation Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui was built in 1957. Built in style of Streamline Moderne, this pier once echoed the now demolished Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, the third generation Star Ferry Pier in Central. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
The 1950’s Star Ferry Pier and Clock Tower of the former Train Station have become icons of Tsim Sha Tsui. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Watching the decades old ferry docking at the pier is a relaxing sight in Tsim Sha Tsui. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Signifying the arrival of Kowloon, the passageway connecting to the ferry platform hasn’t changed much during the past half a century. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
It is a pleasant surprise that Tsui Sha Tsui Pier can survive so many decades in the fast changing Hong Kong. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
After so many years, it is interesting that a passageway taking no longer than a minute to pass through actually leaves a lasting memory in my mind. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
After leaving the ferry, a flight of steps leading passengers away from the ferry platform. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
The pier at Tsim Sha Tsui is a tourist attraction to photograph the skyline of Hong Kong Island. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2021]
The Tsui Sha Tsui waterfront is particularly lovely during sunset. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]

PEAK TRAM (山頂纜車): The Oldest Public Transportation in Hong Kong

On 27th of June 2021, the fifth generation Peak Tram made its last trip up the Victoria Peak. The service would then be shut down for an extensive upgrade, laying new tracks and introducing larger funicular trains in the next six months. From the 30-seat wooden train operated by a steam engineer in 1888, to the upcoming 210-seat fully computerized and universally accessible aluminium train, the Peak Tram is about to enter its sixth generation in 133 years. The Peak Tram is, in fact, the oldest funicular system in Asia, and the first public transportation system in Hong Kong. We would occasionally hike up the Peak via Lung Fu Shan Country Park and descend by taking the Peak Tram to Kennedy Road Stop, where we would walk through the Botanical Gardens to return home. It was a 7-minute treat of lovely scenery from 28m to 368m above sea level every time we hopped onto the peak tram and sat on those inclined seats at the maximum of about 27 degrees. Before the pandemic, riding the peak tram was almost a compulsory activity for all foreign tourists. Today, the funicular is popular with local visitors during weekends.

The Peak Tram has always been a means of transportation for leisure. At 552m above sea level, the Peak is the perfect retreat from the summer heat. In 1881, Alexander Findlay Smith, who worked for the Scottish Highway Railway before, convinced Governor John Pope-Hennessy to operate a funicular route between the south of Murray Barracks (now Admiralty) and Victoria Gap on the Peak. He hoped the new transportation system would boost visitor numbers to his prestige Peak Hotel. Apart from hotel visitors and tourists, the Peak Tram also served the wealthy expatriates who lived on the Peak. Findlay Smith soon put the Peak Hotel and Peak Tram onto the market. At the end, the hotel and funicular landed in the hands of Hongkong Hotel Company, the current owner of Peninsula Hotel Group. Before 1920, the funicular was the only means of transportation connecting the Peak with Central, the downtown of Hong Kong. It has been 83 years since the Peak Hotel was burnt down in 1938. Its former site is now occupied by the shopping centre Peak Galleria (山頂廣場). Opposite to Peak Galleria now stands the Peak Tower (凌霄閣), another eye-catching retail complex that also doubles as the Upper Peak Tram Terminus. Below the Peak, the city’s skyline has changed dramatically in the past century. Perhaps the only thing that stays recognizable in the past 130 years is the funicular system itself.

The Peak Tram is the oldest public transportation in Hong Kong. Replacing the steam engineer of the first generation, the second generation Peak Tram was powered by an electric system. [Photo: Hagger F. Collection, University of Bristol, (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1930’s]
The first generation Lower Peak Tram Terminus at Garden Road (花園道) appeared like an European Alpine resort. [Photo taken in 1920’s, public domain]
Built in 1983, the ground floor of St. John’s Building (聖約翰大廈) has been serving as the Lower Peak Tram Terminus in the past 38 years. The 22-storey commercial tower is the fourth generation funicular terminus. [2020]
Adjacent to the funicular terminus, St. Joseph’s College (聖若瑟書院) is the earliest Roman Catholic school in Hong Kong. [2020]
In Hong Kong, buildings are always cramped together with roads and transportation infrastructures. In the case of Garden Road Peak Tram Terminus, the train platform is sandwiched between several historical buildings (St. Joseph’s College at the back, Visitor Centre of World Wildlife Fund, The Helena May main building in front right) and the flyover of Red Cotton Road. [2020]
Some say the Visitor Centre of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at No. 1 Tramway Path was once a parking depot of funicular trams. [1 Tramway Path, 2019]
The WWF Visitor Centre is home to a coffee shop, a souvenir shop and a small interpretation/ activity space. [1 Tramway Path, 2020]
Further up Tramway Path, peaceful Tram View Cafe is tranquil retreat to enjoy afternoon tea while watching funicular trams arriving and leaving the Garden Road Terminus. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2020]
Tram View Cafe is a pleasant retreat just a stone throw away from the financial district. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2020]
The Tram View Cafe present a vintage decor to engage customers. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2021]
Beyond MacDonnell Road Station (麥當勞道站), the Peak Tram climbed towards the bridges of Magazine Gap Road and May Road. [Photo taken in 1897, public domain]
Beyond May Road Station (梅道站), the funicular route continues to climb towards the Peak. [May Road Station, 2020]
The track angle varies from 4 to 27 degrees, climbing an elevation of 368m. [2020]
Where the Peak Tram bridges over Barker Road is a popular spot for filming local movies. [Barker Road, 2020]
Opened in 1888, Barker Road Station (白加道) is the only covered station between Garden Road and the Peak. The roof was added in 1919. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
Baker Road Station is a popular spot for visitors taking selfies. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
At an elevation of 363m, Barker Road Station is the second last stop before reaching the Peak. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
Taking the Peak Tram is always a pleasant way to reach the Victoria Peak. [2019]
The fourth generation Peak Trams have been retired. The next generation funicular trains will arrive in a few months’ time. Due to the increasing demand, the new trains will significantly increase the passenger capacity. [inside the Peak Tram, 2019]
The Peak Tram on the slope of Victoria Peak has been an icon of Hong Kong for decades. [Peak Tram arriving at The Peak, 2020]
At 398m, the retail complex Peak Tower (凌霄閣) now serves as the upper terminus of Peak Tram. [The Peak, 2020]
Where the former Peak Hotel stood a century ago, the shopping centre Peak Galleria (山頂廣場) now welcomes visitors arriving on the Peak. [The Peak, 2020]
The third generation Peak Tram is now on display in front of Peak Galleria in commemoration of the centennial of the Peak Tram. [The Peak, 2020]

OUR URBAN BACKYARD, Lung Fu Shan Country Park (龍虎山郊野公園), Central & Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

Well known for its skyscrapers, Hong Kong actually has another face of lush green hills and pristine beaches to counterbalance the overwhelming urbanity. In fact, out of 1092 sq.km, about three quarters of Hong Kong’s land area is countryside comprised of hills, woodlands and beaches. No matter from which district in the city, nature is never far way. In 1976, the Country Park Ordinance was passed to enforce nature conservation. Under the ordinance, 24 country parks (郊野公園) have been established so far, protecting about 440 sq.km of natural landscape. Across the city, many neighbourhoods are situated within close proximity from one of these country parks, where Hongkongers treat them as urban backyards for morning exercises, afternoon picnics or evening hikes. For us living in Central and Western District, our closest backyard is Lung Fu Shan Country Park on the hill right behind Hong Kong University. We sometimes thought of walking up Lung Fu Shan and the adjacent Victoria Peak to catch the first glimpse of morning sun over the famous Hong Kong skyline. This has yet happened, but we do occasional short hikes when weather permits. From our home, it is just several minutes of bus ride to the trailhead of the 2.75km Lung Fu Shan Trail. Between Victoria Peak (太平山) and Mount High West (西高山), Lung Fu Shan or Hill Above Belcher’s (龍虎山) is a 253m hill right above the main campus of Hong Kong University. In 1998, Lung Fu Shan Country Park was established to protect the small patch of forest around the hill. With just about 0.1% of the total area of all country parks, the city’s smallest country park is home to almost one third of all species of birds, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles and mammals found in Hong Kong. Given the park is situated at less than 30 minutes walking distance to the central business district, Lung Fu Shan is surprisingly valuable to the city’s biodiversity.

Before Lung Fu Shan Country Park was established, I visited the Pinewood Battery (松林炮台) on Lung Fu Shan with my parents several times. Completed in 1905 by the colonial government, the historical battery was heavily damaged during WWII. In the Battle of Hong Kong (December 1941), the battery was under rounds of air raids before it was abandoned on 15th of December 1941. In the 1980’s the military structures were pretty much lying in ruins. For me as a child, the ruined battery was a great place for picnic or to play hide and seek. 11 years after the establishment of Lung Fu Shan Country Park, the ruined structures were listed as Grade II historical buildings in 2009 and become one of the main features in the park. Display boards and a trail linking all the major structures are set up are provided on site to tell the story.

On a fine Friday afternoon, we decided to drop by Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre near the park entrance at Kotewall Road (旭龢道). Operated by Environmental Protection Department and University of Hong Kong, the small interpretation centre housed in a listed historical bungalow just a stone throw away from Hong Kong University was a pleasant surprise. Built in 1890, the 131-year bungalow was home for the watchman who protected the adjacent Pokfulam Filter Beds, the facility used to filter drinking water for Pokfulam Reservoir nearby. The former watchman’s residence is now converted into the visitor centre of Lung Fu Shan Country Park, welcoming anyone who wishes to know more about the ecology and biodiversity of the area. Apart from insect specimens and wildlife photographs, we were particularly interested in the videos interviewing the former residents of the bungalow complex, who were occupying the three historical houses in the complex until 1996. At the centre, we had a delightful chat with the staff there and picked up The Pulse of Nature – Mid-Levels West, a book of writings, illustrations and photographs that offers a variety of perspectives that explores the natural context of Mid-Levels West around Lung Fu Shan.

Covering an area of about 47 hectares, Lung Fu Shan Country Park is the smallest country park in Hong Kong. [2021]
Lung Fu Shan situated on the hill above the residential neighbourhoods of Mid Levels West. [2021]
A carpet of green moss cover the retaining slopes along the path. [2021]
When looking closer, there is so much interesting details along Lung Fu Shan Trail. [2021]
The shell of a beetle like insect captured my attention. [2021]
110 species of butterflies have been recorded in Lung Fu Shan Country Park.
It is delightful to follow the butterflies wandering along the trail. [2021]
In the small country park, there have been 130 species of birds recorded. [2021]
Red billed blue magpie is a large and aggressive bird found in Hong Kong. Its long tail is a recognizable feature. [2021]
Wild flowers are common all year round in the park. [2021]
At Pinewood Battery, artificial hideouts were constructed for soldiers to rest. [2021]
Retaining structures and cabins as hideouts. [2021]
At the Pinewood Battery, a raised structure was once used for military observations. [2021]
Seven decades have passed since Pinewood Battery was stationed with soldiers. [2021]
Another elevated structure was once the control room of the battery. [2021]
The ruins are overgrown with lush green climbers and shrubs. [2021]
There were two anti aircraft gun platforms in Pinewood Battery. [2021]
The Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre is housed in a 131-year bungalow. [2021]
The former swimming pool of the complex has been converted into a pond to demonstrate the local freshwater ecosystem. [2021]
The small garden of the complex has been planted with local species. [2021]
Inside the bungalow, photographs and specimens of local wildlife are on display. [2021]
Skin of a snake has been found on the eaves of one of the three houses in the complex. [2021]
Historical drawings of the watchman house. [2021]
Photos of the former residents of the bungalow complex. [2021]
The fireplace in the bungalow is decorated with drawings painted by the former residents. [2021]

HONG KONG’S MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE: Not Old Enough For Conservation?

18th June 2021 was the deadline for developers to bid for the latest waterfront site in Central, between Jardine House and Central Ferry Pier.  With an estimated value at around USD 5 – 7.1 billion, the 47,970 sq.m site encompasses a piece of reclaimed land and the iconic General Post Office at Connaught Place.  Completed in 1976, the fourth generation postal headquarters has been a prominent fixture in the city’s evolving skyline for 45 years. Despite efforts from conservationists, the building would inevitably be replaced by another glassy skyscraper in the near future.  While few people see the modernist post office as an architectural masterpiece, many Hongkongers have expressed their resentment about the potential loss in the business district.  With its horizontal features, modular brise soleil, and concrete vaults, the General Post Office is a decent example of modernist architecture in Hong Kong, the design movement that first emerged in the West between the World Wars. Using modern construction methods and materials like steel, reinforced concrete and glass, Modernism rose to become the dominant architectural style after WWII.  In Hong Kong, the Modernist style in the city is often referred to as the “Bauhaus style”. 

Founded by German architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus was probably the most famous and avant-garde design and art school between the world wars (1919 – 1933). From art to graphic design, architecture to interiors, typography to industrial design, influences of the Bauhaus have been an omnipresence in our lives.  Commonly known as International Style, the minimalist and rationalist approach of the Bauhaus reflect the rapid modernization of the 20th century.  To envision Modernism, architectural masters like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, or Mies van de Rohe might be looking for a novel design methodology and architectural tectonics that define the functionalism and aesthetics of the Modern Age.  By the time Modernism has arrived to Postwar Hong Kong, the style was quickly adopted due to pragmatic reasons such as construction speed, design modularity, minimal detailing, and versatile functionality.  Modernist apartment blocks, office towers, factories, schools, sport centres, parking garages, market complexes, and government buildings flourished across the city to cope with the population and economic boom, replacing earlier colonial structures and pre-war tenement buildings.

As Hong Kong further developed into one of Asia’s most prominent financial hubs in the 1980’s, the architectural world has already entered the age of Post-Modernism.  Some notable Modernist buildings such as Gropius’ Bauhaus in Dessau, Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa’s City of Brasilia, Le Corbusier’s various projects in Europe, Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House, etc. have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, but many more Modernist buildings have become subjects of demolition and redevelopment.  Modernist architecture has yet been widely recognized as a precious heritage, nor have them been well loved by the public.  Many have already been torn down in Hong Kong in the past three decades.  In recent years, this attitude has finally come to a twist.  The potential demolition of buildings like the General Post Office have raised public awareness of the modern heritage.  This is a realization of what heritage and cultural legacy really are in the making of a diverse urban culture and defining the zeitgeist of an era.

Not all Modernist buildings are designated for demolition in Hong Kong. Some have been preserved and revitalized with new uses and appearances, such as the Murray Building (美利大廈) on Cotton Tree Road.  The 1969 government office tower was recently converted into a 5-star hotel by architect Norman Foster.  Such adaptive reuse of the Modernist building is a convincing way to preserve memories and manage urban changes while retaining the essence of the original architecture.

Modernist buildings once dotted around Hong Kong, from residential blocks, office towers to all kinds of public buildings. Mei Ho House (美荷樓), formerly part of Shek Kip Mei Estate, is the sole survivor of a “H” shape apartment building. Built in 1954, the Modernist building has been preserved and converted into a youth hostel and a small public housing museum in 2013. [Mei Ho House, Junction of Castle Peak Road and Tai Po Road, Sham Shui Po, 2021]
Completed in 1960, the existing Garden Centre (嘉頓中心) at Castle Peak Road in Sham Shui Po has gained approval for redevelopment. Designed by famous Chinese architect Chu Pin (朱彬), the Modernist building has all the reasons to be preserved as a modern heritage. Unfortunately, the building is likely to be gone soon. Chu Pin was one of the first generation of US educated Chinese architects. Obtained his master degree at University of Pennsylvania in 1923, Chu Pin moved to Hong Kong in 1949 and established himself as a successful Chinese architect in the city. His other works included the first generation of Man Yee Building (萬宜大廈), home to Hong Kong’s first escalators, and Takshing House (德成大廈), the demolished office tower where curtain walls where first used in Hong Kong 60+ years ago. [Garden Centre as seen from Garden Hill, Sham Shui Po, 2021]
News on the fate of former State Theatre (皇都戲院) in North Point captured the hearts of Hongkongers in the past few years. Built in 1959, the former cinema was one of the last surviving large scale theatre in Hong Kong. In 2020, developer New World Development agreed to preserve the building and revitalize it into a new cultural and heritage facility. [State Theatre, King’s Road, North Point, 2017]
In Central, Modernist style Public Bank Centre (大眾銀行中心) from 1977 and The Center (中環中心) from 1998 stand as representatives from two different eras. [Public Bank Building, Des Voeux Road Central, Central, 2020]
At the junction of Des Voeux Road Central and Pedder Street, the third generation General Post Office (erected 1911) was demolished in 1976. [Photo: Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Library of Congress, public domain, 1923]
The current General Post Office at Connaught Place is the fourth generation in Hong Kong. Built in 1976, it was once located adjacent to the former Star Ferry Pier and the old waterfront. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Constructed on reclaimed land, the 5-storey building was designed by architect K. M. Tseng. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Despite there is urge from conservationists and the public to preserve the modernist building, Antiquities Advisory Board refuses to list any structure constructed after 1970. The building is scheduled to be demolished after the land sale tender was closed in June 2021. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
The modernist General Post Office and its surrounding open space will certainly be missed. [Back side of General Post Office, Lung Wo Road, Central, 2021]
The mailing counters on the ground floor are some of the busiest in the city. [Interior of General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Over 69,000 stamps from 98 countries were put together by the staff to create a large wall mural displayed at the entrance of the General Post Office. [Interior of General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Next to the iconic General Post Office once stood the Star Ferry Pier. The pier was demolished in 2006 as part of the latest land reclamation project. The 1957 Modernist Star Ferry Pier Car Park (天星碼頭多層停車場) survived 2006, but is included in the demolition zone together with the post office as part of the land sale package. [Star Ferry Car Park, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
Perhaps the most famous Modernist building in the city is Hong Kong City Hall (香港大會堂) at Edinburgh Place. Designed by Ron Phillips and Alan Fitch in the 1950’s, the 1962 completed City Hall is comprised of a low block, a concert hall, a theatre, a 12-storey high block and a memorial garden. The high block houses Hong Kong’s first public library, while the low block was the main venue of Hong Kong’s major festivals of art, film, and music from late 1950’s to 1980’s. The City Hall was considered the city’s first major cultural venue that welcomed everyone. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
At the centre of the memorial garden, a 12-sided memorial shrine stands in memory of the soldiers who fought during WWII. An elevated walkway encloses the memorial garden. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
From the elevated walkway, a spiral stair leads visitors back down to the ground level drop off area. Before 2008, the spiral and the drop off area stood directly opposite the now demolished Queen’s Pier. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
The City Hall still contains a few remnants from the previous colonial times. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
Unlike previous stone and decorative architecture, the Modernist City Hall promotes clean lines, large windows, simple geometry, etc. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
In comparison to International Financial Centre (IFC), the Modernist City Hall stands to represent a totally different era. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
While the City Hall flanks one side of Statue Square, the 21-storey Hong Kong Club building stands to the east side of the square. [The Cenotaph, Connaught Road Central, Central, 2021]
Designed by Australian architect Harry Seidler, the current building is the third generation of Hong Kong Club. [Hong Kong Club, Junction of Connaught Road Central and Jackson Road, Central, 2021]
Being demolished and replaced by a newer structure is an inevitable fate for most buildings in Hong Kong. Demolished in 1981, the second generation Hong Kong Club was replaced by architect Harry Seidler’s Modernist version. [Hong Kong Club, photo credit: Arnold Wright, public domain, 1908]
Built in 1953, the former Bridges Street Market was one of the first Modernist market buildings constructed after WWII, replacing old markets that were destroyed during the war. It contained 26 fish and poultry stalls on lower level and 33 butcher, vegetable and fruit stalls on the upper level. In 2018, the building was reopened as a news museum. [Former Bridges Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In 1969, the upper level of Bridges Street Market was converted into a children’s playground. [Former Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2016]
Horizontal shading fins are some of the typical features of a Modernist building. [Former Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2016]
Sai Ying Pun Jockey Club Polyclinic (西營盤賽馬會分科診所) was redeveloped from Government Civic Hospital, the first public hospital in Hong Kong operated since 1874. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1960, Sai Ying Pun Jockey Club Polyclinic is designed by the local architectural firm Leigh & Orange. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The concrete barrel vaults on the roof of the clinic is a recognizable feature on Queen’s Road West. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The 27-storey Murray Building (美利大廈) on Cotton Tree Road was a government office building completed in 1969. After the government moved out in 2012, the modernist building was revitalized into a 5-star hotel. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
Architect Norman Foster was hired for the adaptive reuse project. Decorative stainless steel were used as design features in the project, offering the 5-star hotel an elegant touch. Murray Hotel opened for business in 2018. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
The former car ramp connected to Cotton Tree Drive is now a popular spot for selfies. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
The windows were oriented to avoid glare and direct sunlight. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]

BOUNDARY STONES OF VICTORIA CITY (維多利亞城界石), Hong Kong

In 2014, local film Dot 2 Dot (點對點) was screened in the Hong Kong International Film Festival. The film was often described as low key, low budget and slow paced love story to the city. Amos Wong’s film explores the history and identity of Hong Kong through the encounter of a graffiti artist and a Mandarin teacher. It begins with the Mandarin teacher, newly arrived from Mainland China, discovering mysterious graffiti composed of dots at every metro station in Hong Kong. She is able to decode the graffiti by connecting the dots into meaningful imagery related to the local history of the particular neighborhood. She then comes up with her own graffiti and engages the unknown graffiti artist in a battle of graffiti riddles. It turns out that the graffiti artist is actually one of her students, who himself is a professional designer returned to Hong Kong from Canada. The movie follows both characters to explore different neighborhoods, including the quest to check out the boundary stones of the former Victoria City (維多利亞城). At the end of the film, the teacher finally realizes the true identity of the graffiti artist after visiting the westernmost boundary stone in Kennedy Town (堅尼地城). The story ends with them enjoying the peaceful sunset together at Kennedy Town ‘s praya.

Considered the capital of the former British Colony, Victoria City at the northern shore of Hong Kong island was the city’s first urban settlement. Victoria City was defined by the four “wans” (四環) or districts: Sai Wan (西環), Sheung Wan (上環), Chung Wan (中環), and Ha Wan (下環) or present’s day Wanchai. In 1903, the government erected seven stones to mark the boundary of Victoria City. The city soon expanded beyond the boundary limits and the stones became obsolete. Measured 98cm in height, tapered at the top and marked with the inscription “City Boundary 1903”, these historical boundary stones are mostly forgotten, except for history buffs who occasionally check on these urban artifacts and share their photos on the Internet. Six out of seven boundary stones survive to the present day, except the one at Magazine Gap Road in the Mid-Levels that was negligently removed by retaining wall contractors in 2007. For the remaining six boundary stones, it is possible to visit them all in a 5-6 hour hike. The hike offers hikers an interesting opportunity to walk around the old city centre, from the waterfront of Kennedy Town, halfway up the Victoria Peak and down to the Happy Valley Racecourses to the east.

Victoria City in 1900, about the time when the boundary stones were erected. [Credit: G. William Des Voeux (1903), My Colonial Service, Vol 2., London: John Murray, public domain]
Six boundary stones of the former Victoria City (highlighted in orange above) remain more or less at their original locations. From west (left) to east (right), the six remaining stones are located at 1) Kennedy Town, 2) Pokfulam, 3) Hatton Road near the Peak, 4) Old Peak Road near the Peak, 5) Bowen Road near Happy Valley, and 6) Happy Valley. The stone at Magazine Gap Road (highlighted in blue above) was removed in 2007 likely by road and retaining wall contractors under the negligence of the authorities. South of Victoria Harbour, connecting all seven stones would more or less offer us the rough extent of the former Victoria City.
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
The westernmost stone is located in Kennedy Town, inside a ball court right by the sea. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
Kennedy Town Football Pitch is a popular spot for local residents. Hardly anyone notices the 1903 boundary stone right adjacent to a rubbish bin. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
It is sad to see one of the six boundary stones stands unnoticeably adjacent to a rubbish bin. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
In the midst of student dormitories and college buildings of Hong Kong University on the slopes of Pokfulam (薄扶林) stands another boundary stone. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
Half an hour walk from the boundary stone of Kennedy Town led us to the boundary stone in Pokfulam. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
The Pokfulam boundary stone is located close to the entrance of a pedestrian underpass. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
As the entrance of Lung Fu Shan Morning Trail ascending up to the Victoria Peak, Hatton Road is popular for morning walkers. It is also home to one of the historical boundary stones. [Hatton Road near Kotewall Road, The Peak, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
The boundary stone at Hatton Road is the only boundary stone remained at its original location. The rest were somehow re-positioned throughout the years due to different constructions. [Hatton Road near Kotewall Road, The Peak, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
Hatton Road is one of the pedestrian paths that leads to Lugard Road and the Victoria Peak. [India Rubber Tree at Lugard Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
From the main square on the Peak, walking down Old Peak Road would bring us to the next boundary stone. Old Peak Road was once the only road connecting the Mid Levels to the Peak and the grand colonial mansions overlooking the city. Today, much of Old Peak Road has been pedestrianized. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
From Old Peak Road, we could occasionally have glimpses of the city below. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
Standing by the side of the steep road, the century old boundary stone silently greets every sweaty hiker. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
The markings from 1903 are still clearly visible on the stone. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
Not counting the lost boundary stone at Magazine Gap Road, the next one further east is at Bowan Road (寶雲道), another popular spot for runners and hikers. The relatively flat fitness trail on the eastern slope of the Peak offers visitors splendid views of Wanchai below. The 64-storey cylindrical Hopewell Centre near the lush green slope was the tallest building in Hong Kong from 1980 to 1989. Further out towards the waterfront, the 78-storey Central Plaza was the tallest building in Asia from 1992 to 1996. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
The boundary stone is located close to the east end of Bowan Road, where the horse racecourses in Happy Valley and the buildings of Causeway Bay appear within walking distance. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
The Bowen Road boundary stone stands comfortably by the side of the fitness trail. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
[Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
From the eastern end of Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Stubbs Road and Blue Pool Road leads the way down to Happy Valley Racecourses. Happy Valley Racecourse was established by the British in 1846. Since then, Happy Valley has become a synonym of horse racing in Hong Kong. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
Along Wong Nai Chung Road, all apartments contain large windows facing the racecourses of Happy Valley. The last boundary stone is located just outside the wall of the racecourses. [Wong Nai Chung Road (黃泥涌道), Happy Valley, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
The Happy Valley boundary stone stands in a small parkette outside the racecourses. [Wong Nai Chung Road (黃泥涌道), Happy Valley, 2020]

EARLY COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE, Central & Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

On the night of 11th November 2006, some 150,000 Hongkongers showed up at Edinburgh Place Pier to bid farewell to the third generation of Star Ferry Pier in Central, before the Modernist building was dismantled to make way for land reclamation. Politicians, opposition parities, environmentalists, conservationists, activists, NGOs, professional groups and Hong Kong Institute of Architects joined force to urge the public to fight for preserving one of the iconic structure. Their noble effort failed to stop the government’s bulldozers removing Edinburgh Place Pier and, a year later, Queen’s Pier from the urban scenery of Hong Kong. The government insisted that the 49-year-old Star Ferry Pier was not “old” enough to be classified as “historical”. But the authorities greatly underestimated the public sentiment towards the Modernist landmark, not because its architectural value could rival the most iconic world heritage, but because it was a familiar urban symbol featured well in the collective memories of many Hongkongers. The extraordinary public outcry and intense media coverage have dramatically raised public awareness about heritage conservation in Hong Kong, and eventually contributed to the preservation of the Former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and Former Central Police Station Complex (Tai Kwun) in a few years’ time. In 2007, the same year as people were protesting about the dismantling of the Queen’s Pier, the Heritage Conservation Policy was finally passed “to protect, conserve and revitalize” historical and heritage sites and buildings in Hong Kong.

For generations before the demolition of Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier, not much tears were shed in the city when old buildings were torn down to make way for new developments. To the government and real estate developers, land sales and redevelopment of old neighborhoods are often the most efficient way to make money. As the former British colony entered its post colonial era, the search of a collective identity and preservation of the collective memories have gained significant ground among the general public. Hongkongers became much more aware of how their familiar urban scenery were disappearing fast. Losing a cultural heritage is like losing a piece of precious memory in the collective psyche. In the process of strengthening a sense of belonging and self reflection of collective identity, heritage architecture plays a crucial role as tangible mediums connecting to the past. These buildings are evidences of the creativity, prosperity and memories of a bygone era, and a unique East-meet-West culture that has defined the urban diversity and architectural beauty of the city.

As the heart of the former Victoria City (維多利亞城), it is unsurprisingly that Central (中環) hosts a relatively high concentration of heritage buildings in Hong Kong. Due to limited land resources, high population density and sky high property prices, incentives for property owners to preserve historical buildings is often low in face of the lucrative rewards from redevelopment projects. In Central, however, one may notice that the surviving historical structures often serve as pleasant breathing pockets in the midst of glassy skyscrapers. These heritage buildings would introduce an exquisite character to the streetscape, and in return push up land value of the surrounding area. At the same time, successful adaptive reuse projects such as Tai Kwun, PMQ, Asia Society and Hong Kong Park, all have proven to be magnificent urban magnets and popular tourist destinations. These projects consolidate Central and surrounding areas as the historical, political and commercial heart of Hong Kong, just like how it always was since the Mid-19th Century.

Almost all 19th century colonial buildings that once stood along the waterfront of Hong Kong have been demolished. [Praya along Dex Voeux Road in Central, 1868. Photo by John Thomson, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0]
Queen’s Building (皇后行), Victorian Era, completed in 1899, demolished in 1963
Hong Kong enjoyed a dramatic economic boom in the latter half of the 20th century. Many 19th century buildings, including the magnificent Queen’s Building, were torn down during this period. [Queen’s Building and the temporary Star Ferry Pier off Ice House Street, Central, probably taken in 1900’s, public domain]
Pedder Street Clock Tower (畢打街鐘樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1862, demolished in 1913
Among all the early buildings in Central, Pedder Street Clock Tower was one the most recognizable landmarks before it was taken down in 1913. [Pedder Street Clock Tower, Central, 1868. Photo by John Thomson, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Murray House was one of the earliest structures still standing today. It was once a part of the Murray Military Barracks in Admiralty, occupying the site where I. M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower is standing today. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
In 1982, Murray House (美利樓) was dismantled at its original site to make way for Bank of China. Each block and architectural component were carefully tagged and stored for future’s restoration. In 2001, the building was restored in Stanley (赤柱), a sleepy seaside destination popular for its flea market and beaches. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Murray House (美利樓) was restored and adapted into a retail and restaurant complex in Stanley. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
The restored Murray House (美利樓) is popular with tourists and locals for a relaxing meal right by the sea. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Originally a Grade 1 historical building in Admiralty, Murray House (美利樓) is no longer a listed heritage building after the move. The restored version at Stanley no long complies with the heritage building criteria of the UNESCO. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院), Victorian Era, completed in 1892, dismantled in 1998, northern facade restored in 2001
Often referred to as the “haunted house” on High Street (高街), the Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院) has been a well known structure in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). Built in 1892, the building was used to house nurses and staff of the Civil Hospital before WWII. Before establishment of Castle Peak Mental Hospital in 1961, the building was the only mental facility to serve the entire city (about 1.5 million population at that time). [Junction of High Street and Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院), Victorian Era, completed in 1892, dismantled in 1998, northern facade restored in 2001
From 1970’s to 1990’s, the Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院) was abandoned. Stories of ghost sightings during that two decades has turned the historical building to become the famous “High Street Haunted House (高街鬼屋)”. The building was demolished in the 1990’s to make way for a new community centre. Only the northern facade was preserved part of the new building. [Junction of High Street and Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Western Market in Sheung Wan (上環街市) is the remaining northern addition of the former Western Market South Block. The former main market building was demolished in 1981, while the smaller North Block is preserved. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2020]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
As one of the oldest markets in Hong Kong, Western Market was established in 1844. The former South Block was built in 1858, while the North Block was built in 1906. The building was constructed in Queen Anne Revival architectural style. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2014]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Today, tenants at Western Market include some curio shops, bakery, dessert shop, and a group of textile merchants. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2014]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Sometimes referred to as “blood and bandages”, the exterior facades of the Western Market are decorated with banded brick masonry. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), completed in 1912, and The Cenotaph (和平紀念碑), erected in 1923
Old Supreme Court Building is probably the most recognizable old colonial buildings in Central. The building was the former Supreme Court, then Legislative Council, and now, the Court of Final Appeal. Erected as a war memorial, the Cenotaph stands as a focal point between the Old Supreme Court, Statue Square, City Hall and Hong Kong Club. [Junction of Jackson Road and Connaught Road Central, Central, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), completed in 1912, and The Cenotaph (和平紀念碑), erected in 1923
The Cenotaph is a replica of the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London. [Statue Square, Central, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
Before WWII, Statue Square contained the Cenotaph, statue of Queen Victoria (commemoration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1887), Thomas Jackson (1st Baronet, chief manager of HSBC), Prince Albert, Duke of Connaught, Edward VII, Prince of Wales (later King George V), Queen Alexandra, Mary of Teck (future Queen Mary), Sir Henry May (Hong Kong Governor), etc. [The Supreme Court, Statue of Queen Victora (now at Victoria Park) and Hong Kong Club (left), photo by Denis H. Hazell in 1924. Source: ‘Picturesque Hong Kong’ (Ye Olde Printerie Ltd., Hong Kong), c.1925. CC BY_NC_ND 4.0, University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The 2.7m blindfolded staue of Justice, the Greek Goddess Themis, has been the icon of justice in Hong Kong for a century. Below the statue is the pediment with the inscription “Erected AD MDCCCCX (1910), and British Royal Coat of Arms: the three lions of England, lion of Scotland and harp of Ireland on the shield, supported by the English lion and Scottish unicorn. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The Neo-Classical building was designed by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, who were also involved in the facade design of Buckingham Palace and Victoria and Albert Museum in London. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The colonnade of the Old Supreme Court Building is a popular spot for selfies. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Former French Mission Building (前法國外方傳道會大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1917
The Former French Mission Building is located on Government Hill above Queen’s Road Central. Altered from a mansion called Johnston House, the current building was opened in 1917 after a major renovation. The original structure was used as the residence of the Governor, home of the Legislative Council, HSBC, Russian Consulate, government offices, before it was acquired by the Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1915. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2021]
Former French Mission Building (前法國外方傳道會大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1917
In 1953, the building was sold back to the government of Hong Kong. It was used as the Court of Final Appeal from 1997 to 2015. [Battery Path, Central, 2021]
The Helena May main building (梅夫人婦女會主樓), Edwardian Era, Completed in 1916
Helena May main building was opened in 1916 by Lady May, the wife of Sir Francis Henry May, the Governor of Hong Kong. The three-storey Neo-classical building has 24 rooms, a library, reading room, classrooms, etc. It was home to Helena May Institute for Women. [Junction of Upper Albert Road and Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Designed by P&T, the Pedder Building at No. 12 Pedder Street is the last remaining pre-war commercial building in Central. Built in Beaux-Arts style, the building is listed as Grade I historical building. The building is consisted of nine storeys, one mezzanine floor and one basement level. It stands at 35m above street level. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Due to very high rent, most of Pedder Building has been vacant. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Some say the building is worth about HKD 3.2 billion (USD 412 million) nowadays. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Edwardian Era, pavilion completed in 1909, dismantled and relocated to Morse Park in 1965, restored in Stanley in 2007
Constructed in 1900 as an open pier, Blake Pier was originally located at the end of Pedder Street in Central. In 1909, a pavilion canopy was added. In 1965, the pier pavilion was dismantled and restored at Morse Park in Wong Tai Sin. It was dismantled and relocated to its current Stanley location in 2007. [Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Stanley, 2021]
Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), pavilion completed in 1909, dismantled and relocated to Morse Park in 1965, restored in Stanley in 2007
In Stanley, the pier is popular with young couples and local retirees who come regularly for leisure fishing. [Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Stanley, 2018]

QUEEN’S ROAD CENTRAL (皇后大道中), Central-Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Six years before the handover of Hong Kong to China, Taiwanese songwriter and singer Lo Tayou (羅大佑) published a song called “Queen’s Road East” (皇后大道東) in 1991. Emerged as a satirical reflection of Hongkongers’ collective feelings in the eve’s of the handover, the song became an instant hit. Even today, the song still offers an interesting cultural reference to understand the city’s unsettling moment before 1997. In the face of Hong Kong’s social uncertainties and imminent changes in near future, lyricist Albert Leung (林夕) made use of a wide range of symbols in the song, from “portrait on the coin” and “noble friend” to signify Queen Elizabeth II, to “waves of pedestrians” to suggest the mass exodus of Hongkongers. But the biggest symbolism is in fact the name “Queen’s Road East” itself. Physically divided into three sections, namely Queen’s Road East, Queen’s Road Central, and Queen’s Road West, Queen’s Road was used in the song to symbolize the three main players in the city’s story: “East” for Hong Kong, “West” for Britain, and “Central” for China (in reference to “Middle Kingdom”, the Chinese name of China). While “Queen” is unmistakably a reference to the city’s colonial past, the historical and economic significance of Queen’s Road has suggested a meaning way beyond colonialism. It is in fact a symbol of the city’s success story. As Hong Kong’s first main road, Queen’s Road was home to the first city hall, first post office, first luxury hotel, first bank headquarters, first residences of government officials, first business district, etc. After almost 180 years of urban transformations, its importance in the commercial heart remains vital to this date. The rich history and symbolism of Queen’s Road has made it a sensible choice for Lo Tayou and Albert Leung in their iconic song, and a reference point to tell the story of Hong Kong.

For its architecture and luxury shops, Queen’s Road Central is indeed a popular destination for both foreign visitors and local Hongkongers. Constructed between 1841 and 1843, Queen’s Road was originally named Main Street (大馬路). It ran through the first business district in the city between Sai Ying Pun (西營盤) and Central (中環). The road was soon renamed as Queen’s Road in tribute to Queen Victoria. As the road further extended in the west and east direction, Queen’s Road was eventually divided into three main sections: West, Central and East. Connecting Sheung Wan (上環) and Central along the island’s original shoreline, Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中) has long been considered as a synonym of Downtown Hong Kong. Subsequent land reclamations in the next 180 years pushed Queen’s Road Central further and further inland. The business district has long extended way beyond its original extent around Queen’s Road Central. Yet, buildings along the road continue to be sold, torn down and replaced by taller replacements, from the 19th century Neo-classical structures to the 20th century Modernist buildings, and then to the contemporary glassy skyscrapers. Due to its historical significance, Queen’s Road Central is probably one of the most documented street in Hong Kong. Having the historical photographs in hand while taking a brief tour of Queen’s Road Central offers a fruitful way to understand the tale of constant changes, and endless cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction in one of the fastest growing metropolises in modern history.

Running across the former extent of Victoria City (West District, Sheung Wan, Central and Wanchai), Queen’s Road is the first main road in Hong Kong. [Street sign of Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
In the early days, Queen’s Road was no more than a street of dirt. [A Chromolithograph of Queen’s Road based on a drawing by Eduard Hildebrandt, Public Domain, 1865]
This Central-Sheung Wan (中上環) diagram highlights the extent of Queen’s Road Central and some of its notable street numbers in correspondence to the photos below.
1 Queen’s Road Central: HSBC Main Building (香港上海滙豐銀行總行)
Completed in 1985, Norman Foster’s HSBC Main Building is the fourth version of the bank’s headquarters at the very same site. [Junction of Bank Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
1 Queen’s Road Central: HSBC Main Building (香港上海滙豐銀行總行)
At the ground floor covered plaza, markings on the floor explain the building site in relationship with the various land reclamations of Central. [Junction of Bank Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
9 Queen’s Road Central: The Galleria (嘉軒廣場)
The Galleria formerly housed a flagship Hermes store
, before the French luxury goods company sold the 7500 sq.ft retail space for about USD 86 million. [Junction of Ice House Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
12 Queen’s Road Central: Shanghai Commercial Bank Tower (上海商業銀行) & Landmark Atrium (置地廣塲)
In 2016, Shanghai Commercial Bank moved into their new tower after years of construction. Much of its ground floor is rented out to a flagship boutique of Versace. Across the street stands Landmark Atrium, one of the city’s most upscale shopping centres. [Junction of Duddell Street and Queen’s Road, Central, 2020]
Rickshaws lined up both sides of Queen’s Road Central at the junction where today’s Shanghai Commercial Bank stands. [Photo in Public Domain, Junction of Duddell Street and Queen’s Road, Central, 1900]
15 Queen’s Road Central: The Landmark (置地廣塲)
Home to the likes of Gucci flagship and Harvey Nichols department store, Landmark Atrium is one of the most well known luxury shopping destination in Hong Kong. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
15 Queen’s Road Central: The Landmark (置地廣塲)
The Landmark partially occupies the site of the former Hongkong Hotel
(香港大酒店
), a majestic luxury hotel. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
Founded in 1868 and closed in 1952, Hongkong Hotel (香港大酒店) was the first luxury hotel in Hong Kong. It was later replaced by the office tower Central Building (中建大廈) and The Landmark (置地廣塲) a complex of luxury shopping centre and office buildings. [Photo by Lai Afong, Public Domain, 1880’s]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Entertainment Building (娛樂行) at Intersection of Pedder Street
Designed by P&T Architects, the neo-gothic Entertainment Building was erected in 1993 on the site of the former King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院). Instead of movie billboards that once dominated the scenery at this location, a large LED screen on the podium facade
to engage pedestrians from all directions.
[Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Entertainment Building (娛樂行)
Long gone the days when Central was a destination for moviegoers (except a small cinema in the Entertainment Building). In 1928, the air conditioned King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院) was erected along with a ballroom and restaurant. It lasted till 1962 and was replaced by the 1,300-seat second generation. The theatre finally closed in 1990 to make way for the current office tower. [Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Former King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院)
The 7-storey King’s Theatre was opened in 1931
. Its predecessor on the same spot, Bijou Scenic Theatre, was one of the first cinema established in Hong Kong. [Photo by Harrison Forman, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, 1940’s]
31 Queen’s Road Central: LHT Tower (陸海通大廈) and Theatre Lane (戲院里)
The street name “Theatre Lane” says it all. Decades ago, Theatre Lane was flanked by Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院) and opposite from King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院). Both famous theatres were demolished and redeveloped in the 1990’s into new office towers: King’s Theatre became Entertainment Building and Queen’s Theatre was turned into LHT Tower with the eye-catching slanted facade verticals. [Junction of Theatre Lane and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
31 Queen’s Road Central: Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院)
In 1907, Victoria Theatre and Hong Kong Theatre opened in Central. Located at the intersection of Theatre Lane and Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong Theatre was the first cinema founded by local Chinese. It was replaced by Queen’s Theatre in 1924 with 1,200 seats. Queen’s Theatre was later replaced by its second generation in 1961, and eventually demolished in 2008 for the new office building. [Photo by Harrison Forman, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, 1940’s]
80 Queen’s Road Central: Pottinger Street (砵典乍街) or Stone Slab Street (石板街)
One of the most popular tourist destination in Central is the historical Pottinger Street. Its stone steps lead tourists all the way from Queen’s Road Central to Tai Kwun, the former Police Headquarters in Central. [Junction of Pottinger Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
100 Queen’s Road Central: Don Don Donki (驚安之殿堂) at 100 QRC
Open 24 hours 7 days a week and famous for its vast selection of household and food merchandises imported from Japan, the Japanese supermarket Don Don Donki at 100 QRC is their 5th outlet opened in Hong Kong since 2019. The pandemic is preventing Hongkongers to visit their favorite destination: Japan. For the time being, Don Don Donki is benefiting from the situation and is determined to speed up their expansion plan of opening 24 stores across the city. [Junction of Central-Mid Levels Escalators and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
100 Queen’s Road Central: Central-Mid Levels Escalator Since its inauguration in 1993, the Central-Mid Levels Escalator has completely transformed the pedestrian patterns and urban scenery of SoHo, bringing people up to the Mid Levels from Queen’s Road Central. [Looking down from Central-Mid Levels Escalator, Central, 2020]
93 Queen’s Road Central: Central Market (中環街市)
Famous for its Bauhaus style, the 83-year Central Market is undergoing a major revitalization work. It would be adapted into a new shopping complex. [Junction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
93 Queen’s Road Central: Central Market (中環街市)
Before the modernist version was erected in 1938, the earlier versions of the Central Market had always been a traditional Western architecture.
[Image courtesy of Historical Photographs of China reference number: NA16-019., University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net), CC BY_NC_ND 4.0, 1895]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
At 346m, The Center is the fifth tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong. It is one of the tallest steel buildings in the world without reinforced concrete core. In 2017, the building for sold for a world record of USD 5.15 billion. [Junction of Jubilee Stree and Queen’s Road, Central, Central, 2020]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
To facilitate the skyscraper’s construction, several historical structures were demolished and streets shortened in 1995. [unction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road, Central, Central, 2021]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
The main lobby is raised up a level for better views, leaving the ground level to become a semi-open plaza. [Junction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central,
2021]
128 Queen’s Road Central: Peel Street (卑利街)
Graham Street Market, the oldest street market in Hong Kong, is accessible from Queen’s Road Central via Peel Street or Graham Street.
[Junction of Peel Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
A century ago, Queen’s Road Central was flanked both sides by qilou (騎樓), or arcade buildings. These unique architecture originated from the British in India, who came up with the idea of adding verandas in front of buildings for shading in hot climate. These architectural type then spread into Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Southern China and became widely popular in the 19th century. [Photo by Lai Afong, Public Domain, late 19-century]
176 Queen’s Road Central:
Not many qilou buildings survives in Central-Sheung Wan today. [176 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
176 Queen’s Road Central: Peel Street (卑利街)
The qilou at 176 Queen’s Road Central has become a precious survivor in the area. [176 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
176 Queen’s Road Central: Kam On Building (錦安大廈)
A thin building called Kam On Building marks the junction of Wellington Street and Queen’s Road Central. [Junction of Wellington Street and Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
181 Queen’s Road Central: Grand Millennium Plaza (新紀元廣場)
Similar to The Center, Grand Millennium Plaza was also a redevelopment project that dramatically transform the urban fabric of the area. Old tenement buildings were demolished and small streets and lanes were removed to make way for the current two office towers and a neo-classical plaza.
[Junction of Bonham Strand and Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
378 Queen’s Road Central: Possession Street (水坑口街)
In Sheung Wan, Possession Street, the spot where the British navy first landed on the island, defines the end of Queen’s Road Central and beginning of Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西). [Junction of Possession Street, Bonham Strand and Queen’s Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]