Originally published: Sept 2020
Re-published: June 2022
Old pictures of Hong Kong are fascinating. History of this amazing city is curved in facades of old buildings. People walking the streets, dressed in completely different fashion, boats so close to the harbor and hills so visible and full of wild, tropical greenery.
I moved to Hong Kong from Paris where every urbanistic decision was meticulously, intentionally planned. Nothing was left to the faith or even to good or bad taste of its inhabitants. And Paris today looks almost exactly like the one envisioned by Baron Haussmann at the end of XIX century.
In contrast, Hong Kong is constantly changing. Nothing stays the same. Old buildings are replaced by new ones, taller ones. And only few of them survived to this day and they are like old postcards reminding us of Hong Kong’s past.
In one of my favorite places in Hong Kong – Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Art – I came across this amazing book - “Another City, Another Age. Hong Kong: The Years of Classic Elegance” by Peter Moss published by FormAsia Books Ltd.
This album shows old beautiful photographs of Hong Kong’s buildings dating from mid XIX to mid XX century. Most of them do not exist anymore and we can only admire them on the pages of that book because “nowhere else in the world is space at such a premium that the old must be constantly be replaced by, rather than co-exist with, the new.”
Inspired by this book, I have selected pictures of the few buildings that have survived and are now officially historical monuments and I compared them with their modern-day-appearance and surrounding. It was a great adventure for me and I really hope you will enjoy it as well.
Construction was completed in 1864 in the swamplands of Happy Valley. It was dismantled stone by stone in 1983 and put back together in 1998 in completely different location, in the fishing village of Stanley, where we can admire it today. It has been transformed into a shopping mall.
St John’s Cathedral
First official service in this Anglican cathedral was served in 1849. Preserved until today, it seems to be so small now surrounded by much taller sky-scrapers.
Central District Police Headquarters
The police station was built in 1864 - a three-storey barrack block added to Victoria Prison (see: picture). Other blocks were added between 1910 and 1925 and in 1919, Headquarters Block facing Hollywood Road was erected. Tai Kwun - colloquial name of the compound – comprised of three, nowadays declared as monuments, structures: the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. Beautifully revitalised with attention to authenticity, now serves as a centre for heritage and art.
The site also includes two new buildings – JC Contemporary and JC Cube, by renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron; and several outdoor spaces – Parade Ground, Prison Yard and Laundry Steps.
Build in 1904, the building was sublet to many leading professionals and commercial firms, claimed to be the new business centre of Hong Kong.
Only after 50 year it became obsolete and eventually demolished to leave the space for new 15-storey office complex, which was again knocked down to make way for the current 36-storey Alexandra House. The area surrounding the building looks completely different as well.
The street borrowed the name from its neighbouring equivalent – Macau’s Praia Grande. Later named after Governor Des Voeux – becoming Des Voeux Road Central. Seen in the old photograph from 1960s and the modern-day one.
The first Prince's Building was built in 1904, located directly south of Queen's Building. In 1960s, un upsurge of affluence in Hong Kong, brought a need for prestigious office accommodations.
In 1965 the building was demolished and replaced by the present building, under the same name but with much less elaborate façade.
This magnificent, monumental structure was inaugurated in 1912. After playing many roles over the years, in 1997 became the High Court which comprises the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal.
University of Hong Kong
The University was intended to be the “Oxford and Cambridge of the Far East”. The foundation stone was laid by the Governor Sir Frederick Lugard on 16 March 1910 and the University opened its gates in September 1913 with medicine and engineering faculties.
Nowadays the “old” University building is barely visible among the high-rise-building-surrounding but its beauty remains the same.
Bank of China
The Bank of China headquarter was completed in 1953. It was designed with a goal to surpass the 1935 HSBC building next door. It has been beautifully preserved. After moving the headquarters to the new Bank of China Tower in 1991, the building is used as a sub-branch.
And now, cherry on top 😊 - two buildings that kept the same location but look completely different nowadays:
Hong Kong Bank (HSBC)
The present-day HSBC headquarter is the actually the fourth one. The first building called Wardley House was used between 1865 and 1882, the second one (in the picture) was completed in 1886 in Victorian style with verandas and colonnades.
The building became obsolete in 1930s and was replaced by the third one that had its opening in October 1935. Two bronze lions were order from Shanghai-based British sculptor WW Wagstaff to “guard” the entrance. Lions were inspired (but not identical) by earlier commissioned lions for the Shanghai office.
The fourth, and current one, was finished on 18 November 1985 and at the time, it was the most expensive building in the world. It was designed by the British star-architect Norman Foster. Personally, one of my favourite buildings in Hong Kong 😉.
Completed in 1899, this neoclassical 4-storey-tall building quickly became the city’s most prestigious building. After the Second World War, Hong Kong became extremely popular travel destination. Therefore, the owners of the building decided to change the purpose of this amazing location and build a prestigious 5-star-hotel called The Queen’s.
Eventually, Queen's Building was demolished in 1963 and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel was constructed on the site instead, opening its doors in October 1963.