5 Hong Kong heritage sites: The expert's pick
Amid Hong Kong's race to build the biggest, newest and tallest buildings, it is humbling to remember the structures that date from the city's early days.
Here are some of the best of Hong Kong's heritage buildings, picked by the Commissioner for Heritage Laura Aron.
Aron works on the adaptive reuse of government-owned historic buildings. She tries to strike a balance between development and conservation when revamping these beautiful, frail old structures.
1. King Yin Lei
This stunning mansion garnered a huge amount of media attention during the "Save King Yin Lei Campaign" in 2004.
“It is not only unique in architecture," says Aron.
"It was the first historic building in Hong Kong to be protected by the government through land exchange with its previous owner, setting a precedent in the city’s heritage conservation work."
Built in 1937, King Yin Lei changed prosperous hands several times over the years. In 2007, a purchaser who remains anonymous began demolition and renovation work, causing extensive damage to the building’s roof and flooring.
Attentive neighbours and quick action by the government halted the demolition.
While King Yin Lei is currently off-limits to the public, keep your eyes out for open days to be held soon. Until then, admire the Chinese Renaissance style of this mansion from the outside.
King Yin Lei, 45 Stubbs Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
2. University Hall
Like many other heritage buildings in Hong Kong, the University Hall has passed through a multitude of hands and uses over the years.
Built between 1861 and 1867, it started out as a Victorian-style castle built for Sir Douglas Lapraik, a Scottish capitalist.
“I am particularly drawn to the serene setting of this castle with a blend of Tudor and Gothic touches,” says Aron.
“A few movies were shot on location here, including ‘City of Glass’ directed by Mabel Cheung which featured Leon Lai and Shu Qi dancing in the dining hall.”
The initial structure measured only 180 square meters, but significant additions were made when the building was sold to French missionaries, who renamed it Nazareth House.
One of those additions included a Printing Wing, where the first Chinese-language bible was produced. During the second world war, Nazareth House became the military police headquarters of the Japanese Army .
In 1954, the building was sold to the University of Hong Kong, which was desperate to find student housing. It has since been used as a hall of residence for male students.
Occupants have passed on ghost stories from generation to generation. When visiting U-Hall, steer clear of the haunted animal statue which stands at the main entrance. Any student who touches it won't reach graduation. A convenient scapegoat.
University Hall, University of Hong Kong, 144 Pok Fu Lam Road,
3. Blue House Clusters
A revitalization project is currently under way to revamp this run-down area of Wanchai and to provide accommodation and cultural and education programs. Residents can stay in the building during the revamp if they wish.
“Nothing quite animates a heritage place so much as the people inside,” says Aron, referring to the residents of this well-maintained tenement building.
“People give a place meaning, and every time I visit Blue House, the attachment and devotion of its residents always manages to move me. Just talk to any 'gai fong' and the story of Blue House will be revealed."
That story would include the Wah To Hospital, the district’s first, which was built on the Blue House site in 1872. It was demolished in 1886 and four tenement buildings were built in the 1920s.
While they were common structures at the time, many tenements have been demolished over the years, making the Blue House Clusters one of a few remaining examples.
Blue House Clusters, 72, 72A, 74 & 74A Stone Nullah Lane, Wanchai
4. Tung Wah Museum
Past the Kwong Wah Hospital's A&E ward and recovery rooms stands a museum dedicated to the history of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals.
“I am particularly fond of the valuable couplets and plaques inside and out of the building, conveying traditional Chinese wisdom as well as the philanthropic legacy of the Tung Wah Group,” says Aron.
The site of the museum was originally the Main Hall Building of Kwong Wah Hospital, which was founded in 1911 by the Tung Wah Group. The structure has undergone many restorations and reconstructions since then, but the Main Hall Building has been preserved and renamed after Tung Wah’s centenary anniversary in 1970.
Now, you can find exhibits and photographs chronicling the Tung Wah Group’s years of service to the community here.
Tung Wah Museum, Kwong Wah Hospital, 25 Waterloo Road, Yau Ma Tei
5. Central Police Station Compound
The Central Police Station compound was decommissioned in 2006, but you may have been lucky to get a glimpse inside the complex during the Detour 2010 art and design festival. Now, the complex awaits rejuvenation and re-adaptation as part of the “Conserving Central” project.
“It is always reassuring to see the 'Big Station,' as the Central Police Station is known to the locals, standing so steadfastly on Hollywood Road, drawing glances of admiration from passers-by,” Aron says.
The first structure, the “Barrack Block," was built in 1864 in a modest style typical of British colonial barracks. Additional quarters were added later and the complex became the police headquarters of Hong Kong Island.
On the external wall facing Hollywood Road, you can still see the letters “G” and “R," which represent King George V.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club has been enlisted to help revitalize the building, and has proposed an arts and leisure facility. We’ll see how that comes to fruition in 2014, the project’s expected completion date.
Central Police Station, 10 Hollywood Road, Central
The Access Heritage Roving Exhibition is currently being held in Thematic Exhibition Gallery of the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre in Kowloon Park, Tsim Sha Tsui until April 27. The Exhibition will also be staged in the Shatin Town Hall, Tuen Mun Town Hall, Times Square, and the Hong Kong International Airport. Admission is free.
Visit www.heritage.gov.hk for more details.