Amidst Hong Kong’s numerous glass and chrome, skyscrapers stand several historic buildings that bear evidence to the city’s rich cultural heritage. The Hong Kong government’s Antiquities and Monument’s office aims to conserve these more than thousand historical edifices. These ancient structures take the form of Chinese ancestral halls, temples, walled villages as well as western-style colonial residences and even waterworks facilities. The various historic buildings display a range of architectural styles as they help to provide a valuable insight into the history of Hong Kong.
Some of these historic buildings are declared monuments while others serve as private residences or places of worship or then host commercial ventures or government offices.
Ho Tung Gardens
All of Hong Kong was agog at the news of the recent sale of Hutong Gardens, an expansive 12000 square foot historic site situated at 75 Peak Road. The estate that fetched a record sale price of an eye-watering HK$5.1 billion has much historical significance as it served as the home of Robert Hutong, the first non-European permitted to live on the Peak. Hutong, who was once considered to be the richest man in Hong Kong, had built the mansion, a fine exponent of Chinese Renaissance architecture for his second wife, Clara in 1927.
Two years ago Ho Min-Kwan, a granddaughter of Hotung demolished the mansion as efforts for its conservation were deemed to be unfeasible. However, the site’s spectacular gardens, which feature various Buddhist, Chinese and Western elements still remain and will hopefully, be preserved by the buyer of the property.
Flagstaff House, a Greek Revival-style building, which stands tall in the midst of Hong Kong Park, dates back to the 1840’s. This grand building once served as the office and residence of the commander of the British troops in Hong Kong. Today, Flagstaff House is home to the Museum of Tea Ware and the Lok Cha Tea House, a much-loved teahouse renowned for its delectable vegetarian dim sum treats.
Ohel Leah Synagogue
The Ohel Leah Synagogue is located within a popular Mid-Levels West residential development, Robinson Place. This baroque-style synagogue was funded and built by prominent Hong Kong Jewish families, the Sassoons and the Kadoorie clan in the early 20th century. Today, this magnificent synagogue and its allied Jewish Community Centre serve as the epicenter of Jewish life in modern-day Hong Kong.
St John’s Cathedral
St John’s Cathedral located on Garden Road in Central dates back to 1849 and is the oldest western religious building in Hong Kong. The English Gothic style Cathedral has a freehold on its property, which essentially means it has a lease into perpetuity as long as its 53,175-square-foot site continues to be used for ecclesiastical purposes. Queen Victoria granted the church property it’s freehold and as long as the land is used for religious purposes neither the Hong Kong government nor any developer can stake claim to it.
The Béthanie Complex
The gorgeous neo-gothic George C. Tso memorial chapel at Béthanie has an illustrious past. The Missions Etrangères de Paris or the French Mission built Béthanie and established it as Hong Kong’s first sanatorium between 1873 and 1875 atop a verdant hilltop in the PokFulam district of Hong Kong.
The sanatorium opened its doors in 1875 and functioned as a peaceful sanctuary for European priests and missionaries from all over Asia. In fact, these priests and missionaries used to come to the sanatorium in order to rest and recuperate from tropical afflictions. Béthanie operated as a sanatorium until 1974, when the French Mission sold the property to Hong Kong Land. The developer in 1975 determined that the site was too difficult to develop, and it passed on the land to the Hong Kong government by way of an exchange of land agreement.
The Hong Kong government mulled over the demolition of Béthanie for the next few years but in 1981, the building was saved from demolition when it was declared a Grade II listed building.
In 2003, the LEGCO approved a funding project to convert Béthanie into a performing arts campus. The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts soon went on to restore and convert this charming structure into its Landmark Heritage campus, which today is home to the HKAPA School of Film and Television. Aside from the HKAPA School of Film and Television, Béthanie today also hosts two performance venues, an exhibition hall, a chapel and a museum.
On Sundays, the chapel at Béthanie serves as the home of Emmanuel Church, an Anglican (Church of England) Episcopal Church that offers services in English.
The French Mission Building
The Former French Mission Building situated on Battery Path in Central was built in 1868. Made of granite and red brick, this neoclassical building was the home of the Russian Consulate until 1915. The French Mission in Hong Kong then bought the building and added a dome and a chapel to its original structure. Today, the imposing building is home to the Court of Final Appeal, the highest judicial body in Hong Kong.
The London Mission Building
The London Mission Building was built in 1893, to house missionaries from the London Missionary Society. The building, which is made up of two blocks subsequently went on to severe as accommodation for the nurses employed at Nethersole Hospital. Today, the London Mission building houses the twin clubhouse facility of the popular80, Robinson Road residential development.
The former Marine Police Headquarters
Hong Kong’s historic buildings are not limited to Hong Kong Island, for such spectacular bastions of history can be found in Kowloon and the New Territories as well. One such grand building is 1881 Heritage, which from 1880 until 1996 served as the headquarters of the Hong Kong Marine Police.
This glorious structure displays a mélange of Victorian, colonial and neoclassical architectural styles and hosts a luxe shopping mall, a heritage hotel and exhibition hall. The 1881 Heritage complex also features several well-preserved points of interest such as the Time Ball Tower, a former Fire Station and stables. A popular tourist attraction, the 1881 Heritage complex is renowned for its splendid decorative festival displays.
Tai O Heritage Hotel
The Tai O Heritage Hotel is housed in a former police station on Lantau Island. The police station was established in 1902, to prevent crime in Tai O village located around the Ferry Pier. This exquisitely restored colonial structure has received a UNESCO award and today houses a luxurious hotel
The above-listed buildings are but a few of the many historic buildings, which litter Hong Kong’s constantly changing cityscape.
If you would like to know more about the rich, cultural heritage of Hong Kong, a perusal of these diverse historic edifices is a great way to start.