St Joseph's Building [1882-1988] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

St Joseph's Building [1882-1988]

Current condition: 
Demolished / No longer exists
Date Place completed: 
c.1882-11-03 (Month, Day are approximate)
Date Place demolished: 

Robinson Heights Block 1 to 3 were built on the former site of St Joseph's Building and St Joseph's Terrace.

Photos that show this place


I've had a quick search on the internet, but didn't turn up any history of this building. Does anyone know anything about it?

Days at Robinson Road (1881-1917)

In April, 1880, Brother Cyprian was appointed Director. He had been a distinguished teacher in New York and Quebec and had held the directorship of several schools in his native land, Canada, previous to his experience in London and Paris. In order to cater for the needs of the fast-growing school, a piece of land in Glenealy below Robinson Road was bought and a two-storey Victorian building became home to the College in 1881.

On 13 February 1918, a fifty-second earthquake struck the colony and the Robinson Road campus was severely damaged. Subsequently Principal Brother Aimar bought the Club Germania with its commodious grounds at 7 Kennedy Road on 3 September - the splendid German building was confisicated by the Custodian of Enemy Property of the British Colonial Government since the outbreak of World War I.

more from Wikipedia

I was so pleased to see these pictures. May I make a correction to the name of the building, it was called St Joseph's Building not Terrace ( another building on lower level ). I was borned in the building and so was my Father hence I know the building pretty well. I left HK in 1977 and the building was demolished in 1980. I guess the pictures were taken in early 70s where it looked occupied with laundry hanging out.

Dear poonss,

Would you have any family photos that show the buidling or the surrounding area?

Days at Robinson Road 1921-1955

1920 - the De La Salle Brothers' St. Joseph's School, - which had been occupying The St. Joseph's Building and the customs built school premises at 2, Robinson Road, (the same site as the post World War II St. Joan of Arc School) - moved to their newly acquired the premises at Kennedy Road. (The Kennedy Road premises was, before World War I, the German Club).

On learning that the St. Joseph's was vacating the premises at 2 Robinson Road, my father jumped at the opportunity and successfully negotiated the taking over of the custom-built school builidng - with the Roman Catholic Procurator, which owned the buildings - for Wah Yan College Hongkong.

There and then, we first moved to occupy, for a while, a flat on the ground floor of the St. Joseph's Building (demolished in 1988 for redevelopment), but later moved to an `outhouse' (? designed as servants quarters), attached to the school premises at 2 Robinson Road. Here we lived for a few years.

I saw the first ever reinforce concrete building in Hongkong (The St. Joseph's Mansion - now the Caritas Valtorta House at 2A Robinson Road) being built. To break up granites on the steep hill slope, explosives had to be used, and resorting to the beating of gongs to warn the passes by of the danger.

When the St. Joseph's Mansion was built, the first tenants were almost exclusively Portuguese. The long hall, at its basement, too, had the Club de Lusitano as its first tenant. I recalled watching from the steps, the Portuguese Community celebrating the Opening with a very well attended Dancing Party in that hall.

by 1927 As the student population of Wah Yan swelled, the Portuguese tenants hitherto occupying the St.Joseph's Mansion right next door to the School building on Robinson Road, began a wholesale "migration" over to live in Kowloon; thereby making it possible for Wah Yan to take over the entire St. Joseph's Mansion, a 6 storeyed building for the rapidly expanding school. Two and a half floors of the St. Joseph's Mansion were converted into a hostel for boarding students. The St.Joseph's Mansion ( what is now the Valtorta House of Caritas Hongkong ), the first ever reinforced concrete building built in Hongkong, was originally built as a 6-storey block of flats, with three separate staircases each leading to a 3-room self-contained flat on each floor. Because they were designed and built with three separate staircases, each such staircase was given a number by the Rating and Valuation Department. Thus the St. Joseph's Mansion was in fact, numbered as 2,4 & 6 of Robinson, and the orginal custom built school premises for the previous St. Joseph's College had its house no. changed from No.2 to No.8 following after the completion of the St. Joseph's Mansion. The rooms and hallways of the flats in the Mansion were quite spacious, and the flats were provided with flush toilet, a kitchen and one or two servants rooms. To convert these flats into a school hostel, all that were necessary was to knock open a passage way at a convenient spot through the partition wall between Nos. 2,4 & 6; modified the varieties of rooms domitories, dining room and other utilities, and there were sufficient space for about 100 boarding students.

From Central via Wyndham Street or Ice House Street on to the Gleenary was not the only way to come up to Wah Yan; one alternative was to climb the gentler slope which was broken by a few flights of steps built by the side of the Cathedral for the occupants of St.Joseph's Terrace and the St.Joseph's Building

1930 - It was in that year, on the 16th December, the school celebrated its 10th Anniversary. The the entire complex of two buildings; -namely The St. Joseph's Mansion at 2-6, Robinson Road (now the Caritas Valtota House) as well as the custom built old School Building at No.8 Robinson Road, -were fully lit up with electric lights (like the Banks do at Christmas in recent years) for the occasion.




Thanks for the extra information, I've corrected the title.

so this building was erected in 1880?? thanks!


I was googling some Chinese songs on You Tube and found one old MTV (Alan Tam's song, Goddess of Love) being filmed in this location. As it brought back some childhood memories, I started searching for photos on the web and found this site.

My Father was raised in one of the units and we know some families there, so as a child, I used to play in the area all the time. It was quite the adventure as we walk through the labyrith of the various buildings (great for Halloween LOL)

I never appreciated the architecture as a child, but now I wished I had taken more photos of those wonderful buildings.

Here is the MTV link, quite cheesy but it shows quite a bit of the area. 

That's a good find, thanks for posting. These old music videos are likely a good source for footage of old buildings. And the extra helpings of cheese are a bonus!

Regards, David

Chanced upon footage of this music video on Youtube probably filmed around the same period as the one featuring Alan Tam. This time though Anita Mui did justice to the streetscape with a song of melancholy matching the dilapidated condition of the building.

St. Joseph's College is situated on Robinson Road above the Roman Catholic Cathedral and helps to make up that imposing pile of buildings so prominently seen from the harbour. The College is under the control of the Christian Brothers, is very ably conducted and provides mostly for the education of the Portuguese section of the community.


Source: The Tourist's Guide to Hong Kong, with short trips to the Mainland of China (1897) by HURLEY, R. C.

A piece of land in Glenealy below Robinson Road became home to St. Joseph's College in 1881, to cater for the needs of the fast-growing school. The original structure of the College till then was a two-storey building, but a third was added in 1898 for the accommodation of the boarders. Three years after completion of the building, the wings were added. For about 40 years, St. Joseph's College enjoyed fruitful years at Robinson Road.



To help date photos wings were added in 1884 and a third storey in 1898. Its a prominent building so should be easy to spot in any panoramic photos of the late 19th century

According to this book,

This is one of the two original buildings in St Joseph's College at Robinson Road . It should be known as the "North Block" . 

After the earthquake of 1918 damaged the buildings and St Joseph's moved out to 7 Kennedy Road,  the buildings were not torn down.  "South Block" of SJC ( was used by Wah Yan College until 1955, when they moved out to Wanchai, The "South Block"  was in turn used by St. Joan of Arc school. In 1960,  St Joan of Arch rebuilit the original SJC south block into its  2nd generation campus ( )

North Block of the SJC building, which is the "St Joseph's Building" here, remained in its place until 1988.  What not sure is if it has been used by Wah Yan or St Joan of Arc school during the years.

Hi kckong, Thank you for clarifying. Please see the following and let us know if the info in the thread is correct. Thanks!

The descriptions of Lawrence Tsui seem to match. It looks like , from Lawrence Tsui's and the other St. Joan of Arc alumni in the 1950's descriptions, Wah Yen and SJA both used a 3 story "classroom" block that was from old St Joseph's College; and a 6 story high rise . The "classroom" block was a custom built house for school , accessible from Robinson Road , showing only two stories when viewed from Robinson Road. It is very likely to be the "Southern Block" of St Joseph's . Both Wah Yan and SJA also used a 6 story high rise that was constructed in the 1920s , after St Joseph's already moved out. It was the "St Joseph's Mansion" , today's Caritas Valtoras House ( St. Joseph's building here on this page is the "Northern block" of St Joseph's College, which was the original St. Joseph's College building, built in 1881 that was once a prominent landmark in Hong Kong. Apparently it was never used by both Wah Yan and SJA after SJC moved out in 1918, but remained standing for 70 more years until 1988.  

A puzzle then becomes, if the De LaSalle brothers of St Joseph's declared its buildings unfit to use for teaching after the earthquake of 1918 and it had to scramble to find a place to use, why weren't the buildings torn down but were instead used by two other schools for 40+ years?  One possible explanation is that the "Southern block" was still in good condition, but the Northern block (St Joseph's Building here) was in bad shape. Wah Yen was a much smaller school compared to SJC in 1918 and fit with using the Southern block only. The Northern block however, was not used as a school anymore until it's complete demolition in 1980s.   I hope anyone with more knowledge will be able to provide proof for this. 

Added a photo of a postcard linked from:


Under the postcard, the handwritten notes say "was badly shaken in earthquake 1918 ; now housing 20 families". 

It seems to have confirmed that the building was not fit to be used as a school anymore and was instead used as housing for families; apparently until it was demolished , 100 years after their construction and 70 years after the earthquake,  in the 1980s. 

Another note, the Director of St. Joseph's College at the time of the earthquake was Brother Aimar Sauron. According to the La Salle Brothers records: , he was St. Joseph's College Director in 1914. When he was director, "8 classrooms were added and a new building was set up" .  It is unknown , but possible, that the new building being referred was the "South Block" of SJC at Robinson Road, which remained usable after the earthquake and was later used by Wah Yan College and SJA. 


Also mentioned in the La Salle Brother's history:

In 1918, an earthquake damaged the College building in Robinson Road. It was considered unsafe to remain in occupation of the building. Under the pressure of the ever-increasing demand for admission and the necessity of returning the Robinson Road campus to the Catholic Mission, a new building, which could meet all up-to-date requirements, was planned, though resources were very limited. 


Another issue of the articles stated:


This unusual occurrence (earthquake) may be considered an epoch-making event in the history of the College. The old College building in Robinson Road, especially the recently-added wings, was found on examination to be so badly damaged that it was condemned by the Municipality as unfit for school purposes, with the result that it had to be vacated at very short notice.


 The new premises (Club Germania at 7 Kennedy) were suited as a hostel for the staff and the boarders but deficient in accommodation for classrooms. As a result, some classes still remained in the hastily erected three storey building in Robinson Road and Brother Paul O’Connell was left in charge. 



So it seems to support the very theory, that the original St Joseph's buildings at Robinson Road were not all damaged to the degree requiring immediate torn down after the earthquake; they have only been deemed unfit for school purpose. And we also know there was at least one "three storey building at Robinson Road" that was still in use after 7 Kennedy Road was purchased by the brothers.  It was "hastily erected", meaning it was probably constructed after the earthquake.

Part of the reasons St. Joseph's moved to the former Gemania Club was to find a bigger place; and to return Robinson Road to the Catholic Mission.

Brother Aimar was known to be a "land investor" in the De La Salle brothers. Under his leadership, the La Salle brothers in Hong Kong bought 7 Kennedy Road for St. Joseph's, 10 acres of land in Kowloon to be developed into the La Salle College. Before he arrived in Hong Kong, he had also bought large pieces of land for St. Xavier's College in Penang, Malaya.  

This is St Joseph's College building at Robinson Road. It was laid on 3rd November, 1881  by Governor John Hope Hennessy. 

Hi kckong, Thank you very much for sharing the result of your research! Prior to reading your posts, I also found it odd that a building considered structurally unsound survived for another 60 or more years. 2019 will be the 100th anniversary of Wah Yan College. I am sure those working on the school history would be interested in information about its Robinson Road campus.

The building was inaugurated on the 6th of January, 1883. The inauguration was reported on page 3 of The Hong Kong Telegraph, 1883-01-08. Extracts from the report:

The school erected under Roman Catholic auspices for the Christian Brothers, and known as St. Joseph's College, was formally inaugurated on the afternoon of Saturday last by His Excellency the Administrator. The new building, a very handsome and imposing structure, is situated on the Glenealy estate, just below Robinson Road, and commands a splendid view of the harbour and surrounding country. It has been constructed from plans and drawings prepared by Mr William Danby, C.E. and besides being an ornament to the colony as an excellent specimen of modern architecture, is admirably adapted to the purposes for which it was designed. The frontage of the new college measures 152 feet, with a breadth of 25 feet, and the verandahs on each side are eight feet wide. The foundation stone of St. Joseph’s College was formally laid by Sir John Pope Hennessy, on Thursday, the 3rd November, 1881, in the presence of a large number of spectators.


The building of the college was proceeded with in such an energetic fashion that in about one year from the formal laying of the foundation stone, it was ready for occupation, and the Christian Brothers and their pupils moved from their old quarters into the new building. It was decided, however, not to formally inaugurate St. Joseph’s until the arrival of the Right Rev. the Bishop of Acantho, to whom the credit of the work is mainly due. As Father Raimondi only reached Hongkong by the American Mail a week ago, very little time was lost in completing the necessary arrangements for the public inauguration of the new seminary, His Excellency the Administrator kindly acquiescing in the desire of the Vicar-Apostolic to perform the ceremony.


As the teachers and pupils moved in "about one year from the formal laying of the foundation stone", I've set the building's completion date to 1882.

From St. Joan of Arc Alumni, according to the web site, this is the St Joseph's building. Still need to confirm. Some features do not seem to match.

The sketching above is Hong Kong Club, not St. Joseph's building. 

From University of Hong Kong government reports online: 1920 Public Works Department Report (AR1920) , Pg. Q21 :

The building on IL 579, Robinson Road, formerly St. Joseph's College, was converted to residential flats. 

This confirmed that St. Joseph's building was not used by Wah Yan and St. Joan of Arc.  

Joing this form a little late I am afraid. The picture from afar shows the huge belfry tower of the Cathedral.

Any idea when that was demolished? I imagine it was due to Japanese shelling, as it doesn't look like the Cathedral suffered any colatteral damage. But then I don't recall ever seeing St Joseph's House. Which was probably demolished at the same time as the belfry.

Anyone know of the circumstances and when?


Thanks C.

That goes some way to answering my question. But it is still a little vague in that it doesn't say what damage the shelling did. My contention is that St Joseph's House was badly hit and so demilosihed. The salvo must have also hit the bell tower, knocking out the bells, but leaving the lower half intact. I am sure I never heard any bells during the war.

Thanks agin for the prompt reply.

The story of the belfry in WW2 and its subsequent demolition is in a comment at the page C linked to. Please see:

Regards, David