c.1950 Central from the harbour
We'll start the new year with a popular view - Victoria Harbour with a junk sailing by, and Hong Kong Island in the background.
Where: The photo shows buildings along Connaught Road in Central, and the hillsides beyond.
When: The buildings along Connaught Road were built in the 1890s and 1900s, on what was then newly-reclaimed land. When this photo was taken, most of those buildings were still standing, with one exception:
This box-shaped building was initially known as Electra House, later as Mercury House. As the name on the building shows, it was built for Cable and Wireless, who moved into the new building in February, 1950.
So the photo was taken in 1950 or later. Not much later though ...
HSBC's headquarters building is clear to see, standing head and shoulders above the buildings along the seafront. In views from the harbour like this, we're used to seeing a slightly taller neighbour on the left, the Bank of China. Here's a photo showing the Bank of China building under construction.
As that construction work was finished in November 1951, I'll guess the main photo was taken in mid-1950: Electra House is finished, but there's no sign of the Bank of China yet.
Who: Look at the two sailors on the junk. They must have had excellent balance, as there aren't any ropes or railings to stop them from falling in to the sea.
I love to see the sails on the old junks like this, all patched up, and often with as much hole as cloth. This one is in pretty good shape though, with a patchwork of repairs, but only one small hole at the top.
What: I've got a few questions I welcome your help with.
Generations of ferries
The Timeline of Hong Kong Trams is a helpful tool when trying to put a date on a photo that shows old trams. I wonder if there are enough differences in Star Ferry designs that they could help us to date harbour photos in a similar way? As an example, compare the two ferries in this photo.
If we look at the upper deck, one has the enclosed sections at each end, while one has them in the middle. Modern ferries all have the enclosed sections at each end of the upper deck, so was there a specific year when the design changed, and no more enclosed-middle ferries were built?
When & why did Blake Pier lose the end of its roof?
The old Queen's Pier is clear to see between the two ferries. Its roof slopes in two directions, both along and across the length of the pier. A roof with that design is called a hip (or hipped) roof.
In the centre is the Star Ferry Pier. It has the simpler, gabled roof, as the roof only slopes in one direction, across the pier.
The third pier is Blake Pier. Though it is mostly hidden behind the junk's sail, the end facing us shows it has the same gabled style of roof as the Star Ferry's pier.
But this 1925 photo of Blake Pier shows it originally had a hipped roof, like Queen's Pier.
So... does anyone know what caused the hipped end to be removed, and when did it go?
I guess the cause was wartime damage to the roof, but did the damage happen during the fighting in December 1941, or in one of the American bombing raids that followed?
And I've read a suggestion the end of the roof wasn't removed until the late 1940s, but this 1945 photo shows Blake Pier at far right with the hipped end of its roof already missing.
Buildings along Magazine Gap Road
Finally, I'm interested to learn more about the group of buildings along the section of Magazine Gap Road we can see, just above the junction with May Road. Here's a modern map of the area, with the five building sites labelled.
It's the section of Magazine Gap Road just after the junction with May Road. After passing that junction, Magazine Gap Road turns around a sharp hairpin bend, then curves around three ridges in succession, /\/\/\.
In the 1920s, a plot of land was levelled on each of those ridges, just above the road. Houses were built on them at sites A, C, and E. The houses are described in the PWD's annual report for 1922:
The erection of 3 pairs of semi-detached European houses for the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company on I.Ls. 2308, 2309 & 2310, Magazine Gap Road, was completed.
Like Blake Pier, these buildings also suffered during the war years. Here's how they looked in 1946.
In 1946 the three buildings A, C, and E are just roofless shells, probably damaged by a combination of shelling by the Japanese during the fighting, then looting in the years that followed.
Move ahead to the 1950 photo, and see how quickly the area was re-developed.
Site A still shows signs of its ruined building, but site C has been cleared, and site E already sports a new, three-storey building.
Today's buildings are different again, so I'm guessing there have been three generations of buildings on each these sites: pre-war, post-war, and modern. If you can share any memories or photos of these buildings, especially the earlier generations that have vanished, they will be gratefully received.
Gwulo photo ID: EM001
Further reading: The section of the Central's seafront shown above is covered in more detail in photos #1, #18, and #22 of Gwulo's book, Old Hong Kong Photos..., Volume 2.
Trivia: The Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, original owner of those houses on Magazine Gap Road, was a British telegraph company, with its offices in the building that preceded Electra House. In the late 1920s, Britain merged its various communications companies into one, and in 1934 that company was given a new name, Cable & Wireless.