In photos of Hong Kong from the 1890s, this building is hard to miss - it towers over its neighbours on the seafront.
But although it's the view we usually see of the hotel, it's actually just one wing, and one of the later additions at that.
The original hotel building was to the south, on the corner of Pedder Street & Queen's Road Central. It grew over time: first an extra wing to the west, then one to the north, then this the third addition.
This new wing was built on the site of "Melchers' Building" (aka "Melchers House"). That building was the subject of law-suits between the Hotel company, and CP Chater. The Hotel bought the building at the end of 1886, and leased it to Chater in 1887. He in in turn sub-leased it to several commercial tenants, but in 1888 was notified that the building had been declared unsafe by the Govt Inspector of Buildings.
The hotel made a claim against Chater for unpaid rent. Chater made a counter-claim for damages, believing the unsafe condition was a result of the hotel's excavation work to build the hotel's second addition, on the south of this site.
The main point as far as the court was concerned was whether the poor state of the building was evident when Chater leased it (Hotel wins), or whether it was caused by the excavation work for building the hotel's second addition, to the south of this site (Chater wins). They decided the excavation was at fault.
In 1889 the hotel demolished the old Melchers' Building, and in 1890 announced their plans to build this new wing.
The architects for this wing were Palmer & Turner. When it opened on Dec 1st, 1892, the hotel extended the length of Pedder Street from Queen's Rd Central to the Praya (Des Voeux Rd Central), and had over 170 guest rooms.
The north wing remained in use until 1926, when it was gutted by fire on New Year's day. Here's the start of the report in the next day's issue of The China Mail:
New Year's Day 1926 in Hongkong will for long be remembered because of the calamitous fire which occurred in the Hongkong Hotel, as a result of which greater part of the building was gutted and practically the whole of the remainder of the interior ruined by the deluge of water which was eventually poured into the premises. Ranking as the greatest fire which has ever occurred in the heart of the European portion of the City, the conflagration, which broke out at about eight o’clock in the morning, raged until well past two o’clock, the two top floors of the building being wholly fire-swept, large portions of lower floors being also involved.
- "Opening of the new wing". The China Mail, 1892-11-30, pg 2
- "The dispute between the Hon. C.P. Chater and the Hongkong Hotel Co." China Mail, 1889-07-23, pg 3