Here's a summary of the tools we've found to research old buildings. They are currently scattered around the website, and I can never remember where they are. So here's a list to bring them in to one place.
First let's look at buildings that are still standing, as they are a bit easier to deal with:
- AMO. If it's an old building that's still standing, there's a good chance it's one of the 1,444 Historic Buildings assessed by the Antiquities and Monuments Office. Search the Introduction to see if it is included or not. If it is, look it up in the relevant 'Brief information on...' document to get more detail.
- 'Names of Buildings'. Thanks to Annelise for introducing these books.They are published by the Rating & Valuation Department, and list all the buildings that have names, together with an approximate date of completion (though see the disclaimer at the start of the book). There's one for HK & Kowloon, and one for the New Territories, both available for download from the R&V department's publications page.
- Centamap. An online, up to date map of Hong Kong. An easy way to check a building's exact location, street number, and name in English and Chinese. It can also show the age of buildings, but the information isn't shown for all buildings.
- Emporis. Has information about many of the current, large buildings in Hong Kong (residential as well as commercial). Includes details of some that have been demolished too, so worth a search for either.
For older buildings, and buildings that have already been demolished, we have to do some more detective work.
The HK Institute of Architects published an article "The 100 years architects in Hong Kong 1841-1941", which covers the architects from that time, and also lists the buildings they built. It includes photos and construction dates for many old landmark buildings. The article starts on pg 44 of Issue 45 of their Journal. They have a scanned copy online. It starts on page 15 (!) of this PDF file, and continues in this PDF file. Thanks to Moddsey for introducing this.
The Public Works Department was responsible for many of Hong Kong's buildings. For information up to 1941, head over to HKGRO, and search for the name of the building you are interested in. If you're just browsing, search for 'public works', and then choose the years you are interested in.
Post-war til 1996, the Hong Kong Annual Report continued reporting on major construction projects underway and completed each year. I'm not aware of any online access to these, but you can often find second-hand copies for sale. Since the handover they are known as the 'Hong Kong Yearbook'. Copies from 1997 onwards are available online.
If it was a large building, it may have been covered in the newspapers when it opened. So a search in the old newspapers is worth a try too.
Street numbers or Lots?
Sometimes you'll turn up an address for an old building, and want to know where the building stood. Just be warned that on certain streets, numbering systems (and even street names) were changed over the years. So the address today may be in a different place from when it was first used.
If you have the choice, the lot number is a more useful fact to know. The Lot was the piece of land. You'll see initials like I.L. then a number. So I.L. 85 would be 'Inland Lot 85'. Each lot number was unique. Some fell out of use (eg when a large lot was was split into several smaller lots), but they were never re-used. So if you know the lot number, you can be sure of the building's location.
There are several resources if you're searching for information about a Lot (please leave a comment if you know of more):
- The most comprehensive information about a Lot is available through the Government's online IRIS database. The catch is that you have to pay to access the details of a record. It's not expensive if you're just looking up one entry, say for a family history. But it soon adds up if you're interested in a lot of old Hong Kong buildings.
- If the Lot still exists today, try the Government's Geoinfo Map. At the bottom of the Search tab, in the Advanced Search section, click Lot to search by lot number.
- Current lot numbers are also listed in the Land Registry's Street Index.
- For older (pre-1942) history about a Lot, HKGRO sometimes turns up useful information. I usually just search by the lot number, then check through the results. ie search for 5414 not I.L. 5414
- Finally, if you know roughly where the lot is/was located, old maps are another good tool to use. If you choose a large enough scale, they have the building name written on many of the old buildings.
What other resources are there? eg In historical articles I'll sometimes see mentions of rates books, but it's not something I've used. Or were there any old map directories, with maps of the urban areas and lists of the buildings?
Buildings in Central / HK Land
Hong Kong Land is responsible for many of the major buildings in Central. This presentation covers their buildings over the years, and is a good source of information. Thanks to Annelise for the link.
Researching a Lot's history
It's worth visiting the HKGRO website and searching on the lot number. Don't bother entering the type of lot - eg if you're interested in I.L. 1947, just type:
Hit the search button, and see what turns up.
Remember that the HKGRO database only covers up til 1941, so it's only useful for older lots.
Database of private buildings
A simple way to find the year built, numbers of floors, numbers of units etc is to search from the building management database of Home Affairs Department.
If you search and the result shows "Year Built: 1945" I think that it really means something like "We know it was built before the war but the records were lost so we don't know the exact year".
I haven't seen an an official explanation of this, but if you search for "Year built=1945" it gives 129 results. That seems unlikely right after the end of the war, and especially when a search for "Year built=1945" only returns 4 results.
So if you see "Year Built: 1945", it is probably a pre-war building.
Use Google Earth satellite view
A good tip sent in by email to help date recent demolitions of buildings:
... google earth (the desktop app) has hi-res imagery in 2000-2001 and 2006-present, this is proving to be a useful resource for dating demolitions.
Do you have any idea where may I find information on Government Land Allocation (GLA codes) so I could have a more hollistic understanding on the public land use just as marine and inland lots for private lands?
Government Land Allocation (GLA codes)
I haven't heard of them before. Have you tried contacting the Lands Department?
I'll be interested to hear what you discover.
Government Land Allocation (GLA codes)
I first heard of the name from Lands Department and I was referred to contact Survey and Mapping Office instead. I am still awaiting their reply on the matters.
I am sure the information is disclosable since you can locate the place on GeoInfo if the GLA number has already been known.
Will keep you updated if I find anything useful.