Grand mid-century State Theatre in Hong Kong must be saved

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 12:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 9:34pm

I was pleased, if somewhat surprised, to hear that the remarkable State Theatre in North Point was given a proposed Grade 1 historic building status by the Antiquities Advisory Board at its meeting on December 8.

A rare reminder of the heyday of Hong Kong cinema, the State Theatre (built in 1952) is a unique piece of Modern Movement architecture certainly in Hong Kong, if not the world. This building is the last grand mid-century theatre still standing in Hong Kong.

The creative architectural design, featuring a series of concrete arches over its roof, suspends the building’s ceiling from above to allow for a column-free auditorium.

The State Theatre was converted into a snooker hall after its closure in 1997.

Earlier this year, a five-member panel in the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) proposed a Grade 3 status – the lowest classification in the local historic building grading system. That is a clear symptom of the outdated assessment logic for such gradings, which are frequently made purely on the age of a building, as well as a lack of thorough investigation into the internal structure of the State Theatre.

Initially, the AMO claimed the theatre’s interior had been vastly altered, thereby reducing its heritage value. However, a subsequent investigation by heritage group Walk in Hong Kong revealed that the internal structure was intact: the sloped auditorium floor had simply been decked over and a false ceiling was added to the space. This new information was sent for the AMO’s further consideration.

The head of the AMO had also tried to argue that the State Theatre was not worth a high rating because of its alleged comparative importance to North Point only, rather than the whole city. So, while the eventual proposed Grade 1 status is a surprise decision, made perhaps in response to much public outrage and (Chinese-language) media coverage of the case in the past six months, even more public backing is needed to secure the rating.

A Grade 1 rating states that “every effort should be made to preserve [the building] if possible”.

A one-month consultation period has opened for the public to submit its views on the proposed grading, and I would like to encourage anyone with an interest in Hong Kong’s heritage to write to the AMO (amo@lcsd.gov.hk) to endorse a Grade 1 status for the State Theatre – a recognition that it fully deserves.

Anna Cummins, Causeway Bay