Photos of 1970s Nathan Road offer a glimpse of old Hong Kong

Landmarks featured include the Astor Theatre, Nathan Hotel, Tai Lin Radio, Chung Kiu Chinese Products Emporium, Kwong Wah Hospital and Methodist College

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 8:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 3:27pm

The popular Astor Theatre on Hong Kong’s Nathan Road was one of district councillor Chan Siu-tong’s favourite hang-outs in childhood.

The theatre was redeveloped in 1987 and eventually closed in the early 2000s, and Chan, now 49, had almost forgotten what it looked like originally, until Wednesday, when the government released a new album of 70 photos showing the road in the 1970s.  

Built in 1861, Nathan Road was the first road in Kowloon. It has become longer over the years, now stretching north-south from Sham Shui Po to Tsim Sha Tsui.

As seen in the photos, the road was one of the most robust commercial areas in the city in the mid-1970s and remains so today.

“There used to be many theatres around Nathan Road,” said Chan, a member of the Yau Tsim Mong district council. “They are all gone. These photos are really interesting. For middle-aged people like me, they remind us what those old buildings used to look like.”

At that time, he said, there were not many entertainment options, and watching films was almost the only thing people did in their leisure time.

Chan, whose family has run a jade shop near Nathan Road for about four decades, recalled that he used to go to theatres every week with family members or classmates. Films starring famous singer and actor Samuel Hui Koon-kit were his theatre staples.

The photos, posted on the Government Records Service’s Educational Resources Portal website, also show many other landmark buildings and sites. They include the Nathan Hotel, first built in 1933 and still operating today; Tai Lin Radio, one of the city’s largest electrical appliance retail chains founded in 1946 and closed in 2008; and Bargain, an electrical appliance retail chain that closed in 2003.

The photos also feature a former HSBC branch; Chung Kiu Chinese Products Emporium, founded in 1958 and closed in 1997; Kwong Wah Hospital, which has been operating since 1911; Methodist College, established in 1958; and the construction site of the former Hotel Miramar, now the Mira hotel.

 

The photos were taken as a record of road conditions at MTR construction sites from Prince Edward Station to Tsim Sha Tsui Station in the 1970s.

“This set of photos brings back the collective memories of Nathan Road in the mid-1970s. We hope they can promote the appreciation of archival records,” a spokesman for the Government Records Service said.

After looking at the photos, Lee Ho-yin, who leads the University of Hong Kong’s division of architectural conservation programmes, said he was struck by how the city’s buildings remained as dull today as they had been in the 1970s.

“The monotony and charmlessness of the built environment then was a clear reflection of Hong Kong as a developing city, where practicality precedes elegance,” Lee said.

“Amazingly, 40 years on, Hong Kong does not seem to have improved much … You see the same kind of engineering crudeness and lack of diversity. In contrast, the built environments of Shanghai and Singapore are significantly more refined today than in the 1970s.”

Nathan Road was originally named Robinson Road, after Hercules Robinson, the fifth colonial governor of Hong Kong.

It was renamed in 1909 after Matthew Nathan, the 13th governor, to avoid confusion with the Robinson Road on Hong Kong Island.