Long, tedious process ahead to save historical State Theatre, Hong Kong heritage chief says

Building, which opened in 1952 as Empire Theatre, was recently rated Grade 1 historic structure by Antiquities Advisory Board

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 December, 2016, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 December, 2016, 11:46pm

The process of negotiation to preserve the State Theatre will be long and tedious despite its new status as a Grade 1 historic building, according to the city’s heritage chief.

Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo was commenting on the 64-year-old structure located in the heart of North Point after members of the board voted by a large margin to make it the 163rd Grade 1 building on Thursday.

“The next phase will be negotiations between the government and owners plus stakeholders associated with the site. Whether it will be cash or swap of property elsewhere, public resources are involved. It is a decision that is beyond our board,” Lam said during a radio programme.

Fears of demolition for historic State Theatre building in North Point: heritage group calls for preservation

Watch: A look at the State Theatre

Grade 1 structures are those deemed by the board to be of “outstanding merit, which every effort should be made to preserve if possible”.

Called the Empire Theatre when it opened in 1952 and renamed the State Theatre in 1959, the building was a cultural hub managed by the late impresario Harry Odell, who brought in a league of top classical stars including violinist Isaac Stern, cellist Pierre Fournier and composer Benjamin Britten.

The 1,400-seat hall, which is now a snooker parlour, is one of the city’s last post-war stand-alone theatre structures.

Lam said the challenging aspect of negotiations to preserve the theatre was that the site had numerous small owners – as many as hundreds.

Hong Kong antiquities body defers decision on historic status of State Theatre Building

“The Empire Theatre is not just the main venue, there is a residential component in the rear, which makes the negotiation process rather complicated, and I expect nothing would be resolved in one to two years’ time,” he said.

“When it comes to conservation, people generally target large developers. Actually it’s easier to talk to them because we know what they want, but not so with hundreds of smaller owners.”

Lam warned against “minor tricks” – such as removing some parts of the building without affecting the structure – during the interim period that could affect the historic value of the site, citing the case of King Yin Lei mansion, which suffered partial demolition in 2007 despite being declared a monument site.

New World Development, which is understood to have bought the theatre for redevelopment, declined to comment.