In 1884 the British colonial government in Hong Kong built a Victorian-style building in Kowloon as the headquarters of the Marine Police, directly facing the Victoria Harbor on Hong Kong Island across the strait. A signal tower was added to the compound to indicate the local time for any foreign ships visiting the harbor.
However as dramatic turns of events palpably brought unprecedented economic growth to Hong Kong, the tiny territory’s need for space to sustain its economy went anything but receding. The lack of space only meant demolition of older structures to make way for new constructions. Many British colonial buildings were razed, but some managed to evade the grim fate, thanks to growing concerns on the intangible value of the colonial heritage.
The Former Marine Police Headquarters, used until 1996, was one of the few buildings spared from the wrecking balls, although not entirely escaped Hong Kong’s notoriously business-oriented society. A concession was made for its survival; the building was deemed to be transformed into a commercial complex with a boutique hotel, shops, and cafes on its grounds.
The hill on which the building stood was hollowed to create more space for shops, while trees too precious to cut were enclosed in giant concrete pots encircled with stairs. The nearby Old Kowloon Fire Station was also included in the redevelopment project, in its entirety is known as 1881 Heritage today.
Not only in Hong Kong, the Former Marine Police headquarters is a symbol of the constant struggle between heritage conservation with business drive that echoes with other places in the region and beyond. Right now, despite its blatant consumerism, at least the old colonial building is still standing.