Photo Blog: Hong Kong’s State Theatre—A Final Look Before Revitalisation
State Theatre as seen from King’s Road in the neighbourhood of North Point, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of New World Development. Above its front door is a large relief mural created by Mei Yutian, renowned painter of the school of Lingnan. A distinctive feature of the theatre, it depicts Chinese, Southeast Asian and Greek dancers. The façade unfortunately, with lack of maintenance work and having weathered a fire in 1995, is severely damaged. Image courtesy of New World Development.
State Theatre’s ticket booth re-imagined. Image courtesy of New World Development.
A mock-up of Harry Odell’s office at the exhibition. Image courtesy of New World Development.
In the 1980s, State Theatre played a pivotal role showing local films. Photo by CoBo Editorial.
Concrete column beside a shop front roller shutter door inside State Theatre. Photo by CoBo Editorial.
Film postbills that were given out to theatre-goers containing excerpts from upcoming films. Image courtesy of New World Development.
A poster of Bruce Lee’s 1972 film Fist of Fury. Photo by CoBo Editorial.
The gates of a now-shuttered shopfront. Photo by CoBo Editorial.
The façade of a salon inside the shopping arcade of the Theatre. The shop was kept in its original layout the shop owner left it in from 2018. Image courtesy of New World Development.
The interiors of the salon. Photo by CoBo Editorial.
The iconic, parabolic exoskeleton truss will be conserved as part of New World Development’s revitalisation project. Photos by CoBo Editorial.
Popular music from the 1970s and 80s. A famous record shop, William Music Company(偉倫唱片公司), once operated in State Theatre’s shopping arcade. Photo by CoBo Editorial.
After State Theatre closed down in 1997, it was converted into a snooker hall, the shopping arcade underneath the theatre continued to operate until tenants were eventually asked to move out.
A replica of how the theatre seats looked like on display at the exhibition. Photo by CoBo Editorial.
Ahead of its closing for a five-year redevelopment plan led by New World Development, CoBo Social visited the State Theatre in North Point, Hong Kong, where an immersive exhibition is currently being held to tell the story of this former entertainment hotspot.
TEXT: CoBo Editorial IMAGES: Courtesy of various
North Point’s State Theatre is known in the post-war days as the go-to place to catch the latest flicks and attend concerts.
Opened in 1952 as Empire Theatre by Jewish Russian merchant Harry Odell, it was a one-of-a-kind cultural site back in the day, bringing in international art and cultural performances and events to Hong Kong, a decade before the opening of the current City Hall in 1962.
Its stage was graced by the presence of international names such as American violinist Isaac Stern, British pianist Solomon Cutner and cellist Pierre Fournier, all of whom made their Hong Kong debut at the Empire Theatre. It also played a pivotal role in the 1980s showing films during which Hong Kong’s golden age of cinema. The theatre has also made appearances in local films such as Game of Death (1978) which starred Bruce Lee, and in the 1998 film The Longest Summer directed by Fruit Chan.
Empire Theatre eventually closed in 1957. In 1958, Odell sold the theatre to Hong Kong Enterprises, which owned the Queen’s Theatre in Central, and Empire Theatre reopened as State Theatre in 1959. The car park below the theatre was then transformed into a shopping arcade, and two residential buildings were built right next to it. Following an unfortunate fire incident in 1995, State Theatre fell into neglect and finally closed its doors in 1997. It was later converted into a snooker hall that operated until recently.
Ahead of its closing for a five-year renovation, an immersive exhibition, “Discover the State Theatre in All of Us”, is currently mounted at the now empty site to share the story of this 69-year-old cultural landmark and rediscover its glory days.
The immersive experience begins at the “box office”, where visitors are given a vintage-looking movie ticket. Throughout the underground space that used to be the shopping arcade, more than 100 historic artefacts related to State Theatre and popular culture of its time—film postbills from the 1950s, staff uniforms, illustrated movie posters from the 1980s, footage from performances given at the theatre, Odell’s office re-imagined, and more—are all on display to give visitors a taste of the olden days.
Even more remarkable was State Theatre’s architectural feat. Exemplary of modernist architecture ubiquitous during post-war days, State Theatre also features a parabolic exoskeleton truss, the main support of the entire structure and an iconic feature. This concrete arch beam roof and its vertical columns grip the concrete panel that shelters the auditorium, enabling the massive capacity and unobstructed views. The curvature of the roof also acts as an amplifier and isolates external sounds and vibration, enabling excellent acoustics for the main auditorium. It was and remains a unique building feature to Hong Kong’s cityscape, and the only remaining structure of its kind in the world.
The neighbourhood around State Theatre, North Point, underwent heavy gentrification over the years, with flashy hotels and serviced apartments appearing next to rowdy street markets and ageing residential buildings. State Theatre was once destined for demolition but narrowly escaped the bulldozer, when in March 2017, it was declared a Grade I historic building by Hong Kong’s Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO), and subsequently, New World Development announced that it will be taking over the conservation of the site, recruiting a team of local and international consultants experienced in heritage conservation.
Leading the building’s transformation are WilkinsonEyre, who are part of the restoration team of London’s Battersea Power Station; and Purcell, who took part in revitalisation of Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station in Hong Kong; and Hong Kong-based studio AGC Design, who took part in the adaptive re-use of Lui Seng Chun, a 1930s Chinese “shophouse” in Hong Kong that was restored and converted into a Chinese medical centre.
After the exhibition concludes in late May, the theatre will be closed for revitalisation works with plans to reopen to the public in 2026.