The Best Hotel in Hong Kong: an excerpt from “Old Hong Kong Photos and the Tales They Tell” (Vol. 2)

Hong Kong Hotel

This photo shows the view looking south along Pedder Street, across its junction with Des Voeux Road and Chater Road. It was sold as a postcard, and its title comes from this pencil note on the back.

The things on the left are rickshas & sedan chairs This is about the best hotel in Hongkong Can you see the electric tram coming along the street?
The things on the left are rickshas & sedan chairs
This is about the best hotel in Hongkong
Can you see the electric tram coming along the street?
Old Hong Kong Photos and the Tales They Tell, Volume 2, David Bellis (Gwulo, December 2018)
Old Hong Kong Photos and the Tales They Tell, Volume 2, David Bellis (Gwulo, December 2018)
Excerpted with permission from Old Hong Kong Photos and the Tales They Tell (Vol. 2) by David Bellis (Gwulo)

 

The 1920s
Filling up the centre of the photo is ‘the best hotel’ – the Hong Kong Hotel. It started life as a much smaller building, but this photo shows the hotel in its prime, when it ran from Des Voeux Road all the way along Pedder Street to Queen’s Road.

The section of the hotel we see is the north wing, and it can help us put a date on this view. It was finished in 1892, and originally looked out over the harbour. The reclamation in the 1890s took away the sea view, then in 1926 this wing was destroyed by fire.

hkphotos3That gives us a range of 1892–1926 as possible years this photo was taken. The ‘electric tram’ helps narrow it down further. Hong Kong’s trams have been through several different configurations over the years. This one has an upper deck with a canvas roof, a design in use from 1913 until around 1924. The motor cars suggest we’re towards the end of that period, so I’ll date it to c. 1920.

 

Ghosts
hkphotos4An Indian policeman is looking at us from across the junction. We see him because he’s standing still. The ghostly figures around him show people on the move – films then needed longer exposures, so anything moving appears as a blur.

hkphotos5For an extreme example, look carefully at the street in front of the hotel pillars. At left and right we can see a couple of disembodied feet! They belonged to the men carrying the sedan chair, which appears as a shadowy outline in the middle. Each foot stayed still for just a
moment after hitting the ground, and that is why we can see it.

hkphotos6In the left foreground are more sedan chairs, and rickshaws too. Several of the men among them have noticed the camera and look towards us. But the men at the front of the queue look intently ahead. I guess this was a rickshaw / sedan chair rank for the hotel’s guests, and the men are waiting for a nod from the hotel doorman that their services are needed.


David Bellis is the founder of gwulo.com, a Hong Kong history website.