Nostalgic State Theatre brings back a golden property story

May 12, 2021 10:09
Photo: Ben Kwok

I felt I never really left North Point. I lived in the area during my teenage years. For my first job, I went to work at North Point Industrial Building , where the former office of Hong Kong Economic Journal was located. I must have moved a dozen times since then, but it’s almost always around this friendly district on Hong Kong Island.

Yesterday I popped by the State Theatre, a North Point landmark famous for its concrete arch beam roof. This Grade 1 historic building along the King’s Road is now owned by New World Development, which aspires to bring back its glory days through modern design.

Formerly known as Empire Theatre, it was built by Harry Odell, a Cairo-born Jewish stockbroker who envisioned a stage for western world-class performance in 1952. He kicked off perhaps the most important golden five-year in the Hong Kong art scene, but it did not last long. In 1958, Luk Hoi Tung family took over the theatre for HK$1.5 million and turned it into a residential and commercial complex.

In the exhibition “Discover the State Theatre in all of us”, I came across an old advertisement of the State Theatre Building, which debuted at an entry price of HK$14,200 in 1959.

Let's not forget, here we are talking about the total selling price, not per square foot price. To motivate buyers, the developer even offered a two-year installment plan. The price of a 400-square feet unit was virtually around that of at a modern iPhone top model.

Of course the State Theatre story was not all great after. Its underground shopping mall was occupied by small shoe shops selling cheap Yasaki running shoes, and a Finnish sauna in the 80s.

Although the premise was featured in Kung fu star Bruce Lee’s last movie “Game of Death” in 1978, State Theatre appeared to be struggling in the 90s and eventually came to an end in 1997 before a billiard house took over.

It was not until 2017 that New World Development started to come in for rescue, first by buying 15 per cent of the ownership for HK$303.5 million, and later HK$737 million for another 11 per cent. Last year, the property developer acquired the remaining stake at HK$4.77 billion through compulsory sale.

Now it is up to the Cheng family to decide how to breathe fresh air into this historic place. While the actual development plan is still undecided, it is promised that the old building will be converted into an iconic premise in five years.

Be inspired by the final weekend of the nostalgic exhibition at State Theatre.

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EJ Insight writer