With skyscraper upon skyscraper sweeping the skyline of Hong Kong, it’s not unusual to overlook the far and few historical and cultural buildings that have survived over the decades. For the first instalment of our monthly series, Building Spotlight, we take a closer look at one of the city’s most illustrious houses – the Blue House.
- Address: 72, 72A, 74, 74A Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai
- Built: 1922
- Site Area: 808 sq. mtr.
- Gross Floor Area: 2,323 sq. mtr.
- Price per square feet: N/A
Tucked away from the busy street of Queen’s Road East in Wan Chai, and nestled quietly off the adjacent little path, Stone Nullah Lane is the Blue House. It’s hard to miss as it stands boldly with neighbouring buildings in 1920s heritage style architecture painted in vibrant blue, yellow and orange against the ashy tone buildings we’ve grown accustomed to around town. Known as the Blue House Cluster, the brightly painted façade of the three buildings has long been a tourist (and social media) attraction for its vibrant hues.
Back in the 1870s when the Blue House was built, it blended in with its surrounding buildings seamlessly. For one, the structural style of the construction was very much of its time, and secondly and more surprisingly, the building itself wore a slightly bleaker hue.
Built in the 1870s, the four-storey building was known as Wan Chai Kai Fong Hospital or Wah To Hospital, named after the God of Medicine from the Three Kingdoms period. As the first hospital of its district, it provided locals with Chinese medical services. The centre closed in 1886, and became a temple dedicated to worshipping Wah To.
Fast forward to the 1920s, where four four-storey tenement blocks were built and the structure was simply named 72-74 Stone Nullah Lane. The ground floor remained as a shrine, while upper storeys were repurposed as residential dwellings for lower income families. The temple remained until the 1950s when it was subsequently replaced by a martial arts studio and Teet Da clinic opened by Kung Fu master Wong Fei Hung’s protégé, Lam Sai Wing and nephew Lam Cho. About a decade later, it had undergone several changes including an osteopathy clinic, a grocery store, a Chinese wine shop and even a school that offered free education to children within the neighbourhood. It was also home to the first and only English school in the district before WWII as well as a committee hall for the Chamber of Commerce for Fishmongers.
In 1978, 72, 72A an 74 Stone Nullah Lane was surrendered to the Hong Kong Government. It wasn’t until 1997 that the building was repainted blue– the distinctive colour that earned the house its name. The iconic hue that has made the Blue House so recognisable and given it much of its charm, came as an accidental coincidence when the decorators at the time covered the exterior in remaining excess paint from the Water Supplies Department. In 2009 74A Stone Nullah Lane, which was previously privately owned, also surrendered to the government, the same year Blue House earned its Grade 1 Historic Buildings status.
In 2006, the government announced its plans for renovations at the Blue House and its adjacent buildings. All historical features have been preserved including its timber staircase between the two blocks serving the flats in the upper floors, old patterned tile flooring and ornamental ironwork railings. Units were also given cantilevered balconies that overlooked the streets below. Inside, the 20 apartments were given a much-needed revamp with modifications to include bathrooms and flushing toilets, kitchens and air-conditioning. A courtyard area in the middle of the block was also converted into a public gathering space.
Cultivating and preserving culture, the Blue House is Hong Kong’s architectural treasure. The house is partially open to public for viewing and regularly hosts events and art exhibitions that touch on Hong Kong history and development.