Neighbourhood Guide: The Underrated Charm of North Point

Not as trendy as Causeway Bay, not as glamorous as Central, not as quirky as Wan Chai. North Point is not the kind of neighbourhood you fall in love with at first sight, but don’t dismiss it out of hand – give it a chance and its unpretentious, eclectic charm will soon win you over.

North Point has always been known as a magnet for immigrants, especially the Shanghainese who came in droves during the instability of the Chinese civil war, which ended with a Communist victory in 1949. They brought with them a love of entertaining, turning North Point into one of the city’s main leisure destinations. But the area has also been known as a military base and site for large scale infrastructure projects. The North Point Battery, built in 1879, was followed by the Royal Yacht Club in 1900. In 1919, Hong Kongs second power station was built in North Point, servicing Hong Kong Island until it was decommissioned in 1978.

In recent years, gentrification has swooped down on North Point. Boutique hotels and luxury micro-apartments now sit next to ageing apartment blocks, decades-old street markets and shabby malls. Will the two continue to co-exist, or will the new completely push away the old? That remains to be seen. For now, there’s plenty to explore.

North Point Heritage

1/ Electric Road, Power Street, Tong Shui Street, Fort Street North PointThe clue to North Point’s history is in its street names. The North Point Battery was built as part of Hong Kong’s coastal defence network, and it was located on Fort Street. Hong Kongs second power station lay at the intersection of Electric Road and Power Street. Tong Shui Road, referring to Chinese dessert soup (tong4 seoi2 糖水, literally “sugar water”) was where businessman Kwok Chung-yeung intended his sugar factory to be – more on that below.


2/
Tin Hau Temple
10 Tin Hau Temple Road, Tin Hau. Open daily, 7:00-17:00.North PointLike many of its contemporaries, the Tin Hau Temple in the neighbourhood of the same name is dedicated to the Sea Goddess (tin1 hau6 天后), whom local seafarers believe safeguards them while on the water. This one was built in the 18th century by the Tai Family, who were Hakkas from Guangdong who first settled in Kowloon in a village that was lost to the former Kai Tak Airport. Legend has it that they used to gather grass in the area and found a washed-up statue of Tin Hau in the rocks near the shore one day. Taking this as a sign, the family erected a shelter for the sacred statue. After that, many boat people came with offerings to worship at this shrine. Today, this protected heritage monument looks much as it always had, despite some renovations through the years.


3/
Chun Yeung Street / North Point Wet Market
160 Tsat Tsz Mui Road, North Point. Open daily, 6:00-20:00. Tel. +851 2564 1381; +852 2563 4340.North PointThe best way to arrive in Chun Yeung Street is by “ding ding,” which runs straight through this lively neighbourhood market. Its a thrill to see shoppers disperse to either side of the street as the tram swings its way into the street and runs between busy stalls. Chun Yeung Street is where you will find fruits, veggies, meat and seafood – but also knock-off bags and belts, and hawkers selling corn on the cob, meat skewers and candy floss. The street is named after Kwok Chun-yeung, a Fujian-born businessman who intended to build a sugar factory on the site. He abandoned his plan due to increasing competition from sugar factories in China and Japan, and the subsequent lowering of sugar prices, and decided to turn it into apartment blocks instead.


4/
State Theatre
279-291 King’s Road, North Point.North PointThe State Theatre is easy to miss as you walk past it. On the street level, it looks just like any other shabby, run-down mall. But look up and youll find yourself squinting at a relief painting adorning the building’s curved façade. The mural depicts Diaochan, one of ancient Chinas Four Beauties,” which was until recently covered by a massive billboard. It’s just a hint at the overlooked history of this postwar gem.

In a way, the history of the State Theatre epitomises the rise and fall of North Point as a centre of entertainment. Built by impresario Harry Odell as the Empire Theatre in 1952, the place was as glamorous as movie theatres could get back in those days, with a 56-foot cinema screen, a diamond-shaped ceiling and 1,400 seats. An adjacent shopping mall and block of flats were built in 1958, and the following year it was renamed State Theatre. In the years that followed, it played host to legendary Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng, among other celebrity performers.

The theatre is also known for its unique architecture: a listed Grade I historic site, it is the only Hong Kong building in possession of a an arch bridge roof structure, which created a column-free auditorium for the theatre. In 1997, the State Theatre shut down after 45 years of service. Walking into the theatre’s rundown mall on a weekday evening reveals a strong musky aroma with a distinct mix of old leather and incense. There is dust everywhere, and half the shop gates have relocation notices stuck on them.

Being conferred Grade I status hasnt shielded the State Theatre from threat of development. When New World Development, a majority owner of the whole State Theatre site, which includes the former theatre space, shops in the arcade and the residential block, declared that itd redevelop the building, the citys heritage buffs got to work. The result was a full-blown public awareness and advocacy campaign that included videos about Odell and testimonies from well-known Hong Kong actor Kenneth Tsang Kong. It was only then did New World changed its tune, saying that it would consider measures to conserve the theatre.


5/ Sunbeam Theatre
423 King’s Road, North Point. Hours vary according to performances; see website. Tel. +852 2856 0162.North PointSet up by mainland Chinese immigrants in 1972, Sunbeam Theatre was dedicated to Cantonese opera. With a prominent neon sign at the junction of Shu Kuk Street and Kings Road, its hard to miss. Behind the grandiose reception hall, the building contains a cinema and a second, larger theatre for stage performances. In the past four and a half decades, Sunbeam has played host to a bevy of Cantonese opera stars, including Lam Kar-sing. Recently, the cinema has been upgraded to the three-screen Super 3 theatre.


6/ Tsat Tsz Mui Road
Many a child have been haunted by the backstory to Tsat Tsz Mui Road, whose name translates as “Seven Sisters Road.” According to urban legend, there were seven women who lived in North Point during the 19th century. Though not related by blood, they pledged their lives to each other. When one was forced into marriage, they decided to commit suicide by jumping into the sea together. Once a tranquil beach, Tsat Tsz Mui Road is now a humble artery that runs through the eastern part of North Point, best known for restaurants of all types and sizes, from Cantonese to Indian.


7/ Model Housing Estate / North Point Housing Estate
740-748 King’s Road, Quarry Bay.North PointNorth Point was home to glamorous theatres, but it was also known for its pioneering public housing estates. The Model Housing Estate, built by the private, non-profit Model Housing Association, was Hong Kong’s first social housing project when it opened in 1951. It featured five walk-up apartment blocks, plenty of public spaces, and easy access to bus and tram lines. Each unit was equipped with a kitchen, bathroom and balcony – luxuries at a time when many families lived in tenements without toilets. North Point Estate followed in 1957. Built by the government-run Housing Authority, it was located on an even more enviable site near the North Point Ferry Pier, and its housing blocks had the added bonus of lifts. Today, Model Housing Estate still stands out for its distinct light pink exteriors, but North Point Estate has been demolished, with the site now developed into luxury residences, hotels and malls.


8/ Ritz Ballroom
885-939 King’s Road, Quarry Bay.North PointOne of the most glamorous entertaining parlours of its time, the Ritz Ballroom was founded by a Li Choi-fat in 1941. Located along Tsat Tsz Mui beach, the Ritz was equipped with a swimming pool, miniature golf, Chinese gardens. Featuring opulent surrounds, where patrons dined on French food and fine wine, it hosted a few editions of Miss Hong Kong, charity and sporting events. During World War II, it was used a base for the British air force. According to records, entrance tickets cost HK$3 in 1947 – no small sum at the time. The Ritz rose to fame quickly, but fell from grace even faster. In 1952, Lee, accused of drug smuggling by the Hong Kong government, fled to Taiwan. In the absence of a chief, the Ritz fell into disarray and was eventually redeveloped into a residential building.


Art Exploration

9/ Oi!
12 Oil Street, North Point. Open Monday, 14:00-20:00; Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00-20:00. Tel. +852 2512 3000.North PointLike many buildings in North Point, the site of present-day Oi! underwent multiple transformations. A Grade II historic building known for its Arts and Crafts architectural style, it was originally built in 1908 the headquarters for the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. When the RHKYC packed up in 1938, it was handed over to the government. In 1998, the adjacent government storage depot became an arts colony home to groups like 1a Space and Videotage, but it proved short-lived, as the artists were evicted a year later. The site was eventually sold off for redevelopment, with the old yacht club preserved and turned into Oi!, a non-profit art space managed by the government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Today, the space plays host to an ever-changing programme of exhibitions and events.


10/
Para Site Art Space
22/F, Wing Wah Industrial Building, 677 King’s Road, Quarry Bay. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 12:00-19:00; closed on Monday, Tuesday and public holidays. Tel. +852 2517 4620.North PointHong Kong’s first artist-run space, Para Site was established in 1996 in Kennedy Town. It later moved to Sheung Wan, where it eventually become a curator-led organisation known. It has enjoyed its largest-ever space in Quarry Bay since 2016, and it continues to blaze a trail with thought-provoking exhibitions by local and international artists.


Secret shopping

11/ Sam Kee bookstore
Shop 19, B/F, King’s Centre, 193-209 King’s Road, North Point. Open Monday-Saturday, 12:30-22:00. Tel. +852 2578 5956.North PointHidden in the basement of a nondescript mall, Sam Kee bookstore is known for its wide-ranging book collection, but its real fame comes from the cats that wander along, atop and beneath the shelves. Owner Caroline Chan makes it clear that Sam Kee isn’t a petting zoo – there is a sign at door to ward off inquisitive fingers. But the cats provide ample entertainment as you peruse the vast collection of books arranged by genre; Japanese and Nordic psychological thrillers are near the entrance, Japanese manga is near the back. Outside the bookstore is an in incongruous mix of shops that serve as a microcosm of North Point.


12/ Chinese Goods Centre
395 King’s Road, North Point. Open daily, 10:30-21:30. Tel. +852 2856 0333.North PointOften regarded as ground zero for the 1967 leftist riots in Hong Kong, the Chinese Goods Centre — known by locals simply as Wah Fung — was Hong Kongs largest department store when it opened in 1963. For the next few decades, many Chinese immigrants, particularly those from Fujian and Shanghai, shopped and worked in the emporium. The apartment block that rises above the store, Kiu Kwan Mansion, became a stronghold for Communist supporters in 1967, and it was the site of a spectacular helicopter invasion by police. Today, the store is still filled with all sorts of fashion and household items, from mens striped shirts and ladiessilk slippers to traditional Chinese tea sets and plastic dish racks, but it is long past its heyday.


Café life and eateries

13/ MOM Livehouse
B39, 7 Seas Shopping Centre, 113-121 King’s Road, North Point. Open for performances; see website. Tel. +852 9770 0200.North PointHong Kong’s independent music scene has long been stifled by a shortage of venues, which makes places like MOM all the more important. Opened in 2016 in the basement of an unassuming shopping centre, MOM plays host to an eclectic mix of artists from around the world. Past shows have features lo-fi pop darlings Japanese Breakfast, punk rocker Evan Dando and up-and-coming local post-punk group David Boring.


14/
Brew Note Roaster
19 Fort Street, North Point. Open Monday-Friday, 8:30-19:00; Saturday-Sunday, 8:30-20:00. Tel. +852 2562 9990.North PointIf Chun Yeung Street epitomises a kind of grassroots entrepreneurship that harks back to the mid-20th century, Brew Note Roaster might be its modern day equivalent. Set up by twentysomething coffee lover Vincent Hung in 2015, Brew Note is at once a coffee shop — try its single-origin brews — and a studio that plays host to mini-concerts and cultural salons; the name is a pun on Blue Note, the legendary jazz label. Despite being slightly off the beaten path, the coffee shop is usually packed to the gills during the weekends.


15/
Coffee 101
Shop 12, G/F, Braemar Hill Shopping Centre, 45 Braemar Hill Road. Open Monday-Friday, 8:00-18:00; Saturday-Sunday, 10:00-18:00. Tel. +852 2338 2521.North PointAnother hidden gem in the neighbourhood is this minimalist coffee house with big glass doors tucked away into the peaceful slopes of Braemar Hill. Serving pasta, burgers and English all-day breakfasts, as well as a selection of coffee and tea, the warm and brightly-lit café is frequented by students from nearby Shue Yan University in need of inspiration and caffeine. It even boasts a rare terrace with outdoor seating that makes for a good spot to spent a relaxing afternoon away from the bustle of North Point.


16/ Kam Ping Street
North PointLocated just off Shu Kuk Street, Kam Ping Street is home to a mix of local and international eateries. Pop into Qinghai Tibetan Noodles for a sizzling bowl of beef or mutton noodles, Villa Villa for cakes and Bar + Grill for hookah afterwards. In the past, when North Point was a magnet for new Chinese immigrants, small-scale or family-run shops opened in this narrow lane, serving quick and easy local or even family dishes. Today, as more international cuisines have been introduced to the neighbourhood, locals come here for cheap-eats and late-night snacks.


Outdoor exploration

17/ Aroma Walk
Tin Hau Fragrant Flower Pathway, Tin Hau Temple Road, North Point.
North PointRising above Kam Ping Street is Tin Hau Fragrant Flower Pathway, also called Aroma Walk, a 310-metre hiking trail that leads to Tin Hau Temple Road and the North Point Reservoir Park. In the spring, the trail is filled with blooming jasmine, osmanthus and many other fragrant flowers. Athletic types can continue up to Choi Sai Wo Park, originally a reservoir built by the
Taikoo Sugar Refinery. It was redeveloped into the Braemar Hill Mansions and a park in the 1970s.


Don’t get lost
North PointNorth Point

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