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Nov 22, 2017

The Iconic Repulse Bay Hotel

 

There is no denying that the Repulse Bay is a fine-looking edifice and a grand representation of all the splendours of yesteryear but today’s iteration is only about 35 years old. It is built on the site of the far-more famous and grander Repulse Bay Hotel which stood there between 1920 and 1982. The current version was built from the same blueprints as the original and has tried very hard to maintain that sense of grandeur and charm. Sadly, however, it fails to capture that certain je ne said quoi that the old hotel possessed.

In its day, the elegant Repulse Bay Hotel attracted the very best of both local and international society. From such literary luminaries as George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward and Somerset Maughan, to actors like Marlon Brando and William Holden and royalty such as Spain’s then-Crown Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sofia. All enjoyed that same breath-taking views from the veranda over the bay after which it was named. If you were to let your mind wander for a moment, you could almost glimpse Noel Coward sipping his pink gin in the far corner of the veranda at sundown.

The repuslsebay.com website has created an elegant and informative collage of images depicting the history of the old building from its construction to its eventual demolition in 1982. A selection of those images is reproduced here to depict some major milestones of this hotel’s journey through history.

 

 

 

In 1918, respected hotelier James Taggart was selected by his company to commence the construction of the new hotel and he chose Repulse Bay as the location because of its resemblance to many European resort towns.

Architects Denison, Ram and Gibbs, the designers behind many of Hong Kong’s iconic landmarks of the time, were commissioned to handle the design.

 

 

Access to the south side of the island was only by boat or on foot, at that time, and so negotiations with the government began and the road from Aberdeen to Stanley was extended in 1919 to give future guests convenient access to the hotel which was now well-under construction.

 

 

Towards the end of 1919 the hotel complex began its nearing completion

Then on New Year’s Day 1920, the then-governor of Hong Kong, Sir Edward Stubbs, officially opened this beautiful new resort on the bay to considerable fanfare and revelry.

 

Guest numbers quickly grew and, to cope with this increase, a new west wing annex was built in 1921. This provided a further 29 rooms.

 

 

Transport to the hotel was further enhanced in 1922 with the establishment of a regular bus service from Central.

1924 saw the construction of Stubbs Road from Wanchai through Wong Nei Chong Gap to serve Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay and Stanley. This reduced the travel time from Central to just half an hour which further enhanced the hotel’s growing popularity.

 

 

This venue’s growing esteem necessitated further expansion and accommodation was further enhanced in 1925 with the addition of a further 52 rooms to the  complex.

 

 

 

 

A horticulturalist and rose expert, R.A. Nicholson, was brought in to craft the hotel gardens. He imported some 2,000 rose bushes from England which he used to great effect creating a truly stunning vista and imbuing the hotel with an ambience all its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At about this time, a vehicle garage and some staff quarters were built just across the road from the hotel. That is the only part of the original complex that survives to this day – the garage is currently the show room for luxury car dealer.

To match the jovial spirits of the era, tiffin concerts and tea dances became regular features both in the main ballroom and on the now-famous veranda. The Repulse Bay Hotel was in today’s parlance the “hip” place to be and be seen.

 

In 1934, the famous Irish playwright and co-founder of the London school of Economic George Bernard Shaw first sought refuge at the hotel for a bit or rest and relaxation.

Famed-writer and war correspondent Ernest Hemmingway visited Hong Kong in 1941 with his wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn, and they chose the hotel as their preferred accommodation. He was here to witness first-hand the Chinese struggle during World War II. This was shortly before the fall of Hong Kong later that year.

 

 

 

As Hong Kong fell to the Japanese Imperial Army over Christmas 1941, the hotel was seized by General Sakai and became a military hospital for wounded Japanese troops. It was renamed the Midorigahama Hotel for the duration of the conflict.

 

 

 

When Japan surrendered and hostilities ceased in August 1945, the hotel reverted to its original name, underwent a period of refurbishments and was stripped of all its previous fixtures and fittings. It was time to start afresh.

The Repulse Bay Hotel achieved real international fame when it became the setting for the 1955 Hollywood Blockbuster movie Love is a Many-splendored Thing starring William Holden and Jennifer Jones. For the film, partially set at the famous landmark, a full replica of the hotel was built at Shaw Studios. Holden, himself, chose to stay at the hotel during his time in Hong Kong.

 

 

Famed American actor of such iconic films as A Street Car Named Desire, Mutiny on the Bounty and the Godfather visited the hotel in 1956.

 

The 1960s saw another period of refurbishment for the hotel and the inclusion of a special fleet of VW minibuses to serve the hotel and whisk guests around the territory. It was a period of considerable upgrading and beautification of this fine hotel which had become a true Hong Kong institution and one whose reputation had now become global.

 

 

In 1973, the original west-wing annex, built in 1925 which to catered to increased patronage, was demolished. There had been a drop in the demand for a luxury seaside resort accommodation in Hong Kong and so the holding company decided that the land would be better used for residential development. The site gave way to the building of the Repulse Bay Apartments further up the hill and slightly to the left of the hotel.

 

As the 1980s approached, Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, the owners of the Repulse Bay Hotel decided that more money could be made by further expanding their residential developments. The hotel was small by most Hong Kong hotel standards and was struggling to be profitable. It was still a popular venue but more for wining and dining than as a place to stay. A series of balls, dinner dances and classic car rallies were held in 1982 to bid farewell the much-loved hostelry and it finally closed its doors at the end of June that same year.

 

A large new apartment complex was built on the hills directly behind the old site called The Repulse Bay. It came on line in 1986.

 

 

 

 

 

There had been plans to build some low-rise, luxury apartments on the site of the old hotel but a decision was then made to reconstruct the old restaurant and veranda part of the original complex and it opened duly again to much acclaim in 1989.

 

 

 

 

The veranda then underwent a major refurbishment programme in 2009 and is today a stunning venue for special dinners, weddings and other memorable occasions. It really is the “go to” place if you want to host a truly unforgettable function.

 

 

 

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