I was never aware of the old Wan Chai market – I only know the new one. I had no idea where the old one was or how it looked like… when in fact I had walked past it numerous times. It is still visible, the front has remained and has been integrated into a new apartment building.
If you look closely at the picture below, you can see that The Zenith apartment building has a very distinct bottom part and that’s because the bottom is a grade III historic building: the former Wan Chai Market. This was built in 1937 and its architectural style is influenced by Streamline Moderne architecture, a popular style of building of the 1930s – which is the Bauhaus style.
The old market closed down in 2008 and reopened a few houses further West in a new, air conditioned complex. Here is a story in the SCMP about the closure/move and what it means for some of the long-time market sellers. The new market might be practical, but it looks like the entrance to another shopping mall:
The old market had only two storeys. The walls of Wan Chai Market were constructed from glass, tiles, concrete and steel-framed concrete. The steel-framed concrete was considered advanced at that period. It was used when constructing the 102-storey New York Empire State Building and the San Francisco City Golden Gate Bridge – and the Wan Chai market was one of the earliest buildings in Hong Kong to be constructed with steel-framed concrete.
It was a cleverly designed building. The reduction in the use of beams and columns in the Wan Chai Market Building helped utilise space effectively. The large opening in the front wall of the building and the open design of the upper half of the building create da feeling of spaciousness – and it ensured plenty of natural daylight and ventilation.
Of course, there are plenty of stories surrounding the market… especially as the basement storeroom used to be a makeshift mortuary during the Japanese occupation, and hence there are stories about ghost sightings and also about pictures that were taken shortly before the demolishment of the market, in the basement storeroom, which were completely blank (despite the film being inserted correctly).
Have you ever been to the old Wan Chai market? What stories do you remember or can you share?