Although the architect of the Theatre is unknown, it can be confirmed that it was possibly conducted by the private sector, as the government often refrained from building recreational or leisure facilities in the 1920s-30s. According to historic documents, a merchant named J.M. Noronha had owned the Theatre. This perhaps explains why a Western silent movie, Fine Manners, was the first movie shown in Yau Ma Tei Theatre.
Built with granite, lime mortar, brick and timber, the locally sourced materials used in Yau Ma Tei Theatre reflect its modest characteristics and as a cinema serving the working class. Judging from the exterior of the building, minimal ornamentation can be seen. The facade is divided into two sections, of which the bottom is characterized by horizontal linear indentation along the body of the building. The central entrance portal is framed by two rounded columns with “comedy” and “tragedy” mask patterns. A classical arched opening and keystone sits above the entrance, and topped by a classical pediment framing the top of the building. Internally, the structure resembles the form of a warehouse, much like those in the neighbouring Fruit Market. The capacity of the Theatre sits up to around 1,000 people, comparatively smaller in scale when compared to other traditionally grander cinemas in Hong Kong. After revitalization, the auditorium in Yau Ma Tei Theatre today accommodates 300 seats.
In comparison, the construction materials used for the Red Brick Building, perhaps due to its nature as a government-constructed building, exhibits much higher quality. The red bricks were constructed from red mortar or weathered granite mixed with lime or cement. Designed for industrial use, it also encompasses a utilitarian design and without decoration.
Adaptive reuse and revitalization
To transform Yau Ma Tei Theatre into a venue for Cantonese opera performances, the architects at the Architectural Services Department retained the masonry walls and steel trusses, which formed the theatre’s original structure. The architects and engineers also discovered an original proscenium arch when removing the wide screen at the rear of the building. This areas has now been re-designed as a large stage to accommodate the dressing room area at the rear and Cantonese opera performances at the front. Lastly, the roof had to be entirely reconstructed as asbestos, a harmful material, was used in the previous roof and therefore had to be removed.
The reconstruction of the roof requires heavy machinery such as cranes that needed to be parked on the roads for an extended period of time. However, during the day, Waterloo Road, Shanghai Street and Reclamation Street are extremely busy, and moreover occupied by the Fruit Market every night after 9pm. The architects and the stall vendors finally came up with a solution. The evening of mid-autumn festival in October 2010 would be a perfect opportunity, where all fruits would be delivered, and the city, including the fruit vendors, would be resting on a holiday night. Within the duration of 30 hours, workers delivered new steel trusses next to old ones, including other sound proofing additions, a repaired roof that resembles to the original design was completed. The efficiency of Hong Kong construction!
Neighbouring points of interest
Red Brick Building (est. 1895)
Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market (est. 1913)
Tin Hau Temple (est. around 1864)
Yau Ma Tei Police Station (1922)
Temple Street (Night Market)