An iconic 80-year-old pawn shop in Wan Chai was found to be undergoing demolition overnight.

Despite opposition, developers began working on the demolition of the Tung Tak Pawn Shop on Tuesday evening. As of Wednesday, some windows and a signage from the building had already been removed.

Demolition crew working overtime at Tung Tak Pawn Shop
Demolition crew working overtime at Tung Tak Pawn Shop.

The Tung Tak Pawn Shop building has stood on the corner of Hennessy Road and Marsh Road since 1930.

Demolition crew working overtime at Tung Tak Pawn Shop.

Although the structure was declared a Grade III historic building by the government in 2010, this status was insufficient to protect the familiar landmark.

Demolition crew working overtime at Tung Tak Pawn Shop.

The Antiquities and Monuments Office defines Grade III buildings as those “of some merit, but not yet qualified for consideration as possible monuments.” For Grade III buildings, AMO says that “preservation in some form would be desirable and alternative means could be considered if preservation is not practicable.”

In 2013, the Buildings Department approved the landlord’s plan to erect a 23-storey commercial high-rise on the site.

Tung Tak Pawn Shop
Tung Tak Pawn Shop. Photo: Wikimedia.

Pawnbroking in Hong Kong has a history as long as that of the city itself. Before major banks established themselves in the then-British colony and won the confidence of local residents, pawn shops served as early Hongkongers’ main financial institutions.

Clients would invest their wages in valuables that could then be stored at pawn shops and used as collateral against which they borrowed sums of money. Within a certain contractual period of time, the pawner could then redeem the items for the amount of the loan, plus an agreed-upon amount of interest.

The demolition of several historic buildings has led to public protest in recent years, most notably around Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier in Central.

Hunger strikers at Queen's Pier, 2007.
Hunger strikers at Queen’s Pier the night before demolition. Photo: Wikicommons.

Demonstrations, petitions, a hunger strike, an occupation movement and even celebrity endorsement from Chow Yun-fat did nothing to save the well-loved piers.

Protest site at Queen's Pier on its last day.
“How could you let a Grade I building be torn down?” Protest site at Queen’s Pier on its last day. Photo: Wikicommons.

The piers were destroyed between 2007-2008 to facilitate further reclamation of the Victoria Harbour.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others