Valerian Ho finds out how it all began for the legendary Peninsula Hotel
The origin of The Peninsula Hotel
Like many grand hotels, The Peninsula is a family business. It all started with two brothers of JewishIraqi descent: Ellis Kadoorie settled in Shanghai in 1880, while his elder brother Elly set himself up in business in Hong Kong. The brothers first gained a major shareholding in Hong Kong Hotels Limited, then in 1922 that company acquired an 85 per cent interest in The Shanghai Hotel Company, the two companies merging to form The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels – parent company of The Peninsula Hotels.
Architects were first commissioned to draw up plans for “the finest hotel east of the Suez” in the early 1920s, located at the tip of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula. However, soon after it was completed The Peninsula was requisitioned by the British forces, and served as emergency military accommodation from 1926 to 1928. Once Shamshuipo Barracks had been completed, The Peninsula was renovated and eventually opened for business in December 1928.
The original building comprised 168 guestrooms. It was the first to cater to the overland trade in the days when a first-class train trip from London took ten days, running via Calais, Paris, Moscow, Beijing and Shanghai. It was also the first to entertain the stars of Hollywood in the 1930s, welcoming the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard.
The hotel rapidly became one of Hong Kong’s most popular venues for parties and balls, and afternoon tea dances were a popular weekend feature, with cream cakes, tea and dancing to a band – all for 50 cents.
In 1994 the hotel expanded, adding a 30-storey tower to the original structure. This houses another 130 guestrooms, a heliport, the Philippe Starck-designed Felix rooftop restaurant, and a swimming pool and spa designed by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy.
From top: The Peninsula in 1928; the lobby circa 1950s; an early bedroom layout; and the hotel’s Nathan Road corner in the days before it had a front driveway