LIKE YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE: Old Photos Of Macau From Decades Before The Boom

leroy demery macao 1980

Photo: Leroy W. Demery Jr.

If you’ve seen the new James Bond movie, you know the opulence found in Macau today is without parallel.The tiny region, comprising a peninsula jutting out from the mainland and a nearby island, is seen as a proxy for both China (whose wealthier citizens use it as a playground) and the gaming industry as a whole.

Among the crazier facts about Macau today:

  • Growth has averaged around 19% for a decade
  • In 2006 Macau’s casino revenues  surpassed those of Las Vegas
  • The Sands Macau, opened in 2004, recouped its $265 million construction costs in one year

It wasn’t always so.

In the summer of 1980, Leroy W. Demery, Jr., an expert in Asian transportation, visited the country (then still a Portuguese protectorate) and documented his journey. 

He recently posted his copyrighted photo collection to flickr, and with his kind permission we have reproduced the snapshots here.

Click here to see his photos >

Here is his introduction to the collection:

I traveled by overnight ferry from Hong Kong to Macao, spent the day (1980 July 16) in Macao, then returned to Hong Kong by overnight ferry.

“Overnight ferry” for a 60 km distance?

Yes, one boarded the vessel about 10 p.m. The fare included a bunk in an air-conditioned dormitory – “Spartan” but very comfortable. The vessel sailed after midnight and certainly arrived within 3-4 hours. Passengers were awakened at about 6 a.m., as I remember.

Yes, catamarans and jetfoils were much faster, but fares were higher, and the overnight ferry permitted one to save the cost of overnight accommodation.

Macao, in 1980, was quiet. Very quiet. It had a distinct “small town” atmosphere that contrasted sharply with the Central District of nearby Hong Kong. Much has changed since then. Remarkably, the land area has nearly doubled, from about 16 square km to nearly 29 square km. Many of the images in this set are certainly “vanished scenes.”

I regret that do not have a 1980 street map of Macao, and so am not able to locate some of these images.

By the way, we can only imagine what it must be like for notorious gangster “Broken Tooth,” who just got released from prison after a 14-year sentence for plotting to murder the country’s police chief, to see the city now.

Anyway, read on to take the journey to Old Macau.

Just to get you started, here's what Macau looks like today.

And here's what it looked like back in the day. This is Leal Senado, legislative seat during Portuguese rule, now home to the Institute of Civic and Municipal Affairs.

This section of the harbor is now reclaimed land, Demery says.

Outer Harbor, facing Taipa island, one of Macao's twin landmasses

Breakwater/small boat moorage. The original Macau-Taipa Bridge (aka Ponte Governador Nobre de Carvalho) is in the background.

Hotel Lisboa, Casino Lisboa and Macau-Taipa Bridge

Near Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro at Largo do Senado/Senado Square. Demery says the buildings remain but have been renovated.

Porto Interior (Inner Harbor)

Entrance to the Macau Palace Casino

This is the Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro at Largo do Senado. The Avenida remains the main shopping street in the historic centre of Macau.

Another view of the casino

Demery says this is most likely a warehouse along the inner harbor.

Near the southwestern extremity of today's Rua (Street) do Doctor Lourenco Pereira Parques

Porto Interior (Inner Harbor) and Mainland coast

A Ma Temple, built in 1488

A Ma Temple entrance gate

Palacete de Santa Sancha, the state guest house of the Chief Executive of Macau. Until reunification in 1999, this was actually the official residence of Macau's governor.

Residential lane

Narrow lane

Sun Yat-sen Memorial House

School children, probably somewhere between Colina da Guia and the Portas do Cerco

School children at Lin Fung Temple

Residential lane, northern Macau

Narrow lane, probably located near the Ruínas de São Paulo

Calcada do Monte and Ruínas de São Paulo

Baía de Hác Sá — Hac Sa Beach

Baía de Hác Sá

Near Taipa's bus terminal

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