This article is a case study of state–society–capital conflicts over the preservation of the Central Police Station (CPS) compound in Hong Kong during 2003–08. The conflict was between two fundamentally different approaches to urban space: a cultural economy approach that took culture and space as a source of economic profit, and an opposition discourse of preservation that emphasized cultural, historical and humanistic values as an end. The struggle turned out to be a moderate success for anti-commercialism. Drawing on and extending the notions of collective memory and spatial politics, this article examines how the various civil society actors, in their struggle against commercialism, sought to define and enhance the cultural value of the site through a variety of discourses and practices relating to history and space. It addresses the specific question of why and how certain constructions of collective memory succeed (or fail) to work with certain places in particular instances. The study shows that memories of the CPS compound contained both state-associated and people-associated accounts, between which the former prevailed. The state-associated account was embedded in a familiar, hegemonic story about Hong Kong, which, via an abstract process of symbolization around the notion of the rule of law, successfully turned the compound into an iconic symbol of identification for the city. Beyond this, the civil society actors sought also to generate a sense of lived space associated with the people, and the outcome was mixed.