Please save historic mansion, says family

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2002, 12:00am

The great-grandson of the man who built the historic Kom Tong Hall has appealed to the government and its owner, the Mormon Church, to preserve it.

Andrew Tse said he felt deep regret over the issue, adding it would be unfortunate if such a historic house was lost to Hong Kong.

Mr Tse is the grandson of Elizabeth Ho Pak-lin, the eldest daughter of Ho Kom Tong, who built the Mid-Levels house that was named after him. Elizabeth grew up in Kom Tong Hall and married Tse Ka-po, Mr Tse's grandfather.

'I felt a deep sense of regret when I learned of the Church's plan to destroy Kom Tong Hall. The history of the house is in a way the history of Hong Kong,' Mr Tse said.

'The Mormons have spent so much money maintaining the house over the years. The interior looks more spectacular and elegant than Government House. Why would the Church want to pull it down?'

The Church, which has owned the building since 1960, has applied to tear down the Castle Road house, which is classified as a grade-II listed historical building. It has refused to disclose its redevelopment plan and has provoked protests from local residents and the Central and Western District Council.

Government heritage protection officials and Mormon representatives are locked in negotiation trying to find a compromise.

The Church has so far refused to comment.

'It is the position of the government's Antiques and Monuments Office that the house should be preserved and officials are actively negotiating with the owner towards that goal,' a spokeswoman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said.

She refused to disclose what offers the government was ready to put on the negotiating table. But Ip Kwok-him, a Central and Western District Council member and legislator, believes the government is ready to offer a land exchange deal.

'I am optimistic about the outcome, which would probably involve a land-exchange offer,' said Mr Ip, who helped organise a protest against the redevelopment plan outside the house last month.

Mr Tse said his great-grandfather spent $300,000 building the house between 1914 and 1917, a huge sum in those days.

It is believed to have been the first steel-frame house built in Hong Kong.

All the furniture and fittings were imported from Europe and the carpets were all made from Persian silk.

Its architecture was part of a wave of classical revival style emanating from England in the 19th century, according to a 1999 study by the University of Hong Kong's department of architecture.

Mr Tse also said it was untrue that Kom Tong Hall was the first house built and occupied by Chinese in Mid-Levels.

'Ho Kom Tong owned the property, 7 Castle Road, which originally had three houses, long before Kom Tong Hall was built,' he said.

Ho Kom Tong died in 1950 and his family sold the house to another family surnamed Cheng in the late 1950s, who soon afterwards resold it to the Mormon Church.

The HKU study said the Church had spent, on average, more than $300,000 a year to maintain it and it had been careful not to alter any part of the house. From 1960 to 1990, the building had 109 renovations but no significant alterations had been made and the house was much the same as it was years ago, the study said.