Battle for the Blue House steps up

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 August, 2006, 12:00am

St James' Settlement yesterday stepped up its bid to get the government to reconsider its HK$100 million plan to transform the 80-year-old Blue House on Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai.

It wants residents to be allowed to stay and the building converted into a 'living' museum.

Under the government's plan, a joint effort between the Housing Society and the Urban Renewal Authority announced on March 31, the building will be transformed into a tourist attraction with a theme of tea and Chinese medicine. Thirty households would be affected by the plan.

While giving a tour of the house in support of the bid, St James' Settlement senior officer Lawrence Lam Kwok-wai said it would be meaningless to preserve the 'shell' of the Blue House without retaining its original flavour. He advocates retaining some flats for existing residents, luring local artists with cheap rent, opening a heritage museum of Wan Chai district and leasing office space to social enterprises and businesses.

'We are not opposing the government's plan,' he said. 'There are some residents who would like to move out and we would be imposing our views on them. But there are also residents who want to stay, and they are the experts on the building and the surrounding area. They are the ones who have lived there for decades.

'It would be foolish to throw out this resource. Instead they could be involved in preserving and sharing the heritage of the area with visitors.

'It would be good if the government would consider the software and not just the hardware, and strive to preserve the character of the community.'

The Blue House, listed as a grade-one historical building by the Antiquities Advisory Board, is one of the few remaining balconied tenement blocks in Hong Kong. It was built in the mid-1920s to replace Wah To Hospital, the first one in Wan Chai to provide medical services to Chinese residents.

The building has also been used as a school and housed small local businesses, including a charity clothes shop now on the ground floor.

Residents have mixed feelings. 'I love my flat here,' said Hung Man-wah, a resident of a converted classroom for the past 20 years. 'I love the high ceilings, the old tile floor, the big windows and the design which keeps the building cool. But whether I would be willing to move ... it will depend on the situation,' Ms Hung said.