Casino king's palace left to decay
Neglect of exclusive residence reflects a tragic period in Stanley Ho's family history
Number 4 Shek O Headland stands crumbling and wild among a strip of palaces.
This road holds not only some of the most exclusive real estate in the former fishing village, but is up there with the best in Hong Kong.
The house's decline - the pool water is now pea green and spawns swarms of mosquitoes, while the overgrown garden is home to a colony of snakes - could be seen as a reflection of the tragedy that befell the home's owners.
After all, in Cantonese, the number four sounds similar to the word for death.
But the state of the home also reveals how much money the elite in this city have - to allow what was once the proudest house in the street, with unobstructed views over the ocean from every room and worth more than HK$100 million - to languish in decay for more than two years.
The house is owned by one of China's most wealthy and powerful tycoons, Stanley Ho Hung-sun, and held by a company controlled by his third wife, Chan Yuen-chun.
There are signs on the carport outside the fenced-off home saying it is owned by Shun Tak Holdings, which is controlled by Mr Ho.
But a spokeswoman for the company said the property was now privately owned by the chairman.
'We don't have any details at all because the house is a private asset,' she said.
Even as a rental, the 13,000 sq ft property is worth well over the HK$60,000-a-month paid by the last tenant, who left in 2006.
The lot was bought by the tycoon and registered to Mr Ho's first wife - Clementina Leitao Ho, once known as the 'No1 Beauty in Macau' - in August 1958.
While she spent most of her time in Macau, her son Robert Ho Yau-kwong, the apple of his mother's eye and steadily climbing his father's business empire, spent much time in the residence, neighbours say.
In the 1970s, Robert Ho married Suki Potier, the former top London model who had been living with Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones when he was found dead in a swimming pool. Robert Ho and Potier had two daughters, Sarah and Faye.
Architect, abstract artist and sixth-generation resident Ray Yip, 66, who was close friends with Robert Ho as a young man, described the house as beautiful.
'I guess now Stanley Ho has so much money, it doesn't really matter what happens to the place,' he said.
In June 1981, Robert Ho and Potier were killed in a car accident in Portugal. His parents were devastated by the tragedy, and his mother apparently never fully recovered her health. She died in February 2004.
Ever since, according to Mr Yip and other residents, the house has slowly fallen from its former glory as it was leased out infrequently.
The property was handed to a trust for Robert Ho's children with the Hong Kong Bank Trustee Limited in 1982, according to the Land Department.
Once their parents died, Sarah and Faye Ho, then three and six, respectively, were cared for by their grandfather, according to reports in the South China Morning Post at the time.
Sarah Ho, now a jewellery designer in charge of SHO Fine Jewellery in London whose designs recently graced Girls Aloud for the 2008 Brit Awards, can barely remember living in the house.
'I was very small when I was living there with my parents, so I don't remember pretty much anything at all,' she said. 'I have been back to the house to look around, but it didn't trigger any memories. I was way too young. It's a beautiful house, overlooking the sea and really stunning.'
One of the tenants was a Japanese bachelor who was frequently away on business, and the once beautiful garden turned into a jungle.
Another family to live there were from New Zealand, and they managed to secure a reduced lease on the condition that they would tidy the garden.
The last tenants were the Early family. They moved out in February 2006.
Jodie Early, who still lives in Shek O, said the house had been built in a stunning location.
'It must be one of the only places in Hong Kong where you can look out from every window and not see a single building,' she said. 'You face the open sea. The air is cool and clear.'
But the house had decayed by the time they moved in and there were many problems.
Once the family received a frightening HK$8,000 water bill. When the Water Supplies Department came to investigate, they found crudely treated sewage was flowing directly into the bay.
'They told us that if we weren't living there, no one would be allowed to move in until it was fixed,' she said. 'So there would be a lot of work that would have to be done for it to be habitable.'
Ms Early said she had met the girls who owned the property through the trust.
About halfway through their tenancy, Sarah and Faye Ho, who is based in the United States, arrived with a cavalcade of cars and escorts from Shun Tak.
Ms Early said one of the girls remarked as she was arriving: 'We thought we should come as we haven't been here since we were six.'
Land Registry documents show Century Sino International paid HK$60 million to buy the house from the trust in March 2006.
The company is controlled by Stanley Ho's third wife.
Neighbours have heard that the owners may move in soon.
The fencing around the building, the piles of rubbish at the front and the numerous unopened letters strewn around the entrance may suggest otherwise.
One neighbour, who had put some fish in the swimming pool to reduce the number of mosquitoes, said something should be done about the house.
'It's a terrible shame really to let a house go like that, no matter how much money you have,' the neighbour added.