Grading system leaves historic site to decay

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 October, 2010, 12:00am

Elements of a grade one historic building of the former British garrison in the heart of the city have fallen into a dilapidated state, with part of a pillar at the entrance missing and the stone gatehouse full of rubbish and used as a storeroom.

The Old British Military Hospital in Mid-Levels, which opened in 1907, was given the grade one rating by the Antiquities and Monuments Office in December last year, but the entrance and gatehouse were not included.

The three-storey, red-brick hospital, built in the Edwardian neo-classical style, seems to be well preserved, but its entrance appears to be abandoned, overgrown and decaying.

Experts say this highlights the failure of the present process to take into account 'associated elements' when grading historic buildings, depriving important structures of protection.

The upper part of a stone pillar at the hospital's entrance, at the junction of Borrett and Bowen roads, has gone missing.

The stone gatehouse is full of garbage and shows signs of internal water leaks. It is being used as a storeroom by a contract cleaner for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).

Joggers who regularly run along Bowen Road said they noticed part of the pillar go missing this year. One suggested the government should clean up the entrance and erect a plaque about the historic building.

'The stone gatehouse and the two pillars ... are yet to be graded,' the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) said.

The Government Property Agency is responsible for leasing out the hospital, which is occupied by a number of non-governmental organisations. But the gatehouse and entrance pillars are outside the boundary of the site managed by the agency. The gatehouse is maintained and used by the FEHD, the AMO said.

Antiquities Advisory Board member Dr Lee Ho-yin, who is director of the architectural conservation programme at the University of Hong Kong, said the entrance gatehouse and pillars should be considered part of the historic building. 'The starting point of the building is significant,' he said. 'The gatehouse of the old hospital, like the guard post at the entrance of Government House, should be considered part of the historic architectural complex.'

This was an example of the grading process overlooking elements of historic sites, he said. The conservation assessment process concentrated too much on the building itself and overlooked associated elements 'such as the entrance and old wall which are also part of the architectural complex', Dr Lee said.

He cited redevelopment of the historic former marine police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui, now a hotel and mall called Heritage 1881, where the original landscape, an important 'associated element' of the site, was not protected by the grading and was completely changed.

The board planned to establish standard guidelines for assessment of associated elements of historic buildings after it concluded its present assessment of 1,444 historic buildings, he said.

The AMO said it had received a suggestion that the gatehouse and pillars of the hospital be included on the list of new items to be assessed by the Antiquities Advisory Board after the conclusion of its assessment of the 1,444 historic buildings.

Central and Western district councillor Stephen Chan Chit-kwai said the pillars and gatehouse should have been included in the assessment and grading of the building.

Historian Ko Tim-keung, an expert in military sites and battlefields in Hong Kong, said of the hospital: 'It is part of Hong Kong history of the first world war period, and it was used for wounded soldiers and sick British prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation.'

He said documents told many moving stories of the military surgeons and patients of the hospital, which was superseded in 1967 with the opening of the British Military Hospital in Kowloon. The old hospital now houses Mother's Care, Helping Hands and the Carmel School.