Historic rating for unique toilet

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2011, 12:00am

Antiquities advisers have acted against the government's plan to demolish and seal off the entrance to an old underground toilet in Central by giving it a grade-two historic rating.

They think a grade-three status proposed by the government is too low to reflect the significance of the toilet, which is a rare reminder of a batch of such facilities built in 1918 to improve public sanitation.

Earlier, the Architectural Services Department suggested the toilet entrance, in Aberdeen Street outside the former Police Married Quarters in Hollywood Road, be removed and covered up so the narrow footpath on which it stands could be widened.

The clearing of the footpath was to cater for the future opening of the police quarters, which will soon be revitalised as a creative industries hub. Earlier this week, the toilet, with an entrance wall of green tiles that stands beside a staircase, was proposed for a grade-three rating, which does not offer preservation but only photographic records.

But at the Antiquities Advisory Board meeting yesterday, nine members voted for a grade-two rating which was confirmed and four members supported a grade-three rating.

Board member Ko Tim-keung, who voted for grade-two status, said the significance of the toilet had to be judged by the historical context.

'In the late 19th century, public toilets were fee-charging and local Chinese unwilling to pay would answer the call of nature anywhere they liked. It was only after an outbreak of plague in Central and Sheung Wan that the government started to build a series of free toilets,' Ko, a historian, said.

Another board member Stephanie Chung Po-yin agreed. 'The facility has its symbolic meaning marking the point of time when the government became aware of the importance of public sanitation.'

The toilet site was used for an open-air market during the Japanese occupation.

The Antiquities and Monuments Office says there is only one other like it - a male toilet at the junction of Wellington Street and Queen's Road Central that is still in use.

Ko and Chung said officials should preserve the entrance and find another solution to the access issue. Ko said it would be even better to think of a new use for the toilet instead of a store room, as it is now.

Lee Ho-kin, chief architect of the Architectural Services Department, said members' views would be considered.