Ho Tung Gardens owner adamant

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am


A legal battle looms as the owner of Ho Tung Gardens says she is determined to demolish her family home even as the government is set to declare it a monument.

Ho Min-kwan, the granddaughter of the late tycoon Robert Hotung, said her only wish all along had been to continue to live on the site and replace the old house with 10 new ones.

'What I ask for is to let me demolish the house and live here happily and not to disturb me,' said Ho, who is in her 70s.

She was speaking a week ahead of the expiry of the one-year provisional monument status imposed by the government last year after it was informed of her plan to demolish the main house.

In the negotiations that followed, Ho rejected a land swap offer, saying the replacement site she had been offered behind the mansion would require chopping down trees and provide less privacy.

Ho plans to replace the main house with 10 cottages - valued by her surveyors at HK$7 billion - and keep one for herself. A narrow strip of land on the other side of a stream that runs through the site - where a Chinese-style garden including a pagoda, a pavilion and a swimming pool stands - would be preserved.

She said she had not decided whether to lease or sell the other nine cottages if she pursued the redevelopment, but denied her motive was to make money.

Asked if a sale of the properties would make her lose control of the site and therefore defeat her selfproclaimed intention to 'keep [her] family home', Ho replied: 'It will still be Ho Tung Gardens. I can get a management company to take care of the place.'

Historians say the estate, built by Hotung in 1927 for his second wife, Clara, is an example of Chinese Renaissance architecture and a reminder of an important chapter in the city's colonial history. Hotung was the first non-European permitted to live on The Peak.

Ho said she would wait for the government's final decision before deciding whether to launch any legal action to seek compensation.

'I am not asking taxpayers to pay HK$7 billion to me ... With this amount of money, the government can do many other things,' she said.

She said she did not find the building an interesting piece of architecture, since many alterations and additions had been made since it was bombed by the Japanese during the second world war. The house was then divided into six apartments, of which three were leased. Ho lives in one of the apartments.

She said if the government was really so keen to preserve the house, she could give away the building elements and let officials reassemble them on another site, as with Murray House in Central, which was reassembled in Stanley.

Dr Lee Ho-yin, a consultant who compiled an architectural study on the case for the government, said the alterations and additions, made by the house's original architecture firm, Palmer and Turner, would not affect the building's authenticity.

He said it was already an 'outdated' practice to break down a historic building and reassemble it in another place, as this would ignore the building's context.