• Wed
  • Nov 19, 2014
  • Updated: 8:58pm
NewsHong Kong
HERITAGE

Take a Peak into the past: Controversy over hotel plans for century-old mansion at 27 Lugard Road

This mansion has survived 100 years and two world wars, and now its future has become the subject of a new battle. Step inside 27 Lugard Road

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 11:12pm
 

Walking into the century-old mansion at 27 Lugard Road is like going back in time. Sunlight shines through the tall windows onto the wooden floor and chandeliers in the entrance hall give visitors a glittering welcome.

The neo-classical mansion on The Peak, built at nearly the same time as Lugard Road itself and overlooking Victoria Harbour, has been under the spotlight for the past year over plans by the new owner to turn it into a hotel.

Lugard Road is one of the most popular hiking trails in Hong Kong and traffic is rare as cars need a special permit to travel along it. Hikers fear hotel service cars would cause a traffic nuisance, but conservationists say developing the mansion would protect its heritage – and that the effect of the two golf carts per hour the hotel plans to use would be negligible.

The grade-two heritage building, built in 1914, was designed by Lennox Bird, a senior partner of prominent architectural firm Palmer and Turner, for his brother. It was sold to Tai Koo Dockyard and Engineering Company and became a residence for the company’s staff and their families.

Since then it has had its ups and downs.

Watch: Inside the 27 Lugard Road mansion

According to the Antiquities Advisory Board, the house was damaged by a typhoon in November 1939, when the roof cracked badly. When the Japanese invaded in 1941, a bomb hit its tennis court, where residents had buried the family silver.

The tennis court was later turned into a swimming pool, which will be demolished to make way for a new building if the hotel plan goes ahead.

The house also features banisters made of wood taken from the old Hong Kong Club on Jackson Road. Its study has hardwood panelling on the walls, and all floors are of varnished wood.

Fireplaces and chimneys are also evidence of the house’s age.

Ownership changed a few times before developer Crown Empire bought it for HK$384 million in September 2012.

Dr Joseph Yao Ki-fu, who lived there for 12 years from 1999, opposes the plan, saying the narrow road is not designed for heavy traffic and that cars belonging to the hotel would endanger hikers.

The plan was approved by the Town Planning Board in September. Since then the developer has said it plans to use electric golf carts to carry the baggage of the guests in its 17 rooms.

District Councillor Joseph Chan Ho-lim, who works with the alliance, said hikers could be “forced off the slopes” when the hotel’s cars went by. He also worried that the hotel’s septic tank could pollute the environment. “There are many ways of [conserving the building],” he said. “It could be turned into a museum or souvenir shop, so the traffic impact would be minimal.”

He said while the mansion should be conserved, the trail and environment were just as valuable. The alliance has placed  petitions outside the mansion.
Hiker Heidi Li Pak-ling was against the plan. “The scenery here is beautiful, and it shouldn’t be only for rich people who can afford to stay in the hotel.”

Chan said that although the planning board had approved the hotel, he and the group would continue to pressure the government when the developer applied for the hotel licence, a permit to drive on the trail, and further approval from the buildings and lands departments.

However, Dr Lee Ho-yin,  associate professor in architectural conservation at the University of Hong Kong, said developing the building into a hotel would help conserve it, noting that the house was completed in 1914, which marked the beginning of the first world war.

“The protesters are completely wrong. They are being misguided and misinformed.”

If the house was turned into a hotel, Lee said, it could be the first privately owned and privately initiated revitalisation project in the city. “On The Peak, there are not that many pre-war houses left, so this makes this building extra valuable,” he said.

“If you maintain this building, it serves a number of purposes. It retains its architectural value and historical value. It’s not only protecting the value of the house itself, it also helps to protect part of the history of Hong Kong, because this building was designed by one of the oldest architecture firms in Hong Kong.”

Lee said developing the house into a hotel could add value to the building, and prevent it being torn down. If it was not protected, developers would build five luxury homes on the site that “nobody in Hong Kong can afford”.

In that case, the traffic problems could be even worse.

He said the electric golf carts the hotel would use was unlikely to cause any traffic issues.

Lee said other developers could be unhappy about the hotel plan because it would change the type of development in the area and they could face more pressure when they wanted to redevelop heritage houses.

Turning the place into a boutique hotel, which generally had a lower property price than residences, could also bring down the property prices of other houses in the area, he said.

Carmen Poon Lai-king, managing director of Joyful Books who curated an exhibition on Lugard Road, said it was an important part of Hong Kong history. Work on the road, named after governor Frederick Lugard, started in 1913, and cost HK$50,000. Construction was difficult due to the steep rock walls and the lack of proper roads.

Poon said the house, with its big balconies and windows, was an example of how Britons adapted to Hong Kong’s hot and humid weather. It was cooler on The Peak, and the architecture of the house facilitated air flow. Similar houses in good condition were now very rare, she said.

Share

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
7

This article is now closed to comments

mr.lobster
A hotel is not acceptable. For public interest & common good. The site may be made a Peak History Museum. Visitors walk in & learn HK/Victoria's beautiful history. The building's old heritage fully complement the purpose. All would benefit.
There are too many stakeholders. It is wrong to develop the site into a hotel. Many tourists and families with strollers walk the path. And now we add golf carts to the narrow path?
The government official giving the approval should be named.
MingBaakMei
Just a thought. If the Transport Dept. can legalise electric 'golf carts' for use on HK's public roads, as Luard Rd is, then what could the objection be to electric bicycles? HK is one of the few countries in the world to ban these most useful machines.
webbocybase
So the previous owner, Dr Yao, opposes the house's conversion into a hotel. Maybe he should have thought about it before he sold it to a developer for $384 million?
dascaldasf
Without the past, there would be no present and in the future one [our grandchildren] can look back and wonder how far they have come from what it was then. This building should be kept as a museum run with professional upkeep and maintained. It would then serve its purpose.
mr.lobster
The Transport Department is very backward. There are no subsidies for electric vehicles. Hybrid vehicles with motors are charged first registration tax. Bicycle with electrical assist are treated as motorcycles. Take a look at London/California and learn from what others are doing.
Legislations regulations should be updated to allow for adoption of Plugin Prius, Range Extender i3 and exempt electrically assisted bicycles.
From what I know, to date no privately imported Nissan Leaf had been granted a road license.
ianson
The bottom line is, no matter how intriguing the property may be and the benefits in preserving it, even if it ceased to exist entirely that would be preferable to disturbance of Hong Kong's iconic and irreplaceable walk around the Peak.
Carparklee
Dr. Lee Ho-yin's opinion is very neutral and professional. This historical building really deserves a good protection and preservation. In order to do that it really needs a great deal amount of resources and the best way to fund this is by appropriate and workable business activities. Government expenditure or public money should only be considered the last resort.

Login

SCMP.com Account

or