Hong Kong lawmaker seeks to buy time to prevent demolition of historic Red House in Tuen Mun
Democratic Party’s Andrew Wan calls for grade one building, said to have a connection with Dr Sun Yat-sen, to be declared ‘proposed monument’
A lawmaker has called for the Red House in Tuen Mun – a grade one historic building said to be linked to Dr Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China – to be declared a “proposed monument” to save it from possible demolition.
Parts of the walls surrounding the Red House had been torn down, while water supply for residents living in the building had been halted, according to Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who went on a site visit on Friday.
This came a day after legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick of rural development campaign group Land Justice League said its new landlord, who acquired the land only three months ago, had served eviction notices to some occupants.
“The residents have been living there for a long time. But the new landlord wants to evict them now. One can’t help but think that the move is to pave way for further development of the Red House,” said Chu, who is helping two affected families.
“The last thing we want to see is for a grade one historic building to be flattened,” Chu said.
The house is considered of historical interest because many locals believe it was the base where Chinese republican revolutionaries under Dr Sun had plotted to overthrow the Qing dynasty in the 1900s.
It was classified as a grade one historic building by the Antiquities and Monuments Office in 2009, the highest grade in the three-tier system, mainly due to its social value and local interest.
Its grading means every effort should be made to preserve the building, if possible.
However, it does not receive statutory protection under the law.
Wan said that the move by the new landlord to kick out its occupants within a week was “unusual” and called on the government to declare it a “proposed monument”.
Under the Antiquities and Monument Ordinance, the Development Bureau can declare any grade one building a “proposed monument” if the building is under threat of demolition or renovation works which can affect the heritage value of the building.
If a building is declared a “proposed monument”, no works can be carried out on the premises for one year.
Heritage expert Lee Ho-yin agreed that it was “the only method and the right way” to buy time, while waiting for the government and the community to come to a consensus on whether it deserved a monument status. If a building is declared a monument, it will be granted statutory protection.
King Yin Lei, a historic mansion on Stubbs Road, was declared a “proposed monument” in 2007, and then later, a monument after removal works were noticed on the site.
But two other heritage sites, the now demolished villa Ho Tung Gardens and Jessville mansion in Pok Fu Lam, were not upgraded to monument status after they were declared “proposed monuments”.
Antiquities Advisory Board member Philip Liao Yi-kang said the government might be hesitant to make such a declaration for the Red House case.
“This method can’t be used every single time for each case. Even for all grade one buildings, their historic values also vary,” Liao said.
Liao added that it would be more appropriate for the government to liaise and negotiate with the land owners to see if other incentives could be given to preserve the site.
In previous cases, the government had been able to save certain developments by offering monetary compensation or paying maintenance fees, or by giving development concessions or land swaps, he said.
In response to media inquiries, the Development Bureau said it was “highly concerned” about works being carried out near the Red House.
“It is understood that the construction works involved removing trees and setting up temporary structures, which did not affect the main building,” a bureau spokesman said.
He said that any demolition or alteration works to the building required approval from the buildings authority. The bureau has asked the Buildings Department to contact the land owner.
He did not respond to questions on whether it would consider declaring the building a “proposed monument”, but only said that under general circumstances, if any historic graded buildings came under threat, the Antiquities and Monuments Office would look into ways to protect the site with respective land owners.
The Red House is in Zhongshan park in Tuen Mun. It derives its name from the red building which dominates the area.
It is privately owned. Agreements obtained by Chu showed the land where the house is located was sold by its previous owner Li Shiu-kwan to a company called Goodberg for HK$5 million last November.
But like its future, uncertainty also surrounds its past.
Appraisal notes available on the website of the office said the exact year of construction of the Red House is not known. And “no direct relationship between the building and revolutionary activities led by [Dr Sun] could be fully established,” and “the present building carries some characteristics of the architecture in the 1920s and 1930s”.
In 2012, there were media reports about the mansion being illegally converted into subdivided flats for rental. At that time, a tenant claimed she paid about HK$1,000 to rent a room there.
At present, Chu said at least three families were living in the Red House.
One occupant, who only gave his name as Mr Chan, claimed he had been living there since 2003. “Without warning, we were given a letter asking us to move out,” said Chan, who however vowed to stay put, adding: “I have nowhere else to live.”
Another affected resident, Mr Lau, who claimed to have lived there for more than 30 years, said he was only given a week’s notice to move out. “I received the letter from the new landlord on January 25 and I was asked to move out in a week. No rehousing arrangement was mentioned,” said Lau.
Lau, in his 70s, added: “I am old and cannot afford to hire lawyers to fight the eviction. I just hope to have a shelter to live.”