Hong Kong hospital tears down historic arch to make way for barrier-free access

Wan Chai district councillor says body might have considered the issue in a different light if Ruttonjee Hospital had said it would demolish the arch

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 March, 2017, 7:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 March, 2017, 10:40pm

An arch at an entrance to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai which is thought to have been built in the late 1880s has been torn down to make way for a new barrier-free access.

The hospital said the project required it to dismantle the arch – which did not have any historical grading – to make room for the new facilities, including an escalator and lift, but it would store the original materials and reassemble the arch later.

But Wan Chai district councillor Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying said the body, instead of endorsing the project in February last year, would have taken more time to scrutinise the plan if the hospital had told the council it planned to tear down the structure.

“During the meeting, the Hospital Authority only briefly mentioned that the entrance had historic value and that it would preserve the design of the entrance, but it never told us it would tear it down,” Yeung said. “This is misleading.”

Charlton Cheung, member of Wan Chai conservation group Ha Ha Ha Wan, said residents in the neighbourhood first discovered that the arch had been removed on Friday last week.

He showed maps and hospital building plans from the Public Records Office dating back to the 1880s, when the facility was still called the Seaman’s Hospital.

The plans showed the side entrance on Wan Chai Road first appeared in 1889 as an entrance for a newly built mortuary. Cheung believed this could prove that the arch was built that year.

Wong Hung-keung, an artefact restoration expert, said the arch was built with green bricks made in Guangdong, a material used over a century ago.

Green bricks were also used to build many other historic buildings in Hong Kong, such as parts of the 150-year-old former Central Police Station compound, which is a declared monument.

Cheung said the style of the arch was similar to that of the Cape D’Aguilar lighthouse near Shek O, which was built in 1875 and is now a declared monument.

“The arch was the only remnant of the former Seaman’s Hospital and had very important historic value,” he said.

A hospital spokeswoman said the institution had consulted the Antiquities and Monuments Office to confirm that the arch was not a declared monument and that the hospital could decide whether to preserve the structure or not.

She said the hospital agreed that the arch had memorial value and would reassemble it near its original position.

Architecture sector lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim said he worried that the bricks could be damaged during the removal process, which would undermine the structure’s historic value.

He said the Antiquities and Monuments Office should work with district councils to compile a list of buildings with potential historic value but which are not yet graded, and make the list publicly accessible so residents could help monitor the condition of the buildings and prevent similar things from happening.

Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo said the board, after a conservation policy review, had recommended in 2015 that the government cooperate with the public and map buildings with heritage value. He said the government had set up a HK$500 million fund and an advisory committee to achieve this.