The different fates of two heritage buildings Hong Kong government saved
By handing over the operation of preserved buildings to private groups, officials have tried to resolve a long-standing problem – what to do with old places – but have not silenced all the critics
On November 6, the former Tai Po Police Station officially reopened as Green Hub, a centre for promoting sustainable living run by Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. The cluster of single-storey buildings date back to 1899, and was the location where the British raised their flag for the first time after taking over the New Territories.
Today, the hill-top property is a green oasis where visitors can enjoy a superb vegetarian meal made with the farm’s own produce. There is also an organic shop, and guest rooms for hire.
It falters in the unfriendliness towards visitors. Diners are told off like badly behaved schoolchildren for not putting used dishes in the correct, albeit unlabelled, collection bins. And visitors who fancy a peep at the guest rooms are told they must first apply for a preview.
King Yin Lei
This is the 1930s mansion that almost didn’t survive. In 2007, the new owner of the exuberant Chinese Renaissance-style property, which had not been declared a historic monument, started tearing it apart. (The buyer was reportedly linked to Chinese developer Zhang Songqiao, who also bought Ho Tung Gardens on The Peak, which was then demolished.) Alarmed, the government offered the new owner a similar-sized plot of land next door in exchange for King Yin Lei and meticulously repaired the damage. Since 2011, the public has been able to visit the mansion a few days a year, but so far no long-term use has been found for it.
“The government failed to attract any bid that the selection committee found satisfactory after it was included in batch three and four of the Revitalisation scheme application rounds. The government has spent a lot of money on King Yin Lei already. We, together with the Antiquities and Monuments Office, are considering its future use,” says heritage commissioner José Yam.
In June, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po announced that the government had accepted the committee’s recommendation not to invite any more revitalisation applications and that the government would continue restoring the building.