Living heritage of Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s historic Red House misses out on protection from possible demolition

Future of Tuen Mun building, thought to have served as Sun Yat-sen’s secret base before the 1911 revolution, remains uncertain

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 7:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 10:57am

The Hong Kong building believed to have been a secret base for the founding father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, will not be upgraded to the status of a monument and therefore saved from possible demolition, a committee advising the government on historic buildings agreed on Thursday.

During a meeting, the Antiquities Advisory Board made the decision not to promote the Red House, or Hung Lau, to the highest protection status in the city after the heritage authorities said they had failed to find any new evidence to support the building’s alleged link with Sun.

The house is widely thought to have served as a base for Sun and other republican revolutionaries in their plot to overthrow the Qing dynasty.

The two-storey, red-brick house in Tuen Mun, which has come under threat of demolition by its owner before, is a grade one historic building, the highest in a three-tier grading system, which means every possible effort should be made to preserve the structure. But that status does not give the government the power to stop the owner from redeveloping it.

Upgrading historic buildings to monuments would give the government that power.

We can’t find any convincing information proving that the Red House is linked to [China’s 1911 revolution]
Andrew Lam, Antiquities Advisory Board

“We understand the public feel attached to the Red House,” board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo said after the meeting. “But from the historical point of view, we can’t find any convincing information proving that the Red House is linked to [China’s 1911 revolution].”

Sun led the revolution, which ended dynastic rule in China.

Lam reiterated that the house received its grading based on its value to the city’s collective memory instead of its historic value.

Believed to have been built between 1905 and 1910, the building had parts of its surrounding walls torn down and sections of window frames ripped out in February by its owner, Goodberg Limited.

The government declared the building a temporary monument in March – effective for a year – to prevent further damage, while seeking further negotiations with the owner.

Last month, the government said the owner had applied for a subsidy under the Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme to restore the building. Owners of properties under the scheme are forbidden to demolish the buildings or transfer their the ownership for 10 years from the completion of the maintenance works.

During Thursday’s meeting, board member Kenny Lin Ching-pui raised concerns that the building would lose its temporary protection in March next year while the government could still be processing the owner’s application, leaving a window of opportunity for the building’s destruction. He added that the owner had earlier promised to conserve the building, before going on to tear out the window frames.

Watch: Windows ripped out at historic Red House

Commissioner for Heritage Jose Yam Ho-san said the building could still become a monument if new evidence emerged.

The board also agreed at the meeting that the 68-year-old Union Church in Mid-Levels should remain a grade three historic building, also in light of no new evidence to prove higher historic value.

The board confirmed the grading of the church’s sanctuary and bell tower in March, but decided to review the grading at the meeting after members of the public demanded better protection for the church.

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The church, on Kennedy Road, will be redeveloped into a 22-storey residential building. The project will be handled by Henderson Land Development.

Many board members said it was a pity the church could not be saved from redevelopment because of the limits of the grading system, but they agreed that the previous grading should be respected.