Wednesday, November 25, 2015   

Just leave my home alone

Mary Ann Benitez

Monday, December 19, 2011


The granddaughter of the man who was the first of Hong Kong's great tycoons is appealing for people to help her fight off a plan to make her 1920s-era mansion home and landscaped garden on The Peak a monument.

Ho Min-kwan says a scheme to preserve Ho Tung Gardens at a cost of billions of taxpayer dollars makes no sense.

Better, she says, that she be allowed to demolish the 84-year-old sprawling mansion and replace it with 10 townhouses - she would live in one - that would occupy about half of the 120,000-square-foot site off Peak Road that overlooks Aberdeen Country Park.

The landscaped garden with a pavilion, pagoda and other features would be preserved along with its greenery, added Ho as she went public for the first time yesterday with her side of the big house story.

That included her pointing out that taxpayers will be stuck with a bill of HK$7 billion in compensation and other work if it is declared a monument.

"I will continue to live there, and I want to improve the site by building smaller houses on one section of the site," countered Ho, who is in her seventies.

"Only the main building will be replaced with more tasteful structures that will blend in with the landscape."

Ho Tung Gardens was shaped by the second but "equal" wife of Robert Ho Tung Bosman, who became famous as Sir Robert Hotung at the head of a clan that has spread and prospered since he created the family empire.

He never lived there, but some historians argue that Ho Tung Gardens is important as it stands as the first house a non-European was allowed to build on The Peak.

Other experts agree with Ho Min- kwan that the mansion is simply an uninteresting pile with a few Chinese features tagged on. They say it cannot compare with a few other "Chinese Renaissance" homes in Hong Kong such as King Yin Lei and Haw Par Mansion.That is the line that Ho pushed, saying the people of Hong Kong "should not be obliged to pay damages by way of compensation, and they will not have to unless the government declares Ho Tung Gardens a monument."

She said the existing main building is "unexceptional" and has been converted into six apartments. Her personal wish is to retain the site as her home and preserve the family legacy.

"I hope when the public knows all the facts it will agree with me that it would be a great mistake to declare Ho Tung Gardens a monument," she said.

Her plea followed Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet- ngor revealing on Saturday that the government will declare Ho Tung Gardens a protected monument before a 12-month temporary declaration expires next month. That was imposed after Ho first announced her redevelopment plan.

But Ho responded that it is simply not worth the money to make it a monument and against her wishes. "It does not have the requisite historical or architectural value or authenticity; it is not a rare example of an architectural style, and it is not a distinctive building structure.

"It does not arouse public sentiment in the same manner as other historical landmarks, such as King Yin Lei or the Queen's Pier, do or did."

Ho said the site cannot be said to be part of Hong Kong's social memory because "it is barely visible to the public and relatively unknown."

And she is not interested in a land swap. "While I do not doubt the government's good intention, I feel they have misunderstood my situation," she said.

"Unlike other cases where a land exchange has been successfully used to trade for private property, I have no desire to trade Ho Tung Gardens for a piece of land as if it is a business deal. To me, Ho Tung Gardens is my home."

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