Thursday, November 26, 2015   

It's flat crazy

Kelly Ip

Monday, January 16, 2012

The owner of a Peak mansion and garden that is about to be declared a monument against her wishes has opened her doors as she fights against what she says will see billions of taxpayer dollars wasted.

Ho Min-kwan, a granddaughter of Hong Kong's first great tycoon, describes the villa at Ho Tung Gardens as nothing more than a collection of six glorified flats and not worthy to be seen as a historic building.

Speaking to a Sing Tao reporter just days before the government plans to take over Ho Tung Gardens, Ho - who is in her 70s - said it may now be famous because of the big plan but people have little knowledge about interior of the building constructed in the 1920s by one of the wives of her grandfather, Sir Robert Hotung.

And a tour of the mansion shows it is neither luxurious nor grand as many have imagined.

The villa with its flaking and fading paint is very simple, and the six apartments do not appear to have been maintained. The government levies separate rates on the six units.

The villa on the Peak does indeed look like just another old building.

Still, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has announced that the government will declare the entire Ho Tung Gardens a monument at the end of this month.

Ho has estimated that the total takeover package will cost taxpayers close to HK$7 billion.

Also in the 120,000 square-foot spread at 75 Peak Road - also known as Hiu Kok Yuen - that was completed in 1927 are pavilions, ponds, bridges
and fruit trees, but all are showing wear. A white Buddha statue stands in the middle of a pond which, due to the lack of maintenance, is cluttered with debris and leaves.

One of the pavilions carries calligraphy of Zeng Guofan, a Chinese official from the Han Dynasty, and Zuo Zongtang, a military leader in the late Qing Dynasty.

But the paint has flaked, and Ho Min-kwan believes the works may not have been original.

The villa, however, is the main point of contention, for Ho wants to demolish it and replace it with townhouses - she would live in one - while retaining the garden features.

The villa, in fact, appear little different from an old farmhouse. There is no fine furniture to be seen, and there is no special decoration besides an old fireplace.

Ho said one of the units in the 4,000-sq-ft building was rented out before but was now vacant. In some other units, kitchen and bathroom fittings have been removed because of water leakage. Stains on the floor attest to that.

Ho said she had shelved renovation and renting-out plans as redevelopment plans took shape, though she had continued to live in one of the villa's flats.

While she didn't show the reporter around that flat, it looked quite ordinary from the outside.

Ho Tung Gardens were used by the military during World War II and suffered accordingly, Ho says, though her grandfather never actually lived there.

Ho said she finds is strange indeed that some people believe Ho Tung Gardens have historical value and are worth conserving.

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