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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
December 26, 2005
Government Press Release
Monument restoration 'challenging': architect



Modernised monument: Government architect Kenneth Tam explains how Kom Tong Hall is being transformed into a modernised museum to commenorate Dr Sun Yat-sen.





Converting a monument like Kom Tong Hall into a modernised museum is in many ways more difficult than building a new one. For government architect Kenneth Tam, the challenging task has kept him busy for months finding ways to restore its grandeur in subtle but effective ways.

Kom Tong Hall, located at 7 Castle Road in Central and Western District, is a typical Edwardian classical structure built by Ho Kom-tong, Sir Robert Ho Tung's brother who served at Jardine, Matheson & Co as compradore, in 1914. He lived in this splendid premises until his death in 1950.

Since 1960, the premises had been under the care of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.

Heritage preserved

To preserve its heritage, the Government acquired the building in February 2004 at a cost of $53 million and announced its plan to establish a museum there to commemorate Dr Sun Yat-sen, one of the most respected figures in Chinese history.

Mr Tam, who is responsible for Kom Tong Hall's restoration and conversion, tells news.gov.hk what makes the nearly 100-year-old building so special.

"This is a very interesting building. After the structural survey last year, we noticed this building was constructed in steel, with trade marks from Belgium and Holland. It is quite possible that the structural steel works were pre-fabricated in Europe, shipped over to Hong Kong and assembled on site.

Pioneer of high-rise buildings

"Obviously this was the state of art in those days to accelerate the speed of construction resulting from the technology advancement during the Industrial Revolution. Although it has an Edwardian facade, it is a revolutionary piece of architecture and probably the pioneer of high-rise buildings of our time."

Kom Tong Hall boasts architectural features, such as Greek-style granite columns, crystal chandeliers and wall lamps, hardwood wainscoting panels, moulded ceilings, fireplaces, stained glass windows, grand staircases with carved wooden railings, patterned floor tiles, glazed wall tiles and wooden louvre windows.

"Another feature you can notice from the outside is the verandah, a very deep verandah, which is a typical colonial type of building design to regulate the climate in all seasons. We did try staying out during the cooler season and find it is very nice, comfortable and functional.

Staircases reflect social phenomenon

"Inside the premises there are two flights of staircases, with the one at the front for use by the Ho's family and the one at the back for mui tsai (maids). This feature reflects the idea of social stratification in Chinese societies."

Mr Tam said the features will be preserved during and after the conversion. To tour the historical building, click here.

As the centenary building housed different users and was altered to suit their needs, Mr Tam said the structure must be restored to its original state to preserve Hong Kong's cultural heritage.

"We have adopted the principle of 'minimum intervention' for the conversion works. This is of course a very challenging task for us because initially the building was designed as a residential one and now we have to convert it into a modern museum with service facilities.

Minimum intervention

"The objective is to hide all these facilities so that they will not be shown or in conflict with the monument's original appearance and architectural features."

Since the building plans are no longer available, Mr Tam spent about 10 months conducting site surveys, interviewing the Ho family and the church group's management and making references to old photos to prepare a comprehensive conservation plan for Kom Tong Hall.

The architect said one of the difficult tasks is to find locations for housing modern service facilities.

"We have to find locations for heavy equipment, such as air-conditioning equipment and a water tank for fire- fighting purposes. In this regard, we have to conceal all air-conditioning equipment on the rooftop and dig up the front terrace to hide the required water tank.

Fireplaces to cool the room

"As for the inside of the building, we have come up with a solution after doing research. We will make use of the existing and original fireplaces to bring in the facilities, such as air-conditioning ducts. Fresh air will be supplied through the old chimney into the building and cool the room instead of its original purpose of warming the room."

To reinstate the original appearance of the brick wall, the chemical stripping method has been adopted to remove all the deteriorated varnish coating. The corncob blasting technique has also been introduced to remove the old paint vanish on wooden surfaces.

Glazed tiles that adorn the balcony walls are no longer produced or sold in the market. By borrowing a method used in the transfer of mural paintings, intact tiles from concealed areas are retrieved to replace damaged ones.

Edwardian style structure

After renovation, Kom Tong Hall will be a place for people to explore and study historical buildings of Hong Kong as Edwardian style structures built in the 1900s are rare in the city due to rapid development. It will also be ideal for people to learn about Dr Sun Yat-sen, a well-known revolutionary.

"The building was completed at approximately the same time of the revolution in China, hence it is appropriate to convert it into a museum to commemorate the well-known 1911 Revolution and Dr Sun Yat-sen, the father of the republic of China," Mr Tam said.

The selection of Kom Tong Hall as the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum is also attributable to its proximity to the Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail.

Dr Sun's spheres of activities fell within its vicinity, including the Preaching Home of American Congregational Mission on 2 Bridges Street where Dr Sun was baptised, the Central School (opposite to 51A Gough Street) where Dr Sun received secondary education, the To Tsai Church on 59 Hollywood Road where Dr Sun frequently met with his comrades, the College of Medicine for Chinese on 81 Hollywood Road where Dr Sun was trained as a doctor, as well as the Qian Heng Hang on 13 Staunton Street where Dr Sun set up the Headquarters of Hong Kong Xing Zhong Hui (Revived China Society).

Meanwhile, Dr Sun was related to Ho Kom-tong, the original owner of the premises, in one way or another. Both were born in 1866 and were graduates of the Central School in 1886. Ho's elder brother, Sir Robert Ho Tung, rendered support towards Dr Sun's revolutionary activities. Given the close ties between the Ho's family and Dr Sun, Kom Tong Hall is a suitable venue for the museum.

Wonderful coincidence

For Mr Tam, who lived on Caine Road during childhood, getting involved in the Kom Tong Hall project is a wonderful coincidence.

"Whenever I passed by, I was deeply impressed by Kom Tong Hall's majestic design. I had never dreamt of getting into the premises as it was the residence of the Ho family. But now, I am tasked to explore its features, restore them and share them with the public.

"History, culture, tourism, architecture and education are all interrelated. If we can preserve monuments, our collective memories can last. When Kom Tong Hall reopens as Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, the public can better understand Dr Sun's revolutionary career, the modern Chinese history and the story of the building itself."

Works to restore and convert Kom Tong Hall, at a cost of about $90 million, started in September 2005 for completion by the end of 2006. It will be fully open to public in early 2007.

Mr Tam said the lower ground floor will be used as the reception area with a souvenir shop. The baptism font, constructed by the church group, will be retained to show the hall's history.

The museum will offer an exhibition on the life and revolutionary career of Dr Sun with special reference to the political and socio-economic conditions of Hong Kong in the late 19th century, as well as special thematic exhibitions where educational activities are to be held.

Comprehensive collection

There will also be an activity room, interactive room, reading room and video room where multi-media programmes and Dr Sun's documentaries will be available.

To enrich the museum collection, curatorial staff have visited museums in Nanjing, Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, Guangzhou and archives in London, from which a substantial number of important artefacts related to Dr Sun and the 1911 Revolution have been identified for loan for display. Highlights of a few hundred items collected during a campaign from May to August in 2004, including calligraphies, manuscripts, letters, souvenirs, stamps and banknotes, will also be featured.

As the museum will become part of the Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail, additional signposts will be put up to direct visitors to the museum as a stopover while guided tours will be offered.

"We are now planning to revitalise some of the original features extended to the outside of the building, such as cobblestone paving, metal hand railings and ballards, street lamps and even masonry retaining walls in the surrounding areas. A statue of Dr Sun will also be erected at the front terrace," Mr Tam said.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Hall opens after a $90m facelift
Hong Kong Standard
Leslie Kwoh
Saturday, November 04, 2006

Gilded balustrades, granite arches and majestic stained-glass windows - these are just a few treats locals will find at the newly renovated Kom Tong Hall, tucked away behind the bustling Central district.

Built by wealthy businessman Ho Kom Tong in 1914, the historical mansion - fated for demolition four years ago - was unveiled Friday following a HK$90 million government restoration project.

The hall is scheduled to open to the public by year-end as a museum of modern Chinese history, with particular focus on the legendary revolutionary Sun Yat-sen.

Since the government intervened in 2004, purchasing the property from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, restoration artists have rebuilt old stone fireplaces, reinstalled glamorous chandeliers, and revealed colorful tiled floors. Restoring the gilded cast- iron balustrades alone took five weeks and cost the government more than HK$40,000, officials revealed Friday, adding that the gilt contains real gold to match the original version.

Chan Shing-wai, chief curator of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, said the government even borrowed dental tools to ensure details were carefully executed.

Despite a "minimum intervention" approach, however, Chan admitted the government had also added some "necessary" modern features to the museum such as air conditioning, a glass-encased elevator, artifact display cases, a fire escape and public restrooms. A wide gate leading into the driveway, erected by the church to allow vehicular access, will be retained.

"In our decision-making process we had to consider four factors: the public's safety, appearance, money and time. We carefully considered each feature, and consulted experts on almost every point," Chan said.

The four-story building located on 7 Lower Castle Road originally cost the Ho family HK$300,000 to build, a hefty sum at the time, even for the spacious 2,560 square-meter mansion. The exterior boasts an Edwardian-style facade, then popular in Europe, while the interior contains a mix of French motifs and Greek-style architecture using dark wood, ceramic, granite and glass.

Despite the delicate nature of the building's interior, Chan said the public would be allowed to touch features like walls and balustrades.

However, due to limited space, only 500 people will be allowed inside the building at any one time.

Admission tickets are expected to cost HK$10 per person.
 

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Hong Kong rediscovers an 'adopted' son
18 September 2007
International Herald Tribune

Sun Yat-sen, the medical doctor who brought down China's last imperial dynasty in 1911, has become the flavor of the year in Hong Kong.

A "Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail" through the trendy district of Soho has recently been refurbished. It takes walkers close to the Sun Yat-sen Museum that opened in December 2006. And at a nearby old mansion, the Museum of Medical Sciences is holding an exhibition on "The Medical and Social Landscape during Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Formative Student Years," which runs until the end of October.

Could it be that post-colonial Hong Kong now finds it easier to commemorate the life of one of China's great nationalists?

Chinese communities around the world have Sun Yat-sen museums, but this is the first museum for him in Hong Kong. Why did it take so long?

"Well, it's a difficult question," said Dr. Joseph Ting, now a retired curator of Hong Kong's Museum of History, which oversees the Sun Yat-sen Museum.

"I think the main reason for that is probably because of the atmosphere before 1997 and after 1997," he said, referring to the year Hong Kong was handed from British sovereignty over to China. "Before 1997 we were under British colonial rule, since 1841, and modern history was seldom mentioned even in the school curriculum, not to mention Dr. Sun Yat-sen as national hero. So, I mean, at that point of time, the colonial government tended to play down [Chinese] nationalism."

Now, it's politically fashionable to laud Chinese national heroes, and so easier to get the support for this impressive display in Sun's name.

The government spent 53 million Hong Kong dollars, or about $6.81 million, to purchase the fabulous old Kom Tong Hall, and another 91 million Hong Kong dollars to renovate and convert it into the Sun Yat-sen Museum.

Since it opened, more than 100,000 people have visited it, said Karen Lau, assistant curator at the museum. Such numbers suggest that the fascination is not only from people interested in China's history, but in Hong Kong's as well.

Ting added, "We want to tell people the role of Hong Kong in the shaping of modern China, and that starts with the shaping of Dr. Sun Yat-sen's ideas."

Sun Yat-sen left his village in Guangdong, southern China, in 1879 to join a brother in Hawaii. He eventually returned to China and from there moved to the British colony of Hong Kong in 1883. It was there that he received his Western education, his Christian faith and the money for revolution.

And it was in Hong Kong, with its freedoms, that he saw so clearly why China had to change, said Ting.

"Because Sun Yat-sen was educated in Central School [now Hong Kong's Queen's College], the lessons were taught in English, they had geography, history, apart from Chinese history they also got Western history, European history, algebra, mathematics, science," Ting explained. "In the mainland, in those days, people were still attending civil service examinations, still studying the teachings of Confucius, the sages. So it's a completely different type of education.

"The first Chinese newspaper appeared in Hong Kong. And, under British rule, we had a very good sanitary system."

The young Sun famously remarked that the achievements of British administration in Hong Kong, including its good drainage, provoked him into seeing the backwardness of his own country. He came to believe that the only way China could be modernized was by overthrowing the Qing Dynasty.

He found support for the revolution among some of the wealthy Chinese in Hong Kong. One of them, Sir Robert Ho-tung, was an agent to Jardine, Matheson & Company Limited. And it was Sir Robert's brother, Ho Kom-tong, who built in 1914 the mansion that is now home to the Sun Yat-sen Museum.

The Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail leads walkers to the museum and is a remarkable trip into history, even if it is almost entirely a tour of places that no longer exist. It also seems to exploit a new interest among Hong Kong people in local history and neighborhoods with rich and dramatic pasts.

Sun's first revolutionary organization, the Xing Zhong Hui (Revive China Society), was set up in 1894 in Honolulu. But that was too far from the action, so the society's headquarters moved to 13 Staunton Street in the Central district of Hong Kong in 1895. Now just a few doors down is a bar called 1911 in Sun's honor.

According to the bar's menu, its name "is taken from the most eventful year in contemporary Chinese history: the year when the citizens of China led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen overthrew the corrupt monarchy which had ruled China for centuries."

Further along Staunton Street, where it becomes Bridges Street, a plaque on the trail notes the site where the young Sun discovered Christianity and was baptized - at the Preaching Home of American Congregational Mission. The site is now a run-down food market.

Other points on the trail are the former sites of the Central School, where Sun received his secondary education; the To Tsai Church, where he often met his comrades; and the College of Medicine for Chinese, where he became a doctor.

In this neighborhood, Sun absorbed the values and ideals that underpinned his dream of a modern China. The uprisings he planned led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, and the formation of the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party. After years of civil war, victory went to the Communists in 1949 and the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan.

Exhibits at the Sun Yat-sen Museum include many items on loan from Chinese, British and other archives, with a wealth of items from the papers of one of Sun's teachers, Dr. James Cantlie, at the Wellcome Library in London.

Hong Kong's Museum of Medical Sciences is just a short walk from the Sun museum. Its exhibition links important steps in the young student's life with key events in Hong Kong.

While Sun was a medical student, for instance, Hong Kong enacted its first medical registration ordinance, opened a European Lunatic Asylum, suffered a smallpox epidemic, passed a vaccination ordinance and, in 1887, established the Alice Memorial Hospital on the corner of Hollywood Road and Aberdeen Street, a spot on the Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
$4m facelift makes it easier to follow Sun
13 July 2007
Hong Kong Standard

Two new spots, improved information signage and distinct balustrades have been introduced in a HK$4 million facelift for the Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail to lure more tourists and locals alike to follow the footsteps of the ``Father of the Nation.''

The 3.3-kilometer trail in Central and Western District, where Sun studied during his stay in Hong Kong at the turn of the last century, was set up 11 years ago to present an historical account of the revolutionary's activities in the territory.

It now has 15 historical spots tracing his activities in Hong Kong - from his dwelling to his school and where he planned the first uprising against the Qing dynasty in 1911. Two plaques have been added at Hong Kong University where Sun studied medicine, and at Pak Tsz Lane, where a political concern group frequented by the young Sun was located.

The HK$4 million upgrade was launched to complement the opening of the new Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum late last year at Kom Tom Hall - a heritage mansion in the Mid-Levels.

Stephen Chan Chit-kwai, a member of the Central and West District Council, said many people have trekked the trail since 1996, but many were disappointed that several of the historical sites have now vanished.

Brand-new ceramic plaques with easy-to-read information and old pictures from Sun's days were added. Museum curator Ang Yee said that with the addition of red railings along the trail, it is now much easier to follow than in the past.

Also, new guided tours have been planned to strengthen the links between the trail and the museum at Kom Tong Hall, where the government has spent HK$91 million on renovation works.

Tourists can join the English and Putonghua guided tours first at the museum before following the trail. More than 500 people have joined these tours since early this year.

The entire 15-spot tour takes about two hours, while a condensed version concentrating on Sun's "path of growth'' will take only 45 minutes.

One featured spot is the former location of the Xing Zong Hui (Revive China Society). It was a commercial firm on Staunton Street, which Sun used as a front to plot his first revolutionary attempt in Guangzhou.

Now, the premises has been turned into a Buddhist nunnery. More than 20 black and white photos of Hong Kong during Sun's time line the wall facing the old revolutionary headquarters. Looming behind are the former police quarters on Hollywood Road, which are facing demolition.

Apart from three plaques, the rest of the historical spots are at their original locations.
 
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