HONG KONG (UCAN): The People’s Conservation Campaign, a non-Catholic group, has been seeking to stop the historic Maryknoll House, overlooking Hong Kong’s picturesque Stanley Bay, from being turned into a luxury housing estate.
An online petition against the redevelopment was launched on August 9 ahead of a Town Planning Board meeting in October that is scheduled to deal with the furore.
New Season Global Limited purchased the property in 2016 for $760 million (US$96.8 million) and applied for the rezoning in July this year.
Maryknoll House, is currently zoned for use by community organisations, is rated as a first-class historic building by Hong Kong’s Antiquities Advisory Board.
Although the main building would be retained with changes, eight luxury dwellings and 18 parking spaces would be added.
Yuen Chiyan, a member of the conservation group, said that after the developer purchased the property many people thought that it would be converted for use as an international school. She added that members of the Catholic Church were “very surprised” by the sale.
She expressed strong opposition to proposed dismantling of the external walls of the house’s Church as well as to the planned construction of new glass and other structures not in keeping with its original style, noting that this would destroy the building’s architectural integrity and detract from its historical significance.
Maryknoll House, was the congregation’s Asian headquarters, combines Chinese elements, including a glazed roof as well as hexagonal and octagonal windows, with Western architectural features and materials.
This was intended to symbolise the integration of Western missionaries into Chinese society. The design is similar in style to the Holy Spirit Seminary.
Missionaries also included Chinese design features in some schools and hospitals.
Following its completion in 1935, the sprawling structure was used as a school for arriving American Catholic missionaries to learn Chinese languages.
It was taken over during World War II by visitors of an unwelcome kind, in the form of the Japanese Imperial Army, who forcibly removed some 20 priests to an internment camp and set themselves up in the stately home (Sunday Examiner, 5 October 2016).
The building later became a refuge for Catholic clergy and others fleeing China in the wake of the 1949 communist revolution.
It has also served as a religious retreat for Maryknoll fathers and brothers.
The developers have maintained that they will allow public access. However, Yuen complained that this would only comprise guided tours twice a year.
Maryknoll’s office staff said that the mansion had been sold and the matter had nothing to do with the complainants.