A wander through Happy Valley's history
On Monday morning I met Phil at Times Square, then off we set to see what we could find. We were heading for Fung Fai Terraces as an appetiser, to look at the old buildings there.
We followed Wong Nai Chung Road along the west side of the racecourse - the side where all the cemeteries are. The road was widened when the Aberdeen Tunnel flyover was built in the 1970s, pushing back the cemeteries' walls. This gateway at St. Michael's cemetery looks as though it pre-dated the move, and was successfully dismantled then rebuilt afterwards:
Here's a sleepy view of this area from the 1920s:
When we reached the Sanatorium, we followed the road round to the right, till we came to Village Road. On the right-hand side of the road is a big old retaining wall, with a gap in the middle and stairs leading up either side. Here's a view from the mid-1920s, showing the wall and stairs (the photo shows it from the opposite direction, so here the walls and stairs are on the left of the road):
Above the wall are the Fung Fai Terraces, built on two levels. The buildings on the lower level are all complete in this photo. Behind them you can see another retaining wall and stairs, with the upper terrace formed, but nothing built yet.
The buildings on the lower terrace were completed first, but also re-developed first. Today only #2 remains from the original lower terrace buildings, just one half of one building. Several old buildings are still standing on the upper terrace though, so that's where we went.
From Village Road we climbed the first staircase, then cut between the buildings (a small shelter for the security guard marks the passageway) to reach the upper staircase.
Look down at the steps, and we can see the land is made up from two lots, with the dividing line running right down the middle of the staircase:
Then look up. There's a small ledge built into the wall. Did it used to support one of those stone signs that showed the name of the terrace?
Up the stairs, and then a pause to admire the two pairs of original buildings that still stand here. The pair on the right are numbers 23 & 24.
Hmm, looking at the photo now, it doesn't look as attractive as I remember, with all those air-cons, peeling paint, and aluminium window frames! But look a little closer and there are all sorts of pretty details:
The other pair of original buildings are numbers 16 & 17, along to the left. See how high the ceilings are?
They've left the upper windows open to let the hot air out:
The floors still in good shape too:
Here's the wall that runs along in front of 16 & 17. Would any wall experts reading like to estimate a date from the style?
Walking down the slope from the upper terraces, Phil spotted a small concrete balcony that juts out. We didn't have any good ideas for when and why that was built.
At the bottom of the slope, this entrance still has its stone sign in place:
Back out onto Village Road, we followed the road up to the junction with Shan Kwong Road. On the corner is this building that reminds me of the building at the bottom of Old Bailey Street. :
Here's the front view. Was there was another half to it originally?
And over across the street, one of the old T-shaped iron street signs:
We turned right, to walk up Shan Kwong Road. If you live near here you probably don't think these old-style signs are an endangered species. Shan Kwong Road has two!
The sign is on the wall of Hong Kong's most colourful school building:
It is a Buddhist primary school, standing next to and downhill from the the Tung Lin Kok Yuen, a Buddhist educational institution for women. Both were founded by Lady Clara Hotung, Sir Robert Hotung's second wife.
Between the two sites is a narrow lane, with a much more subdued appearance.
The Star of David on the gateposts is the clue to what's inside. The gateposts mark the entrance to the Jewish Cemetery.
At first glance the gates look as though they are locked with a heavy chain, but in fact they just need a good push to open - the cemetery is open to the public. It's much smaller than the cemeteries down the hill, so it doesn't take long to walk around.
Here are the names that caught my eye:
Alexander is the grandfather of Gwulo contributor Geoff Wellstead. He has written about his grandfather, and also posted many interesting photos of Hong Kong from the 1920s - 60s from his family collection.
The grandest graves in the cemetery both belong to the family of Emanuel Belilios. The older grave is for his son, David:
And the newer is for his widow, Sema.
(The inscription describes her as the ".. dearly beloved relict of ...". "Relict" is an old-fashioned word for "widow".)
Here's the oldest stone in the cemetery, built into the back wall. It isn't a gravestone, instead it commemorates the opening of the cemetery in 1855:
Just one letter difference in the family name, this is the grave of Jacob Sternberg, who died aged 15 months old. We've seen the name Sternberg before, as his father Moritz published many of the old postcards of Hong Kong that we've seen here on Gwulo.
Next are several members of the Weill family, starting with Maurice. He died young, aged 34.
Nearby is the grave of his younger brother Albert:
But it's Albert's wife Rosie we've heard most about, as she is mentioned in several of the accounts of wartime life in Hong Kong.
Rosie survived the war, but two of her sons did not. Maurice died in Shanghai, while Leon died as a POW in Shamshupo:
Another grave nearby records two brothers from the Goldenberg family who both died in late 1941.
Isaac was killed in action during the fighting on the 23rd of December. But his younger brother Charles had died the previous month, probably from illness as Hong Kong was still at peace then.
The last name I recognise is Siegfried Komor:
Probably one half of Komor & Komor , the "Art & Curio Experts":
Leaving the cemetery, we walked a short way uphill to admire the Tung Lin Kok Yuen.
The roof is covered up for maintenance at the moment, but you can see its colours are much plainer than the school next door.
Back down hill, and walking along Tsui Man Street there's a view of the back of 54, Village Road.
The front looks even better, but we were men on a mission so the front view will have to wait for another day. We were heading uphill to that grid of streets with the botanical theme: Briar Ave., Broom Rd., Green Ln., etc, to admire some of the buildings up there.
We made a minor detour into Hip Wo Lane, to take a peep into its Air Raid Tunnel entrance:
And spot another old street sign as a bonus.
Then we carried on up to the corner of Holly Road and Blue Pool Road, to see the first of those low-rise buildings.
A house with a garden! Don't see many of those in Hong Kong.
Walk on up to the junction of Broom Road and:
Where you'll see this three-storey building with round windows and lots of curves:
Something unusual in these roads is that although many of the buildings here have been re-developed, they've kept to the height of the old building. That's even more unusual than a house with a garden - any ideas why this has happened?
There's a mirror-image of this building further along the street, just next to the Green Lane staircase.
If you compare the old and the new buildings, you can see why there is the temptation to re-develop. By cutting away the platform and lowering the ceilings, they've managed to squeeze five storeys into the space of three!
Before we leave the area, let's just check my favourite bollards in Hong Kong are still there at the top of the Green Lane staircase.
All present and correct, we may proceed.
Walking down Blue Pool Road, Phil spotted this odd ruin.
There's quite a drop inside, and you can see the curve of the original retaining wall in the background.
These days it is used as a rubbish tip, but if you look at the girders that hang down from the ceiling, and especially at the rollers on the girder, it looks as though it was once used as a workshop.
Does anyone know it's history?
At the junction with Ventris Road, steps lead up to a small temple. I've never been in to take a look, so we put that right. The main temple is dedicated to Tam Kung:
And a few steps further up the hill there is a small Tin Hau temple:
They were built in 1901, when the original village was still standing. Remember that 1920s photo of Fung Fai Terraces we saw earlier? It was cropped from this larger view:
The terrace is on the left of the photo, while the jumble of low roofs on the right was the old Wongneichong Village.
We walked back down from the temple, and set off for Caroline Hill via Ventris and Link Roads. A foundation stone at St. Paul's school caught my eye. We've been talking about Douglas Crozier recently, and he laid this stone in 1960.
Coming down the other side of Link Road, Phil stopped to take a photo of a school with the catchy name:
The Po Leung Kuk Gold & Silver Society Pershing Tsang School.
Phil is working his way through the movies that have been filmed in Hong Kong, identifying the locations they used for filming, then writing about them on his website. He spotted this school building in Double Impact - Jean Claude Van Damme (1991). At the bottom of the hill he pointed out the old CAS HQ and EMSD buildings next to the South China Athletic Association. They were used in Cracker: White Ghost - Robbie Coltrane (1996).
Turns out neither of us had ever been to the Race Course Fire Memorial. We knew it was nearby, so out came the online map, which showed the path to it started by the Hong Kong Stadium. When we got there we found a helpful sign:
Except the sign says it shuts at midday, and my phone showed it was 11:56! Surely they'll let us in if we can get there before 12? Off we set, huffing and puffing up the steps. Would we make it in time?
Turns out we needn't have worried because:
- Nobody came to lock the gate at 12, and
- Even if they had, you can just step over the low wall next to the gate!
It's an impressive structure:
It commemorates the 600+ people who were killed in the 1918 tragedy when fire broke out in the temporary stands at the racecourse.
By then we were ready for lunch, so walked over to Tai Hang. Both the places I had in mind were closed, but walking back and for meant we got to see a few more old buildings:
I hope you've enjoyed the walk. If you spot anything interesting when you're out and about in Hong Kong, please take a picture and let us know.
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