Peak Mansions [1928-1990] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Peak Mansions [1928-1990]

Current condition: 
Demolished / No longer exists
Date Place completed: 
1928-01-01
Date Place demolished: 
1990-01-01

Anonymous wrote:

Peak Mansions [is] where I grew up. Wonderful old building, full of history and ghosts, and pulled down in 1990-91 to make way for the ghastly Peak Galleria.

80skid wrote:

I spent some very enjoyable Christmas's with family friends here when I was a kid in the 80s. My favourite treat was feeding the big fireplace.

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Photos that show this place

Comments

This building is mentioned in Tony Banham's book, Not the Slightest Chance:

14 Dec 1942, Sunday. The HKVDC HQ moves from the Lower Albert Road to Peak Mansions.

20 Dec 1942, Saturday. Civilian areas continue to be bombed and shelled, killing military personnel and civilians alike: 'Mrs Nina Goldin, Mrs Valentine Horowitz, Mrs Barbera Veronkin died suddenly on Saturday, December 20, in Peak Mansions'.

Peak Mansions was built in about 1928 by Credit Foncier d'Extreme-Orient, and adverts for flats in PM appeared in local papers towards the end of that year. It was used as a base for the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps during the battle for Hong Kong in December 1941. The building was damaged in the fighting, and was subsequently used as a base by the Japanese. After the war it was used by the Royal Navy, I believe, and then acquired by the Government in 1956 as family quarters for civil servants. 

Andrew, thanks for the extra info, I've corrected the dates.

Looking at a couple of photos of the area, I wonder if you know what happened to the Peak Mansions building between this:

1920s Peak Hotel

and this:

1930s Peak Hotel

I think that's Peak Mansions we can see at the right of both photos. The first one looks different though, without the dome we see in the second, and later photos. The white lines don't look like scaffolding in the first photo, so maybe the building was extended, and its appearance changed a few years after it was built?

Looks like the top floor had been added on later. Year quoted in the photo is an approximate.

1930s Peak Hotel and Peak Mansions

 

Agreed. Also, on the second photo in my post above, it looks as if there is scaffolding around the building - possibly from the extension work? So the sequence of the three photos above looks to be in the right order.

Ah, Peak Mansions, so very many happy memories, and the stories! We lived there from 1973 until 1990

I recall talk of 'secret' underground cellars that had been blocked in by the Japanese forces to conceal their dastardly deeds during the occupation. When demolished, nothing of the sort came to light! There were no cellars, and no skeletons emerged from below.

The ghost stories were abound, indeed my sister used to baby -sit for the Parkins and would ring mum telling her the curtains, doors and furniture were moving about of their own accord. Come on Anna-Louise, I'll bet it was you sneeking around when you were supposed to be in bed.

I visited Peak Mansions when it became derelict and stood for a while before it was demolished. I took our house number 3 from the wall outside the front door. It still had pencil lines on the back of the plaque where its size had been marked out. I also removed the spy glass from the front door and now have it in my door here in England. Everytime I look through it, I am reminded of; the chinese gentleman from the Asia Supermarket who used to come most days. I also recall the elderly fellow who used to collect the rubbish from the back of the flats, very resplendent in his white pith- helmet and cast off police shorts.

It was a shame to lose such and enduring piece of architecture and to see a part of the Peaks history removed. However, Peak Mansions was fast becoming a crumbling and expensive building to maintain. I will state though, compared to the debacle of buildings put up in its place, and the 'refurbishment' of the Peak Cafe and surrounding areas, bring back the old. The Peak is a cheap plastic tourist trap and has little to offer. Even the once fantastic view is obscured by pollution from over the boarder and the Tram is just a Disney ride designed to generat money for its owners. What a shame.

I lived in Flat 7 from 1977, and my feelings about the area now are the same. The Peak Galleria area is just a grotesque monstrosity. What a missed opportunity!

Still, what's done is done. Believe it or not, I have architectural plans for Peak Mansions. I obtained them from those lovely people at the Architectural Services Dept of the HK Govt, who still had them on microfiche even though poor old PM was knocked down years ago. 

If you are interested I am sure that I could email you some scans of the plans. 

Re. ghost stories, yes, there were many about Peak Mansions. When I was a child we heard stories of a Japanese soldier who was supposed to wander the building. A former Commissioner of Police also lived there and claimed to have experienced ghostly activity. There is an old SCMP article about that which I will try to post. 

One of my lasting memories of the building is the distinctive sound of the VERY slow, stately lifts as they click-clacked up and down. Almost quicker walking down the stairs...

Thanks for the memories. It seems like every building that made it through WWII has a Japanese ghost or two in residence!

Flat 3, I'm glad to hear you managed to save a couple of mementoes. Looking at one of the old shophouses recently, it seems there should a business that pulls out the old bits & pieces (eg those solid granite pillars) for recycling before the building gets knocked down.

Mrs Trainor held French coaching on the 5 Floor.  We were enouraged to use the Stairs to get up there.

Yes, I also had French lessons with Mrs Trainor there, as did some of my classmates from Peak School. She had a wonderful collection of cowrie shells as well, if I remember correctly. 

This photo from Life shows the ruined scene after WWII; makes it clear why all the surrounding buildings were demolished

http://images.google.com/hosted/life/l?imgurl=648daf80a3272dcf&q=hong%20kong%20peak%20source:life&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dhong%2Bkong%2Bpeak%2Bsource:life%26hl%3Den

Thanks to Andrew for uploading the plans:

Peak Mansions plans

Together with notes:

One of the architectural plans for Peak Mansions. 

Not obvious from the plans is that there were six fully functioning fire-places in the flats: the three bedrooms, living room, hall and dining room. We tended to use just the hall fireplace in winter, when it could get quite chilly on the Peak. 

You will also notice the large number of room to the rear of the flats: storage rooms and servants quarters. There were really more rooms than we knew what to do with; one we used just for storing coal and wood for the fireplaces. 

Very sad to see such buildings go...

Andrew, those plans are amazing - one apartment has 29 different rooms, verandahs and cupboards! No wonder you were sad to say goodbye to the place. Was there any common link between the residents there (eg employees at the same company, government workers, etc) ?

Regards, David

And some other comments about the plans.

David wrote:

I'm interested in your comments about fireplaces. One of the things I watch out for are chimneys, as they are a good sign a building may be old, and is worth a closer look. As far as I can tell, the local tenement houses just had a row of chimneys at the back, probably for cooking fires? Then the larger blocks like Peak Mansions had extra fireplaces for heating fires too.

Was there any split between the coal and wood you mention? eg wood for cooking and coal for heating? Or were they interchangeable?

Andrew wrote:

I can only remember coal being used in the fireplaces, but I don't think there was any particular reason for that, we could have used either coal or wood. The fireplaces were a particular feature of Peak Mansions, and few mansion blocks/flats that I knew of had them, with the exception of  the old Homestead (I think), at the junction of Homestead Road and Peak Road. It is worth remembering that in the days before electric dehumidifiers the fireplaces would have also helped to dry out the flats during the misty winter  and spring months, as well as provide warmth. In the first part of the last century I imagine that all buildings on the Peak would have had fireplaces for this very reason. Photos of the Peak Hotel and surrounding buildings at the time certainly show chimneys everywhere.

David wrote:

I hadn't thought of the drying effect as one of the reasons for lighting fires. Though now I remember reading an account of a visit to Hong Kong in the early 20th century, and the author complaining that the sheets in his room always felt damp. It also fits in with the Astor House advert, which proclaims: "Fans in Summer : Fires in Winter".

My god the LIFTS. Those heavy blue steel doors with the worn flat brass circular knobs and the small glass observation panel in the middle so you could see the lift arrive. The ultra-modern high-tech floor counter; a brown bakerlite disc with the numbers 1 to 6 in white paint mounted behind a plastic dome with the black call button on an stainless steel plate two inches below.

It wasn't long before the kids of Peak Mansions found that you could stop the lift between floors (safely) by forcing the inner door open during the ascent or descent. We would craftily get in the lift and wait for someone to call for the lift. We would then stop the lift between floors and hold it there, all of us straining to see through the observation panel  whom would then be swearing and cursing as they had to walk down the stairs because the 'bloody lift isn't working again'. We used to laugh and laugh as we repeated the trick over and over again. So sue me. Sorry PWD.

David, which flat did you live in and when? Im just trying to work out who you are. Thanks David W. Flat 3.

Sorry to say, I never lived there. I only arrived in Hong Kong in 1989, so I'm just enjoying hearing the old stories.

Regards, David

Amazing! How did you know it was built by them?

I am currently gathering some research on this Belgian firm.

These guys sound interesting and i hear their name cropping up a lot. I believe they were also responsible for building the Stanley Carmelite Convent and St Mary's Anglican Church in CWB as well as having Belfran Road named after them (because they were a Belgian/French joint venture). Would love to hear any more information.

Cheers Phil

I lived in 1A Peak mansions in 1948-9 and heard that when the block was being demolished an unexploded Japanese bomb was found. Any one able to elaborate on this?

Sorry for the lateness of my reply, I have only just noticed your question. 

Credit Foncier d'Extreme Orient crop up in a couple of references to Peak Mansions. First, numerous advertisments in papers such as the Hongkong Telegraph announcing the availability of flats at PM (I will try to attach a scan of the newspaper). 

Secondly, there are mentions of the architect, Gabriel van Wylick, who was employed by Credit Foncier d'Extreme Orient and ended up living in Flat 9 in Peak Mansions (he probably picked the best flat - great views, but not at the very top where it might have become very hot in mid-summer). Van Wylick is listed in the 1929 Jurors list; his profession, employer and address are also listed. 

Peak Mansions advertisment 1928

 

Anonymous wrote:

I remember this apartment block, I took cookery classes there one time with one of the residents in her huge kitchen. The Dairy Farm outlet was further along Peak Road - no 100 - which became the Wellcome supermarket and is now Jason's supermarket. Dairy Lane as we knew it had a small cafe and also sold roast chicken on a spit when we went there in the 1970s.

Question from martin about ghosts:

I WAS INTERESTED TO READ THAT YOU LIVED IN PEAK MANSIONS ..I PASSED THIS BUILDING ONE NIGHT BACK IN 1988 LOOKING FOR SOME PHOTO OPPURTUNITIES AND HAD A EXPERIENCE UPON APPROACHING THIS BUILDING TO LOOK THROUGH THE WINDOWS..(IT WAS DERILICT AT THE TIME) THAT I BELIEVE WAS PARANORMAL...IT MADE MY HAIR STAND UP IN ANY CASE..I WOULD BE INTERESTD TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE OR KNOWLEDGE OF ANY GHOST ACTIVITY HERE...THANKS ....MARTIN VICTORIA AUSTRALIA

Reply from Andrew:

Hi Martin

It's not healthy to dwell upon these things, but there are aspects of Peak Mansions' history which are worth relating and which may have a bearing on reports of ghosts.

First is the report of a young Chinese burglar who in 1939 fell (allegedly) from a window on the sixth floor when caught robbing the flat of Guenther Stein, a prominent Far East correspondent at the time.

Second, there were a number of deaths there during the Second World War when the building was used firstly as a temporary HQ of the HK Volunteers, and then as quarters for Japanese officers. Three civilian women died there, and Japanese soldiers may well have died there too, but details have been hard to come by. Peak Mansions was certainly shelled during WW2.

Perhaps related to this were the persistent stories of Japanese ghosts in the building, which I certainly heard about when living there as a child. There is an interesting SCMP article in which a former Police Commissioner, who used to live in Peak Mansions, related his experiences of ghostly presences there. You can find links to the articles here: http://gwulo.com/node/6725, and here: http://gwulo.com/node/6724.

However, perhaps in the end it is better to concentrate on the living rather than the dead!

An idle moment and a touch of HK nostalgia led me to these pages with their quirky PM memories. I lived in flat 24 (top floor) from 1970 or 1971 to 1982. The Peak lent a sublime childhood and PM was a great place to live plus convenient for Peak School. My mother claimed with a mix of pride and embarrasssment we had 39 doors in our flat - they were incredibly spacious  with wonderful high ceilings and at least one working fireplace which we used regularly. Our flat still had remnants of a numbered bell system, presumably to bekon servants to whatever room was calling! I, too, remember the various stories of blocked-up cellars, and strange things in the pale blue domes. For those kids who used to stop those ancient lifts between floors I salute you too - mind you our agenda was graffiti immortalising who fancied who.

 I did just once have a very spooky 'ghost' encounter - actually a voice which my parents insisted was probably just a dream but to this day I'm adamant someone or something was calling my name in the middle of the night and I was wide awake. It never happened again and we never felt anything odd about the place.

I returned once after PM was emptied but before demolition, made it back to #24 and amazingly enough found a spare set of keys to my father's old VW in one of the small cupboard rooms - this was years after we left. I, too, took the wooden '24' from outside our flat and still have it at home. Dismayed when they put up that ghastly Peak Galleria  - but HK's never reeally respected anything very old apart from old money.

Peak School is asking for stories ...  http://gwulo.com/node/7614

Please drop by and share some ...

Did anyone else enjoy the thrill of climbing the bamboo scaffolding up the 6 floors, when they were painting the outside of the flats?

I used to go out the servants' quarters and climb up and down on my way to and from Peak School (unbeknown to my parents)!  We also climbed round the dome on the roof when the scaffolding was up.

I still get a nostalgic kick whenever I see bamboo scaffolding.

Happy days!

Just out of the blue I decided to google Peak Mansions.  Imagine my astonishment when I found this posting by my old babysitter.  (One of the Winfields)?  I was definitely not moving the furniture etc., but this does clear up a bit of a mystery. 

The entire time we lived there, 1973 - 1981 I didn't like going into the front bedroom and bathroom, (my parents room) on my own.  There was an eery feeling.  However, there were no actual occurences.

We were flat 12 and I know that some people thought the flat on the other side of the wall, top left of the staircase furthest from the Peak tram was haunted.  So maybe I only felt this in the room abutting that flat.

The Tinsons lived below us and were so lovely and polite.  I was appalling at piano and they would leave notes letting us know when they were going out, as a hint for me to start practicing before they returned!

Opposite us was the french lady who probably gave the cooking lessons people have mentioned.  She stated "never expect good food from a clean kitchen".  The McKeons lived on the next staircase, as did my best friend Sophie Linehan.

There was a group of children living in the block and we all played in "Long Grass"  It was behind Peak Mansions, above the playground, on the site of the old Peak Hotel.   It had been bombed during the war, but some terrace mosaics still remained, as did a dilapidated tennis court.  We built tunnels in the long grasses taking us all the way up to the modern apartments, (Plunkets Rd or something like that)?

Halloween was a big event and the children from the block would go door to door "trick or treating".  On the second staircase was the judge who would always politely invite us in for a chat.  However, there was also the resident lady who every child was terrified of.  We were awful, banging pots and pans on the roof directly above her flat to get back at her for always telling us off.

When I didn't win anything at the Peak School sports day, I held my own sports day on the roof of Peak Mansions.  It was a children's paradise up there.  A massive space with lots of chimneys to hide behind.   I drew the lanes for the races and won every one.  Oh dear, the shame of being so competitive!

On the moon festival we would take out lanterns up the Peak and it was absolutely marvellous.  Leaving the serenity of Peak Mansions, going out into the teaming throng.

Early mornings were magical as you looked out of the windows and everything was peaceful.  It was quite strange how remote the Peak was until the tourists started to arrive for the day, rather like living in two different worlds.

The staff on the Peak tram would give me a free tram fare if I performed ballet for them, but the security man would tell me off if I tried to run up the down escalator in the Asia Tower!

My mother was a well known artist in Hong Kong.  Elyse Parkin.  She published a book of her paintings of Hong Kong Buildings, called "Hong Kong Heritage - a Personal View".  For some reason though, every time she painted a building it was torn down almost immediately afterwards.  She did paint Peak Mansions and there is a print in the book.  (she passed away three months ago, 10th June 2011 in Melbourne, Australia).

I would love to hear from people who have any of her work, as I know it is scattered all over the world.   I have paintings of the interior of our flat in Peak Mansions.  It was the happiest period of her life, living there.

The other funny thing was that our parking garage was the corner one, (they formed two sides of a square).   As such there was a tiny, triangular shaped office about the size of a bathroom attached to the garage.  Imagine our disbelief - although it was Hong Kong, so we should have known - when returning from leave we discovered that the Public Works Department had relocated into the "office" inside our garage!!!

The back stairs were really terrific for sending slinkys down.  Did anyone else do that?

Also, when having coal or wood delivered, instead of coming up in the lift, they carried it up all six flights of stairs!

Someone else mentioned the panel of bells in the kitchen and one could drive one's mother mad by ringing servants bells in different rooms.

Anyway, lots of great memories and I must stop rambling on.

Goodness no, I didn't realise other children were climbing the scaffolding!  We did however have a burglar get in that way one Saturday morning.

The first clue that we had been robbed was that my parent's toothpaste was missing.   They then checked the jewellery and anything gold had gone.

Apparently it was common for burglars to stuff their finds into toothpaste tubes!!!  Not sure why...........

Anna-Louise - could you possibly take photos of the interior paintings you have of Peak Mansiona - cell phone photos are just fine - and post them here ?

Anna-Louise, what a great collection of stories! Feel free to ramble on some more...

And we'd love to see any of your mum's pictures of HK buildings, not just Peak Mansions. If that's ok, here are some instructions on how to upload photos.

Regards, David

I never lived in Peak Mansions, but friends of my parents did (the Crundens), and we would visit frequently in the early 60s.  The Crundens had a couple of Samoyeds, and we used to take them up on the roof to play.  Anyone living there at the time would probably remember those striking white dogs.

Jonathan Roberts

How fantastic that you stumbled across this site Anna Louise. Indeed it was my sister Sue who used to babysit for you, initially. This was passed on to me once the furniture and other items started to move of thier own accord, supposedly. I must admit that i never witnessed anything of the sort during my time in your flat. It was always at the back of my mind though! I do however remember your antics but shall refrain from embracing you on a public forum. Suffice to say that you were a master procrastinator and bed time was often an hour later than your parents wished. Im sorry to hear that your mother has passed on. I remember your father too ,Frank, dad was rather upset at his passing all those years ago. I will let them both know of your mothers passing. I do remember your mothers paintings. She had her studio in what would have been the dining room. I would often have a browse at her pictures once you had finally managed to go to bloody sleep. I think your father featured in quite a few of her life drawings, these were tasteful of course! I have no idea what happened to any of them, sorry. On a seperate note, to all the residents who post on here, isnt it amazing that there are nothing but very fond memories of living there, indeed Hong Kong. For those of you who are on Facebook, look up the 'i grew up in Hong Kong in the (add decade) Fantastic photos of life as we used to know it. I intend to return some time during my 50th birthday. Look out for the photos!

The completion of Peak Mansions is confirmed as 1928 in the PWD's report for that year:

33. Principal Works of a Private Nature, completed or in progress.

Works completed: —

[...]

A block of 24 European flats, known as Peak Mansions, on R.B.L. 78, Stubbs Road, The Peak.

Hi, this is so strange, I used to also live in Peak Mansions with my two brothers. We were in no 9, below the Allens and above the Tuckers. It is so lovely to read stories of the past. I do remember playing on the roof, playing hide and seek. My brother Nigel and I also went back to flat when it was derelict and spotted their old skidboards in the outside amah rooms. I have passed the link onto my brothers to hopefully they will join in too. Alison

Dear Anna Louise

I am currenlty editing a book about the world renown potter/writer/teacher/curator, Emmanuel Cooper (1938 - 2012) who was a close friend of your mother when they both studied at Dudley Teacher Training College in the late 1950s. At that point, Emmanuel used the name 'Mike'.  There are a series of letters from your mother - written from Hongkong - in Emmanuel's archive dating from 1963 - 1979. Also letters to a Paula Parkin. A sister?

I would very much like to find out more about your mother and wonder if you could contact me - via here initially? 

Any help would be much appreciated.

Hi, today is my mothers 97th birthday and we have been showing her this website.

Between 1947-51 we lived at Flat 3. My father held a senior position in Navy accounts and was posted here from Scotland. My mother worked for Butterfield and Swire shipping company for part of our stay.

We lived here with my brother and the family dog, with 3 live in servants. My parents entertained regularly and my mother has particularly happy memories of their time here, although I was too young to remember much.

She recalls the green spaces, the tram, the bus down to the harbour below, the winding roads and the hugh rooms and even now has some of the beautiful furtniture and even a rug that she commissioned to furnish the flat.

We have some photos of our stay here which ended when we were posted back to England.

We found it especially comforting/amusing that the Flat number and spy hole were still in use today. Odd thinking that we have alink to something so insignificant.