Cover King Yin Lei. Photo: Juan Llanos/Flickr

We explore three historically significant luxury properties in Hong Kong: King Yin Lei, Haw Par Mansion and Jessville

Hong Kong is known for developing at breakneck pace—we often see old structures being torn down to make way for high-rise developments. While the city does have a number of well-maintained historical sites, privately owned homes that appear on the government’s protected lists are few and far between. 

That’s why you should have these properties on your radar. Significant efforts have been made in the conservation of these homes, which were built as private residences—and there’s plenty of fascinating history behind each one.

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King Yin Lei

Modelled after a traditional Southern Chinese courtyard house, King Yin Lei stands out among the modern high-rises of Mid-Levels East. 

Built in 1937, the mansion sits on a 4,910 sq m site. It is a vast complex with a collection of structures, including a main building and secondary building, an annex, a garage, a pavilion and a swimming pool. Located on Stubbs Road, it affords views of Happy Valley.

Classical Chinese-inspired elements dominate the design, and this is especially evident in the styles of the roofs. Among these, there’s a pyramidal roof in a quadrangular shape; a double-eave pyramidal roof in a hexagonal shape and a humpbacked roof. Finally, one is built in an architectural style known as luding in Chinese, which refers to a four-sloped roof that surrounds a flat, central portion. 

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There’s a compelling story behind the conservation of King Yin Lei, which has been a declared monument of Hong Kong since 2008.

Originally in private ownership, the property changed hands several times through the 20th century. There were calls for it to be granted protection status, which would prevent it from being torn down for redevelopment. 

Before that happened, however, construction work—including removal of features—was spotted at King Yin Lei in 2007. This prompted a public outcry. In the following year, the government and King Yin Lei’s then-owner reached an agreement. The property was surrendered to the government for restoration and adaptive reuse. 

King Yin Lei is now managed by the Heritage Office under the Development Bureau, which says the home’s location is symbolic of the rise of the Chinese merchant class in the time period the house was built.

The Heritage Office has run open days of the house in years past. Although there are no announcements of any upcoming open days, you can catch a glimpse of this historic home from the Black’s Link hiking trail.

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Haw Par Mansion

Hong Kong millennials might have a hard time remembering Tiger Balm Garden, a sprawling estate in Tai Hang built in the mid-1930s and largely demolished at the turn of the 21st century. Today, Haw Par Mansion—and a relatively small garden—are its only remnants.

Tiger Balm Garden was owned and constructed by the late Burmese-Chinese tycoon Aw Boon Haw, best known as the founder of the Tiger Balm ointment as well as several newspapers across Asia.

The estate, which was set against the hills of Jardine’s Lookout, was particularly famous for its landscaped gardens and extensive number of sculptures that depicted the Ten Courts of Hell, a belief based on Buddhist philosophies. The gardens were open to the public, while the Aw family lived in the mansion.

Most of Tiger Balm Garden was taken down for redevelopment in 2004. The hills above Haw Par Mansion are now home to luxury residential high-rise The Legend, creating a curious contrast of old and new. 

The mansion was built in the Chinese Renaissance style, although a blend of western and Chinese construction methods are evident. Western-style details such as porches, bay windows and fireplaces can still be seen in the present day. Other standout features include painted glass windows from Italy, Burmese- and Indian-inspired murals, and carvings and mouldings gilded with gold.

Listed as a Grade I historic building since 2009, the mansion now houses Haw Par Music, a centre for music education, community and heritage programmes. Book online for free guided tours of the mansion and the premises. Meanwhile, much like previous times, the gardens are open for free to the public, with no prior registration required.

Jessville

Grade III-listed Jessville dates back to 1929—and this gem in leafy Pok Fu Lam was recently given a new lease on life.

Built in an Italian Renaissance style, the two-storey house was originally constructed by barrister and magistrate William Ngar-tse Thomas Tam, who’d named it after his wife Jessie. The property remains in the Tam family today.

Despite the fact that the house boasts an impressive façade, its interiors were bare, according to Jessville’s listing agent Knight Frank

In 2021, a brand new look was unveiled for the site. The historic mansion, now named Jessville Manor, has been converted into four luxury apartments.

Meanwhile, a new mid-rise tower block has been built next to the house. Dubbed Jessville Tower, it offers 28 three- and four-bedroom units ranging from 1,358 sq ft to 1,431 sq ft. The homes have balconies, with sweeping views of the East Lamma Channel. The gardens that surround the house have been upgraded, with the addition of an infinity pool, orchard, as well as play and relaxation areas. 

According to a report in Oriental Daily, the owners of Jessville hope to open up the site to the public twice a year—on the birthdays of Thomas and Jessie Tam—in July and June respectively.

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