“A Boy and a Building,” Global Histories: Hong Kong (2021)
“A Boy and a Building,” Global Histories: Hong Kong
For more than 40 years, the beautiful Kom Tong Hall 甘棠第 in Hong Kong was the headquarters for Church activities. The ornate building was erected in 1914 as a home for Ho Kom Tong 何甘棠, a noted Hong Kong businessman, but had seen service over the years as headquarters for several agencies. In 1960, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purchased it to be used as a mission home.
But for Wan Tak Chung (Stanley) 溫德中, it was simply “home.” His book of memories is titled Hong Kong Kom Tong Hall: My Old Home. When the Church bought the building in 1960, Stanley’s family (including his father, Wan Leung 溫亮; his mother, Tse Wai Fong 謝蕙芳; and young Stanley) moved into the hall’s servants’ quarters—approximately 100 square feet of living space—and “felt truly fortunate.” The father was hired as custodian for the building, and for young Stanley it was a delightful home where he daily witnessed the growth of the Church.
“From a young age, I was responsible for shutting off all the lights and locking all the rooms from the attic to the basement,” Stanley wrote. “When a typhoon came, I even had to close all the blinds so the glass windows would not be shattered.” He also had the responsibility for securing the ancient double-latched wooden gate that gave access into the grounds. That required placing a horizontal wooden pole that “was very heavy, and it was years before I had enough strength to raise it very high.”
Like many old and historically significant buildings, Kom Tong Hall had its ghost stories. One was that it had been used as a Japanese army quarters, with the basement used for criminal trials and executions. The tales were spine-tingling but untrue. The mansion was a wonderful place to explore and play.
Stanley Wan was baptized in the baptismal font in the hall’s basement. He and his wife, Ng Ka Wah (Kathleen) 吳嘉華, met and married in Kom Tong Hall. When his father died in December 1981 from the effects of a stroke, the funeral was held in the hall.
As an adult, Stanley served in many positions of great responsibility, including as president of the China Hong Kong Mission.
By the turn of the century, the Church had outgrown Kom Tong Hall. A proposal to raze the building was quickly abandoned when there was a public outcry. After months of deliberation, on February 2, 2004, the Church sold the hall to the Hong Kong government for the development of the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum. A new era in the building’s history began. To Stanley, the value of Kom Tong Hall “lies not only in its architectural design or choice of materials but in the memories we shared, the history we witnessed and the influence we felt there.”