Open House: Hong Kong Mansion Built From Ruins of War Lists for $70 Million

The low-rise apartment block above Repulse Bay reflects the area’s rich history from Japanese occupation to reconstruction during Hong Kong’s boom.

(Bloomberg) — This is part of Bloomberg’s  Open House series, featuring Hong Kong’s most interesting homes.

Seventy-three years ago, workers put the finishing touches on a low-rise block of apartments overlooking Repulse Bay on Hong Kong island’s southern side. Designed in what resembles Art Moderne style, the building formed part of the British colony’s reconstruction efforts after an almost four-year occupation by the Japanese left much of its European housing stock in ruins.

At the time, the bay was sparsely populated. The sweeping Repulse Bay Hotel, owned by the wealthy Kadoorie family, took up a generous part of the land. A castle built by Malaysian tin-mining tycoon Eu Tong Sen dominated the western side, while the Art Deco-style Lido provided facilities for beachgoers along the waterfront. A handful of large villas dotted the coastline.

As Hong Kong boomed over the following decades, Repulse Bay would become a sought-after upmarket residential area with towering apartment blocks and a Ferrari dealership. Today the hotel, castle and Lido are long gone, but the 1950 building at 23-25 South Bay still stands at the eastern end, its clean lines a contrast to the faux-classicism of nearby modern townhouses. Half of the block is for sale for HK$550 million ($70 million).

The three-story, northwest-facing building is currently divided into a ground-floor duplex and a separate top-floor residence, which can also be bought separately. The 4,333-sq-ft (403 sq m) duplex, listed for HK$380 million, features floor-to-ceiling folding glass doors that open out to a private terrace. There are five bedrooms, five bathrooms and a family room, as well as a large open-sided balcony on the first floor. 

The upper 2,066-sq-ft apartment contains four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a large living area, a separate family room and a study. There is also a private, partially covered rooftop. This unit is for sale at HK $170 million. The properties can either be kept separate or combined to make a large residence of about 6,400 sq ft. Habitat Property is the sole agent.

The block, well maintained and sensitively renovated over the years, is located up a semi-private drive in a quiet, leafy part of Repulse Bay. The immediate area retains a low-rise atmosphere while South Bay Road connects two further beaches along the coast before ending. Repulse Bay Beach is a short walk away, while the Central business district is a roughly 20-minute drive.

While Hong Kong has changed almost beyond recognition in the seven decades since 23-35 South Bay Road was constructed, some patterns of history repeat.

In 1950, the news was dominated by what the recent Communist victory in China would mean for the city. Relations between the US and the new government in Beijing would reach a low point after Chinese forces entered the Korean War that year. Hong Kong, as a city outside Communist control, would ultimately benefit. The hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into the city, together with factory owners fleeing Shanghai, laid the foundations for the city’s industrialization. A two-decade US embargo on China helped Hong Kong develop a world-class shipping industry.Today the city, as the conduit of capital between China and the West, remains hostage to geopolitics, as does its property market. Tensions between the US and China, concern over one-man rule in Beijing, crackdowns on private enterprise and fear of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan are all undermining confidence in Hong Kong’s future, as are rising borrowing costs caused by a currency peg to the greenback.

Recent transactions show the damage to sentiment. A 5,000-sq-ft apartment seized from a struggling Chinese property tycoon recently sold at a roughly 40% discount for HK$418 million. The seller at 23 South Bay Road has already cut the asking price by at least 20% from two years ago.

Whether Hong Kong’s current ordeal is just another convulsion in a prosperous arc or the start of a long-term decline remains to be seen. For a buyer, this means the decision to acquire an elegant piece of Hong Kong history is a potentially big bet on the city’s future. 


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