A non-Catholic group has launched an online petition opposing the development of Maryknoll House in Hong Kong. (Photo supplied by Hong Kong Corners)
A non-Catholic group is seeking to stop historic Maryknoll House overlooking Hong Kong's picturesque Stanley Bay from being turned into a luxury housing estate.
Following its completion in 1935, the sprawling mansion was used as a school for arriving American Catholic missionaries to learn Chinese languages.
Then it was taken over during World War Two by Japanese soldiers who interned priests residing there.
The stately building later became a refuge for Catholic clergy and others fleeing China in the wake of the 1949 communist revolution.
It has also served as a religious retreat for Maryknoll fathers and brothers.
And laughter reverberated down its long corridors on festive occasions.
An online petition against the redevelopment was launched on Aug. 9 ahead of a Town Planning Board meeting in October that is scheduled to deal with the furore.
Yuen Chiyan, a member of the 'People's Conservation Campaign' opposed to the luxury housing project, told ucanews.com of learning in July that a real estate company had purchased the site and applied for a change in its land use classification.
Maryknoll House, currently zoned for use by community organisations, is rated as a 'first-class' historic building by Hong Kong's Antiquities Advisory Board.
Yuen said that after the developer purchased the house in 2016 many people, including church members, thought that it would be converted for use as an international school.
She expressed strong opposition to proposed dismantling of the external walls of the house's church as well as to the planned erecting of new glass and other structures not in keeping with its original style.
Doing so would destroy the building's architectural integrity and detract from its historical significance, Yuen said.
She added that Catholic Church members were "very surprised" by the sale.
Maryknoll's office staff told ucanews.com that the mansion had been sold and the matter was not anything to do with the complainants.
The house, which has acted as Maryknoll's Asian headquarters, combines Chinese elements, including a glazed roof as well as hexagonal and octagonal windows, with Western architectural features and materials.
This was intended to symbolize the integration of Western missionaries into Chinese society.
The house is of a similar style to Hong Kong's Holy Spirit Seminary.
Missionaries also included Chinese design features in some schools and hospitals.
Surviving Hong Kong buildings in this hybrid style, while rare, reflect unique cultural exchanges between China and the West, Yuen said.
She learned from some Catholics that Maryknoll House was once open to church members for spiritual practice.
For example, at Christmas the house's church would be decorated with a manger.
The would-be developers have maintained that they will allow public access.
However, Yuen complained that this would only comprise guided tours twice a year.
New Season Global Limited purchased the property in 2016 for HK$760 million (US$96.8 million) and applied for the rezoning in July this year.
Although the main building would be retained with changes, eight luxury dwellings and 18 parking spaces would be added.