Ching Chun-kau (程振球) – Real Estate, Amusement Park and Resort Pioneer

York Lo: Ching Chun-kau (程振球) – Real Estate, Amusement Park and Resort Pioneer

Ching Chun Kau Real Estate Image 1 York Lo

Ching Chun-kau (left, HKBCA) and his most famous project – Kai Tak Amusement Park (right)

In the 1950s through 1970s, Ching Chun-kau was a prominent figure in HK business circles as he was involved in a variety of businesses ranging from construction, property development, an amusement park, hotels & resorts, cinemas to car dealerships. He was also a noted philanthropist as chairman of the Pok Oi Hospital in Yuen Long in 1959-60 and director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1954-55. A native of Wan Fou (where Fung Keong, the king of rubber shoes also came from), Ching was born in 1906 and came to HK at an early age where he started his career in the construction industry.

Involvement in the Construction and Real Estate Business

Ching Chun Kau Real Estate Image 2 York Lo

Left: advertisement of Chen Cheong Construction (HKBCA yearbook); Middle: article about the disappearance of Chen Cheong executive in 1960 (KSEN, 1960-8-9) Right: ad for Chen Cheong’s Kam Wah Building in Shau Kei Wan (WKYP, 1962-4-22)

Although his Chen Cheong Construction (振昌建築) was not incorporated until 1970, it was likely founded shortly after WWII. Aside from acting as general contractors for other firms, Chen Cheong also developed its own properties such as Kam Wah Building (錦華大樓) at 2-10 Kam Wah Street in Shau Kei Wan as shown in the ad above. In 1960, Chen Cheong made headlines when its manager Mr. King disappeared with HK$10000 of the company’s funds (a large sum at the time), prompting Ching to report to the police although initially he suspected foul play rather than embezzlement as King was a trustworthy lieutenant for many years.

In addition to Chen Cheong, Ching was also chairman of Tai Wah Piling & Construction Co (太華打樁工程), which he incorporated in 1959 in partnership with several leading Chinese contractors at the time who were his fellow board members at the HK Building Contractors Association (HKBCA) such as Lam Kai-sing, Lam Kai-chuen, Kwan Mui and Ng Wing-hong. The firm continues to operate to this day under the ownership of the Lam family. Ching was also director of United Builders Insurance (建安保險) which was founded by directors of the HKBCA such as Ho Iu-kwong of Fook Lee Construction in 1957 to provide insurance to firms in the construction industry.

In 1962, Ching incorporated Kau Yin Investment Co Ltd (球賢置業) which developed a residential building at 179 Hollywood Road and 22 Upper Lascar Row in the Mid-Levels and Sau Wah Building (秀華樓) at Sau Wah Fong in Wanchai as shown in below ad. He was also a director of Cheong Hing Enterprises (昌興置業), which was incorporated in 1957 by developer and hotelier Chan Chak-fu (to be covered) and Pang Shui-yu and developed many buildings in HK and Kowloon. In the 1950s, Ching acquired the Kowloon site of Chevrolet and Cadillac distributor Far East Motors, which he later sold to the family of Chan Chak-fu who built the Ambassador Hotel on top of the site. The Far East Motors deal led to Ching’s first expansion outside of real estate and construction as he also formed Auto Mart (Far East) in 1957 in partnership with another fellow HKBCA director Chow Yau (to be covered) which became the Kowloon and New Territories agent for Far East Motors. As a firm, Auto Mart was dissolved in 1995.

Ching Chun Kau Real Estate Image 3 York Lo

Ad for Chen Cheong and Kau Yin’s two projects in 1963 – Hollywood Road building on the left and Sau Wah in Wanchai on the right (WKYP, 1963-10-22)

Aside from car dealerships, Ching Chun-kau began to branch out into the entertainment business in the 1950s and 1960s –  he was chairman of Wing Lok Theatre (永樂戲院), a 1261 seat cinema on Bulkeley Street in Hunghom which operated from 1953 to 1970 and was a director of HK & New Territories Amusement & Investment (香港新界娛樂置業, incorporated in 1960, dissolved in 1997 – fellow directors included the PVC king and philanthropist Tin Ka-ping aka K.P. Thian) and Cathay Entertainment & Investment Ltd (國泰娛樂置業, incorporated in 1964, dissolved in 2000).

Kai Tak Amusement Park (啟德遊樂塲) and Pearl Island (龍珠島)

Ching Chun Kau Real Estate Image 4 York Lo

Left: Ad for Kai Tak Amusement Park highlighting all its attractions and bus lines which stopped at the park. Right: Pearl Island (Public Records Office)

In 1962, Ching teamed up with two of the biggest names in New Territories at the time – Chan Yat-san MBE JP (陳日新, 1915-2007) from Tuen Mun and Ho Chuen-yiu JP (何傳耀) from Tsuen Wan and incorporated Kai Tak Entertainment Co Ltd (啟德娛樂) with Ho as chairman, himself as vice chairman and Chan as supervisor. The new firm announced plans to build the biggest amusement park in Hong Kong on a 200,000 sq ft site in San Po Kong near the old Kai Tak Airport with state of the art Japanese park equipment such as elevated monorail. Construction was delayed by typhoons by after HK$12 million of investments and close to three years of planning, the park finally opened on January 31, 1965.   

Aside from rides such as roller-coasters, Ferris wheel, monorail, moon rockets, bumper cars etc, the park also featured several performance venues – a Cantonese opera theater, a Chiuchow opera theater (given the large Chiuchow population in Kowloon City), a movie theater showing both Western and Cantonese movies, a magic and acrobatic show, a cabaret theater, a Cantonese opera lounge and a Chinese martial arts arena. It also featured restaurants and bowling alleys. During its 17 years of operations, the park attracted millions of visitors and like Lai Chi Kok amusement park is etched in the collective memory of HK people. Sadly, when the lease for the park was not renewed in March 1982 and the park was closed in November of the same year. As a firm, Kai Tak Entertainment was dissolved in 1986.  

Ching Chun Kau Real Estate Image 5 York Lo

Ching Chun-kau (first from left) with Japanese park design expert Ed Hyodo (second from left), Ho Chuen-yiu (second from right) and Chan Yat-sun and the model for the Kai Tak Amusement Park in December 1962 (WKYP, 1962-12-2)

Ching Chun Kau Real Estate Image 6 York Lo

Article about Ching Chun-kau flying to Malaysia in 1964 to purchase zoo animals for Kai Tak Amusement Park. Left to the right at the airport: Ching, Mr. Fraser (?), Chan Yat-san, Cheung Yan-lung (WKYP, 1964-8-23)

In 1968, Ching Chun-kau teamed up with Chan Yat-san, his partner in Kai Tak Amusement Park and formed Pearl River Development Ltd (龍珠島發展) to develop Pearl Island, a 350,000 sq ft island off the coast of Tuen Mun (the main base of Chan) into a resort island complete with hotel, vacation villas and water parks. In February 1970, the 3-story, 60-room Hotel Pearl Island (龍珠島酒店) opened on the island with restaurant managed by an Australian chef and helicopter service to transport guests from the airport.  

At the height of the stock market bubble in 1973, Ching and Chan took Pearl Island Development public on the Far East and Gold & Silver exchanges by issuing 7.2 million shares at HK$1 per share. At the IPO, the value of the island was assessed at HK$23.4 million while its book value was HK$10.2 million. The firm also owned a 600,000 sq ft plot in Castle Peak with book value of HK$2.6 million, a 71000 sq ft plot in Yuen Long with book value of HK$350,000 and two yachts valued at HK$2.6 million. (KSEN and KSDN, 1973-2-1). Ching with his property development expertise was appointed chairman while Chan was vice chairman. Other directors include two other local leaders of Tuen Mun – Lau Wong-fat (劉皇發, who eventually succeeded Chan as “king of New Territories”) and Ho Sun-kuen (何新權, uncle of controversial legislator Junius Ho Kwan-yiu); Tung Wah director Hwang Tiong-beng, accountant Lui Wing-kwong, Chan’s son Philip Chan Fei-lung (陳飛龍) who was manager of the hotel and Lau Shui of China United Bank. In February 1979, Buena Investment Ltd (寶茜投資, incorporated the prior year, dissolved in 1995) acquired all the outstanding shares of Pearl Island Development for $1.20 per share and as a result the firm was delisted. (TKP, 1979-2-28).

Ching Chun Kau Real Estate Image 7 York Lo

Hotel Pearl Island (kongfz)

Aside from Pearl Island, Ching was also very keen on Lantau island. In 1966, he donated a pagoda overlooking Shek Pik Reservoir en route to Po Lin Temple (WKYP, 1966-9-24). He also donated the tripod (寶鼎) for the main hall of the Po Lin Temple (寶蓮寺大殿) on Lantau when it was completed in 1970. (KSEN, 1970-08-21). As Ching’s partner Chan Yat-san was a friend of Eddie Wong, the original developer of Discovery Bay (to be covered), it is likely that they have looked into getting involved in the project as well. In 1976, Ching applied to the city government of Kaohsiung in Taiwan to develop a US$25 million (equivalent to NT$1 billion at the time) amusement park in its No 6 Park. According to Ching, he had raised the funds from Chinese businessmen in HK, Singapore and the US and also sent representatives to study Disneyland and amusement parks in Long Island, New York in the US. The plans did not appear to have materialized (KSDN, 1976-6-19)

In 1978, Ching Chun-kau made headlines when he won a case against the director of Lands & Survey in the Lands Tribunal and received additional compensation of HK$1.8 million from the HK government   for a 350,000 sq ft plot in Clearwater Bay which they took from him for construction of a public housing estate back in 1975. The land, which he acquired back in 1973, was originally leased to Kowloon Dairy for $18000 a month. (TKP, 1978-11-14)

Ching Chun-kau had five sons – Ching Man Kit, Ching Man Keung, Ching Man On, Ching Man Leuk, Ching Man Bok, and four daughters – Ching Chiu-yuk (程肖玉), Ching Chiu-ping (程肖), Ching Chiu-kwan (程肖) and Ching Chiu-chun (程肖). (WKYP, 1972-1-3) Man-chung was involved with the various family companies such as Chen Cheong and Auto Mart Far East beginning in the 1950s.

Ching Chun Kau Real Estate Image 8 York Lo

Left: Wedding picture of Ching Man-chung and Mak Yuet-sim (WKYP, 1955-12-11); Right: Ching Chun-kau sending off his daughter Ching Chiu-yuk for studies in the UK in 1959. Left to right: Ching Man-chung, Ching Chiu-yuk, Ching Chun-kau, Secretary of Education in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-9-7)

Sources (other than those quoted above):

https://www.hongkongcaselaw.com/category/ching-chun-kau/

https://nextplus.nextmedia.com/news/finance/20180531/590442

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/short-reads/article/2130655/cabaret-hall-monorail-moon-rocket-how-millions

This article was first posted on 7th June 2019.

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