King Kong: Kong Tak-yan (江德仁), tycoon in the 1950s-80s and the original developer of Lan Kwai Fong
York Lo: King Kong: Kong Tak-yan (江德仁), tycoon in the 1950s-80s and the original developer of Lan Kwai Fong
Left: IPO notice of Keng Fong Sin Kee in 1972; Right: Kong Tak-yan in 1974 (KSEN, 1974-3-24)
While many credit Allan Zeman for turning Lan Kwai Fong into the entertainment hub it is today with the launch of his California Bar in 1983 and much has also been written about Gordon Huthart who opened his popular club Disco Disco and Giacondo Mauro Mauriello who opened his Borsalino boutiques and Italian restaurant in the area five years earlier in 1978, little has been written about Kong Tak-yan, a colorful real estate pioneer who built the first dining, retail and commercial complex in the area – his namesake Tak Yan Commercial Building (acquired by Zeman in 1992 and renamed California Tower) at 30-32 D’Aguilar Street back in 1973 which began the transformation of the area from an alley filled with flower hawkers and matchmakers to an entertainment destination. Today, Kong is largely forgotten but back in the 1950s through the 1980s, he was one of HK’s most famous businessmen with business interests and connections stretching from Taiwan to the Middle East and his businesses ranged from real estate development, construction, electronics, newspapers, mining, restaurants, schools, movies to one of the first supermarket chains in the city. He was also a noted philanthropist and well-known figure in the local football circle. The logo of his listed Keng Fong Sin Kee (建煌新記) group was a letter K with a crown on top and Kong, whose nickname was the “Pharaoh”, was a king.
Family background and development in the 1950s and 1960s
The Kong family are natives of Weiyang in Guangdong province and Hakkas by descent. The second son with six siblings, Kong Tak-yan grew up in Malaya where his father Kong Ying-loy (江英來) was a mining engineer although his roots were in Hong Kong as his mother came from the Tse family in the New Territories and his older cousin Kong Chit-wong (江捷煌) was a pioneer in the construction and real estate industry in HK who had served on the inaugural board of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1932. Chit-wong founded Keng Fong Construction (the second character of the firm was likely after his name) in the 1920s and its office in the 1950s was located in the HK Hotel building in Central (WKYP, 1956-5-22) After Chit-wong’s death, Keng Fong was led by his widow Kwok Chun (郭珍) and his two sons – Kong Woon-man (江煥文) and Kong Woon-ho (江煥豪). This branch of the Kong family remained active during the 1950s – in 1955, Kong Woon-man opened the Edinburgh Restaurant (愛丁堡餐室) at 210 Prince Edward Road in Kowloon. In 1957, Kong Mo-sum, the fifth daughter of Kong Chit-fong married Chan Kwok-wai, a Canadian law graduate working at law firm of Hon & Co and brother of entertainment tycoon Chan Kwok Kit. (WKYP, 1957-9-7) In 1958, Keng Fong developed a residential mansion at 11 ½ mile Castle Peak in New Territories and the opening ceremony was attended by other leading figures in the real estate and construction business at the time including Edward T.T. Chan, Cheung Chan-hon (see articles) and Ip Ching-ping. (WKYP, 1958-10-21)
Opening of the Edinburgh Restaurant at 210 Prince Edward Road in Kowloon. Left to right: Kong Woon-man, wife of police superintendent, movie star Ng Chor-fan (WKYP, 1955-12-8)
Kong Tak-yan returned to Hong Kong and founded Keng Fong Sin Kee Construction (Sin Kee which means “new firm” is perhaps to differentiate from his cousins’ firm) in 1949 and Taksoon Investment Co (德山企業). By the mid-1950s, Kong Tak-yan was more famous than his cousins, having served as a director of Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1956 and Po Leung Kuk in 1957.
Left: Kong Tak-yan in the 1960s (Nanyang Siang Pau, 1966-9-3); Right: Kong Tak-yan with family and friends at the old Kai Tak Airport before his Cathay Pacific flight to Singapore for business in 1957 (KSDN, 1957-8-1)
In 1957, Keng Fong Sin Kee developed the 11 story Fu On Mansion (富安大廈) at 178-192 Tung Chau Street in Sham Shui Po near the waterfront. This was followed by several developments in Mongkok including 125-127 Sai Yee Street, 114-118 Fa Yuen Street and later the Ying Loy Mansion (英來大廈, named after Kong’s father Kong Ying-loy) at 19-25 Yu Chau Street in Sham Shui Po in 1962, the 110-unit Kin Wong Mansion (建煌華廈) in 111-121 Sai Yee Street in Mongkok in 1963 and the 14 story Kin Fook Mansion (建福大廈) at 249-255 Tai Kok Tsui Road in Sham Shui Po in 1964. According to Kong, he developed 2700 residential units in 1959 alone, making him one of more active developers at the time.
Ad for Keng Fong Sin Kee’s Ying Loy Mansion in Sham Shui Po in 1962 (KSDN, 1962-11-27)
Advertisement for Keng Fong Sin Kee’s Fu On Mansion in Sham Shui Po (KSEN, 1957-7-11)
Ad for Kin Fook Mansion in 1964 (KSEN, 1964-12-24)
In 1966 when Kong was visiting Malaysia as vice chairman of the Malayan Association of Hong Kong, he mentioned he was involved in 6 property development projects in HK at the time, four of which are 14 story residential buildings (100 units each) near Hong Kong University in Pokfulam costing over HK$10 million and the remaining two include a 16 story building in Kowloon (first two floor retail and remainder residential) and ten 4 story residential units in the Mid-Levels each selling for HK$300,000. (Nanyang Siang Pau, 1966-9-3)
Left: A recruitment ad from Eton from the early 1960s. Henry Wong’s name is listed on the left. Right: ad for Kin Wong Mansion in Mongkok in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-4-6)
Aside from HK real estate, Kong Tak-yan also extended his reach to other areas in the 1950s and 1960s. Outside of HK, he invested in real estate and industries in Taiwan and Malaysia. Aside from housing, the massive influx of refugees from the mainland also drove up the demand for education which the government and nonprofit institutions were unable to meet, creating a market for affordable private education in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1954, Kong backed Henry S.L. Wong (王幸利, d. 1976), a fellow Malaysian Chinese from Ipoh to start Eton English Tutorial School (易通英專) in Hong Kong to provide secondary school level English classes. Kong served as chairman of the school while Wong served as supervisor. The original school was located at 4-6 Cameron Lane in Kowloon starting with a few hundred students. It was a hit and soon branches were opened in Sham Shui Po, Wanchai, Causeway Bay and Yuen Long and by the mid-1960s the chain of schools had over 5000 students. Aside from serving as Tung Wah director and chairman of the HK Malayan Association, Henry Wong was elected Urban Councilor from 1969 to 1973. His brother Wong Chi-ping was an actor better known for his stage name Peng Peng and was known for playing the pig in Shaw Bros’ Journey to the West films in the 1960s.
In 1966, Kong’s younger brothers Kong Tak-keung and Kong Tak-wo teamed up with young screenwriter John Law Ma (羅馬) and started Rainbow Films (天虹影業) which was launched with two movies – first starring leading man Patrick Tse Yin (謝賢) and radio star Wan Fong-ling (尹芳玲) and second one starring Josephine Siao (蕭芳芳) and Connie Chan (陳寶珠), the two most popular teen idols in the 1960s. (Nanyang Siang Pau, 1966-4-19)
Keng Fong Sin Kee in the 1970s
In the late 1960s, early 1970s, Kong Tak-yan extended his reach to Indonesia where he owned 90% of a copper mine in Indonesia which began production in 1969 and also developed a 800 room hotel in Jakarta.
In late 1972 during the height of the stock market bubble, Kong’s Keng Fong Sin Kee Construction & Investment Co Ltd (incorporated in 1965, hereafter refer to as KFSK) became a listed company on the Far East and Kam Ngan stock exchanges with registered capital of HK$30 million, which was soon expanded to HK$100 million.
In the 1970s, Kong Tak-yan was supported at KFSK by his younger brothers Kong Tak-fat (江德發) and Kong Tak Keung (江德強). Another key executive at KFSK was managing director Alexander (“Alec”) Wong Kie-ngok (黃奇岳, 1929-2006), brother of Goodyear Group executive Steve Wong Kie-chung (see article) and husband of 1950s swimming champion Joan Wong (黃婉貞, daughter of Dr. Wong Sik-to, nephew of Sir Robert Hotung).The board of KFSK in the 1970s also included Chow Yin-sum (周演森), the proprietor of Wing Luen Yick Metal Co (永聯益五金) who was chairman of the HK Metal Merchants Association and a director of Tung Wah (WKYP, 1973-3-29) and four top Chinese professionals at the time – barrister Patrick S.S. Yu (余叔韶), physician/legislator Dr. Harry Fang Sin-yang (方心讓), solicitor Philip Yuen Pak-yiu (阮北耀) and architect Thomas Hui Kim-kwong (許劍光). The accounting firm of Far East Exchange chairman Ronald Li (who was also a good friend of Kong) was KFSK’s auditor.
Shortly after it went public, KFSK went on major expansion mode. In January 1973, KFSK acquired four property companies – Wai Kin Ltd which was building the 24 story the Lion Building (獅子樓) on 113-117 Shek Yam Road in Kwai Chung with the first three floors as restaurants and shops; Hing Fat Co Ltd which owned the site at 264-268 Queen’s Road West; Ching Fung Ltd which owned a 200,000 sq ft site near the Shatin racetrack and Ka Shing Ltd which owned 5000 sq ft site at 141-145 Shau Kei Wan Main Street East where it was planning a 22 story residential/commercial building (KSEN, 1973-1-17)
Opening of the Tak Yan Commercial Building and Keng Fong supermarket in Lan Kwai Fong in 1973 with picture of Kong Tak-yan unveiling the building’s plaque (KSEN, 1973-12-18)
The crown jewel of the KFSK empire however was the 17 story Tak Yan Commercial Building on D’Aguilar Street on a 46,470 sq ft site, which was estimated to worth $35 million. (KSEN, 1973-2-19) For whatever reason, Kong saw potential in this harder to reach area in Central and to drive traffic, Kong opened the Keng Fong Restaurant (建煌餐廳) and Keng Fong Supermarket (建煌超級市塲) in the building complete with the first multi-color water fountain in Hong Kong. The opening ceremony in December 1973 was attended by over 3000 guests.
Aside from the Lan Kwai Fong building and the 4 projects mentioned above, KFSK was also involved in 9 other projects in 1973, including the development of the 14 story Kam Tong Mansion (金唐大廈) at 139-153 Belcher Street (earning profits of HK$3 million), Tse King House (紫荆樓) on On Ning Road in Yuen Long, a 6 story Chinese tenement building on Shanghai Street in Mongkok, 14 story Lok Fun Mansion (樂芬大廈) in Knutsford Terrace, 6 story building in Queen’s Road West, 6 story building in Tai Wong East Street in Wanchai, Villa Dorada (金碧別墅) in Happy Valley, and projects on Inverness Road and Pak Ho Street in Kowloon. (KSDN, 1973-5-7) For the fiscal year ending March 1974, Keng Fong Sin Kee recorded profits of $4.7 million, a 25% increase from the prior years’ $3.8 million. In terms of projects, the firm had completed 224-226 Queen’s Road West and finished foundation work for a project at the intersection of Pak Ho Street and Fuk Wing Street (WKYP, 1974-7-27)
Left: Opening of the Keng Fong Jeans Market in 1974. Left to right: Alan Tam, Kong Tak-yan, Alec Wong, Irene Ryder, Stephen Talbot, Kong Tak-fat, Chow Yin-sum (KSEN, 1974-9-16); Right: Opening of the fifth Keng Fong supermarket in North Point in 1974. Left to right: Far East Exchange chairman Ronald Li, Chow Yin-sum, Securities Commissioner James Selwyn, Mrs. Selwyn, Kong Tak-yan, Philip Yuen. (KSEN, 1974-9-23)
Within one year of launch, Keng Fong Supermarket Ltd (formerly Yan Keong Investment) added branches in Lion Building in Kwai Chung, Queen’s Road West in Kennedy Town, Shanghai Street in Mongkok and on September 1974, Keng Fong opened its fifth supermarket at the shopping arcade of State Theatre in North Point and the Lan Kwai Fong flagship store added a jeans supermarket selling Levi’s jeans which was opened by the band Wynners, singer Irene Ryder and drummer Stephen Talbot (WKYP, 1974-9-12)
In 1977, KFSK completed Villa Dorada (金碧別墅) at 124-126 Blue Pool Road, Inverness Villa (賢文別墅, 4 blocks of 8 story residential buildings) in Kowloon Tong and a 13 story industrial building on Cheung Sha Wan Road (KSEN, 1977-8-27)
In the mid-1970s, KFSK extended its reach to the Middle East which was in the midst of a construction boom fueled by soaring oil prices. In October 1977, Keng Fong signed a contract in Taipei with a Saudi Prince to construct two large office buildings in Riyadh and Jeddah for his company. (KSEN, 1977-10-19)
Article about KFSK welcoming Saudi executive to HK in 1976. Left to right: Alec Wong, Saudi executive, Kong Tak-yan (KSEN, 1976-5-21)
In the late 1970s, KFSK acquired 45% of Kwan Lee Construction (均利建築, incorporated in 1966, dissolved in 2004), a leading government contractor started by Yu Tai-peng (余大鵬, 1925-) and supported by his sons Syracuse graduate Paul Yu Shiu-tin (余嘯天) BBS MBE JP and Stanford graduate Steve Yu Siu-lung (余嘯龍). At the KFSK shareholder meeting in September 1979, Kong announced that the firm recorded profits of $7.1 million in the past year and projects completed in conjunction with affiliate Kwan Lee Construction include the new wing and 747 terminal of the Kai Tak Airport, Cascoigne Road court house, Cho Yiu Estate in Kwai Chung, Tai Yuen Estate in Tai Po, Choi Wan Estate in Ngau Chi Wan with contract value totaling HK$300 million. The firm was also embarking on projects in the Middle East and real estate investment in Los Angeles and Hawaii (WKYP, 1979-9-27)
Keng Fong Sin Kee in the 1980s and Beyond
Article about Keng Fong’s 1982 shareholder meeting. Left to right: Sally Kong, Chan Ping-keung, Lam Wai-wing, Kong Tak-yan, Lee Sik-nim (WKYP, 1982-9-11)
In the early 1980s, Kong Tak-yan opened Large Enlarge Gold Dealer (巨展金號) to deal in the booming gold market with offices at the top floor of the Tak Yan Commercial Building. Large Enlarge Investments was formed in 1980 to deal in stocks and a branch was opened in Yuen Long in partnership with the powerful Tai brothers – Tai Kwan (戴均) and Tai Kuen (戴權) in 1981. (KSEN, 1981-3-3)
In April 1982, Alec Wong resigned from KFSK. By this time, Kong Tak-yan’s daughters Helen Kong Yuen-hoong (江潤紅), Sally Kong Yoon-ping (江潤冰) and son in law Johnny Lee Ngau-chai (李鉤濟) had joined the firm. As the confidence crisis hit, KFSK increased its overseas investments and bought two office towers in Toronto in 1982. (WKYP, 1982-9-11) In September 1983, Keng Fong held its shareholder meeting at the Keng Fong restaurant at D’Aguilar Street. For fiscal year ending March 1983, the firm recorded profits of $6.2 million, with the 18-story bank office tower project (Dao Heng Bank Building) at 742-744 Nathan Road completed and 16 floors sold and high-end residential project Yik Kwan Villa (益群苑) at 8 Yik Kwan Avenue in Tai Hang and 17 two and a half story homes in Los Angeles mostly sold. Kwan Lee won over $300 million in government contracts in Tuen Mun, Kwai Chung, Fanling – although another article months earlier indicated $450 million in contracts and another $1 billion in the pipeline. KFSK and Kong also owned 50% of S. Megga Telecommunications (誠德電訊), a handset manufacturer founded in 1981 by Chinese Canadian Raymond Leung (梁理文), which was doing well with monthly production of 30000 units (WKYP and TKP, 1983-9-29)
Unfortunately, KFSK suffered losses in the next couple of years. In December 1986, Kong Tak-yan announced plans for Keng Fong Sin Kee to dispose of the investments in Hawaii, Malaysia and Taiwan worth over HK$156 million to re-deploy the assets in HK as he regained confidence in the local market and at the meantime also sold its 45% stake in Kwan Lee Construction to the Yu family who owned the rest of the firm for HK$15 million (WKYP, 1986-12-25)
Kong Tak-yan (second from left) as president of the 100 Club presenting a $5000 check to representative of the HK Police for the benefit of the widow of policeman Mok Yiu-wah (莫耀華) who was killed in a LP gas explosion in Causeway Bay in 1974. Alec Wong was to his left (KSEN, 1974-7-17)
Aside from KFSK and other businesses listed above, Kong was also a newspaper publisher in the late 1970s early 1980s having bought Far East Economic News, a business newspaper started by comic book publisher Jademan Wong and later merged it with the tabloid Hung Look Daily (紅綠日報) but the combined publication ultimately failed. Outside of business he was noted for his philanthropy and long-time involvement in the football circle, having served as chairman of HK Football Referees Association and football department head of the South China Athletic Association and have led the HK team and Republic of China team in international matches. Politically savvy, Kong was simultaneously a director of Kong Toi Trading Co, a window company of the Taipei regime in HK and at the same time he was appointed by the Beijing regime to the executive committee of the Basic Law Drafting Committee.
In March 1988, Kong Tak-yan died of cancer at the St Paul’s Hospital in HK at the age of 68 (although in 1966 he was listed as 41 years old). His pallbearers include legislator Lo Tak-shing, tycoon Cheng Yu-tung, Huang Wenfang (黃文放) of the Xinhua News Agency and Tsung Tsin Association head Wong Shek-wa, highlighting his wide network of friends. (WKYP, 1988-3-19) Two months later in May, Tak Yan Commercial Building was sold for HK$54.5 million.
After Kong Tak-yan’s death, his daughter Sally and son in law Johnny Lee ran KFSK while Sally’s half-siblings Phyllis M.Y. Kong (江敏兒) and Kong Man-ling (江敏玲) were also on the board until 1995 when they were forced out by Ambrose Chan (陳恒輝) who had acquired majority control of the firm and as a result KFSK was renamed Heng Fung Holdings (恒鋒集團) and eventually became ZH International Holdings after it was acquired by mainland interests in 2015.
As for Tak Yan Commercial Building, it was acquired in 1992 by Allan Zeman and renamed California Tower. Zeman had acquired the neighboring Yat Fung Building (日豐大廈, likely from former CMA chairman Ngai Shiu-kit whose Euro-Asia Engineering was located there and also ran Yat Fung Developments, see article) at 34-36 D’Aguilar Street in 1988 which he renamed California Entertainment Building.
Sources (other than what’s cited above):
This article was first posted on 20th September 2019.
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