Sun Hing Building (新興大廈) and its Developers

York Lo: Sun Hing Building (新興大廈) and its Developers

Sun Hing Building Image 1 York Lo

Ad for Sun Hing Building in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-2-11)

Designed by the famous architect Eric Cumine, the 29-story Sun Hing Building at 603-609A Nathan Road in Mongkok was the tallest building in Hong Kong when it opened in 1966. Its developer was Sun Hing Realty (新興實業), which was formed by two locals – radio distributor Wong Sau-fai and rice tycoon Chan Wai-shun and two Singaporean tycoons – Seah Boon-heng and Lim Kok-gin.

Below is the story of the development of the building and its developers:

The Construction of Sun Hing Building

The original building on the site where Sun Hing stands today was the Nathan Theatre, which opened its doors in 1938 but suspended its operations in December 1941 when the Battle of Hong Kong broke out. It re-opened after the Japanese occupation but shut down in 1948. In August 1949, the British Armed Forces requisitioned the theatre and converted it into barracks. They returned the premises to the HK government in 1956 and the theatre building was demolished in October 1957 and the site was auctioned off. It ended up in the hands of the Liu Chong Hing Bank whose founder Liu Po-shan was aggressively buying up real estate until his death in 1961 after a massive run on his bank. To help clean up the balance sheet of the bank, the Nathan Road site was sold in January 1962 to Sun Hing Realty, a firm that was incorporated 2 months before in November 1961. The original plan was to hire the architect Ng Yiu-wai (伍耀偉) to build a 28-story building with the first four floors as retail space, fifth to seventh floor as restaurant and nightclub, eighth to 15th floor as office and 16th to 27th floor as residence. (KSDN, 1962-1-18)

By early 1964, the architect was switched from Ng to Cumine and the plan was for 29 stories with the first and second floor as shopping center with air conditioning and Hitachi escalators, 7th and 8th floor as restaurant and nightclub, 7 floors of offices, 11-29 floors as residence and also include a 1300 seat theatre with 12 elevators in the building. By then the foundation work was done and the building was expected to be completed by 1965 and allegedly half of the retail space were reserved. (WKYP, 1964-2-11)

In March 1964, Sun Hing hosted a Chinese New Year banquet which was attended by the directors of the firm, lawyer C.Y. Kwan (關祖堯), accountant Kwan Man-wai (關文偉), architect Eric Cumine and his staff and Geoffrey and Darius Yeh from the contractor Hsin Chong (see article) who were all involved in the $10 million project with residential flats selling for HK$30000-100,000. (WKYP, 1964-3-5)

As HK faced its biggest banking crisis up to that point in 1965, Sun Hing had trouble renting out the 30,000 sq ft space on the 7th and 8th floor space in the building and since it was critical to have a restaurant in there to drive traffic to the building, they came up with an offer to restaurants and nightclubs allowing them to rent the space for free and only be responsible for the renovation costs. (KSDN, 1965-10-14)

Sun Hing Building Image 2 York Lo

Crocodile Shirt store on the ground floor of the new Sun Hing Building in 1966 (WKYP, 1966-1-12)

By late 1965, the building was completed but flats and retail were still available, and buyers were offered discount if paid in full or the option of putting 10% down and paying off the remainder in monthly installments at 7.5% interest.  (KSDN, 1965-12-7) One of the first tenants in the building as shown in above picture and article was Crocodile Shirt which opened a store in a 1000 sq ft space on the ground floor featuring Miss Crocodile from the HK Products Expo.

In 1967, an indoor racing track with race cars built by the bowling giant AMF opened at the Sun Hing Building with four different racing zones – 155 ft, 100 ft, 95 ft and 80 ft with 8 lanes each. (WKYP, 1967-6-25). In 1974, the Sun Hing Mayflower restaurant (see article) opened in the building and the HK College of Language and Commerce also established a secondary school division in the third floor of the building. In February 1975, gang violence broke out in the building when two gangs fought in the Sun Hing billiard room in the building, resulting in one death and 20 injuries and detectives led by Philip Chan quickly followed up and arrested the culprits. Chauncey Ng, the headmaster of HK College of Language and Commerce and chairman of Sun Hing Building Tenants Association thanked the police for their efforts. (WKYP, 1975-2-14) Today, the building is home to one of Luk Fook Jewelry’s flagship stores on its ground floor and a number of nightclubs on the higher floors.

The Developers – the Principals of Sun Hing Realty

The developer of the Sun Hing Building – Sun Hing Realty Ltd was incorporated in 1961 to develop the buildingand was dissolved in 1971, four years after its completion. The four directors of Sun Hing Realty wereWong Sau-fai (王秀輝), Chan Wai-shun (陳維信), Seah Boon-heng (佘文賢) and Lim Kok-jin (林國仁) and Wong Sau-fai as managing director of the firm supported by Ko Hon-luk (高漢祿) was the driving force and the tie that connected everyone as he was on the board of Po Leung Kuk with Chan Wai-shun as shown below and was alsoco-founder with Seah of First Life Insurance in HK and Singapore. In fact, Sun Hing operated out of First Life’s office on the 6th floor of the On Lok Yuen Building in Central. Seah, as chairman of Sun Hing, likely contributed the most capital.

Sun Hing Building Image 3 York Lo

Wong Sau-fai and fellow Po Leung Kuk directors including Chan Wai-shun (陳維信), his partner in Sun Hing with Governor and Lady Black in 1958. Left to right: Kwong But-sui(鄺拔萃), Chan Wai-shun, Ha Kit-wing (夏傑榮), Fung Ping-tai (馮聘逮), Lee Chan Sin-wah (李陳倩華), Governor Black, Hui Ki-pak (許岐伯), Lady Black, D.Y. Pong (龐鼎元), Kong Tak-yan (江德仁), Wong Sau-fai (WKYP, 1958-3-19)

Wong’s main business Chi Fai Hong (志輝行) was involved in the distribution of radios and he had served as chairman of HK & Kowloon Radio Association and member of the Rotary Club of HK West.His eldest son Ping-man graduated from the University of British Columbia and married the second daughter of the proprietor of the Chun Mei Chai Cured Meat Factory in Vancouver. Chan Wai-shun (1927-2015) was the second son of Chan Hon-wah, who founded the rice trading firm of Kui Fat Yuen in 1937 which remains one of the leading rice importers in HK. Aside from Po Leung Kuk, he was chairman of the Chiu Chow Chamber of Commerce in 1964, vice chairman of the HK Buddhist Hospital and director of the South China Athletic Association.

Sun Hing Building Image 4 York Lo

Left: Wong Sau-fai (left) with Law Tin-kwai (羅天攜, right) of Tsang Fook Piano (曾福琴行)in 1958 with the export manager of a Japanese radio brand which Tsang Fook represented in HK (WKYP, 1958-4-3); Right: Wong Sau-fai (seated right) with his wife, son and daughter in law in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-1-15)

As described earlier, Wong and Seah co-foundedFirst Life Insurance (第一人壽保險), which was incorporated in HK in 1960 with HK$5 million in capital of which HK$2 million was paid up. At launch, the firm offered 12 different types of insurance policies ranging from life to jewelry to accident and education savings. Sir T. N. Chau was chairmanwhile Seahwas vice-chairman, Wong was manager andbanking/insurance industry veteran Yun-yu Wang (王蘊玉) was managing director and other directors of the insurer included Soon Guan, Tan Guan-siong, Tan Kong-eng, Teo Ann-siew, Lu Chiu-mang (from the Lu family of SEA Holdings), Chan Ching-pow (see article on Po Wah Land) and Ko Ming-yam (高銘欽). (HK $ Directory, 1963) In 1961, First Life opened its branch in Singapore with Wong and Seah as directors and as a firm it was dissolved in 1987.

A native of Fujian, Seah Boon-heng (1926-1967) started working at a young age and built hisSingapore Trading Co Ltd into a leading developer of residential properties in Singapore in the 1950s. He was also director of Far East Realty and Changi Bus and in 1957, he founded Overseas Union Finance (OUF), a lender and deposit-taking company in Singapore. Because of his investments in First Life and the Sun Hing Building, Seah traveled to HK frequently but in June 1961, he came with Soon Peng-yam to HK with the specific mission of studying housing development while Soon studied shipbreaking. It is highly likely during that trip he laid the groundwork for the development of Sun Hing Building.(WKYP, 1961-6-22)

Sadly, little more than a year after the completion of the Sun Hing Building, Seah Boon-heng passed away suddenly in Singapore in July 1967 at the age of 41.(Sin Chew Jit Poh, 1967-7-9)  He was survived by his wife, 3 sons and 5 daughters and was succeeded at Overseas Union Finance by his younger brother Seah Say-yoong, who was trained as an architect at Waseda University in Japan but never took up that profession and joined his brother at OUF, first as manager of the Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur branch before succeeding him. He built OUF into a company with S$60 million in assets and 6 branches in Singapore before it collapsed after a bank run in 1983. (Singapore Monitor, 1983-7-17)

Sun Hing Building Image 5 York Lo

Left: Seah Boon-heng(NYSP, 1963-6-8); Centre: opening reception of First Life Insurance in Li Po Chun Chambers in HK in 1960, Wong Sau-fai and Seah Boon-heng were on the left and right of Sir T.N. Chau who was in the center (WKYP, 1960-10-19); Right: Lim Kok-gin (SCJP, 1952-4-18)

Compare to Seah, Lim Kok-ginspent less time in HK but nevertheless was a well-known businessman in Singapore. He made his fortune from the tobacco and import/export firm of Kong Hoa Limited and from trading, he moved into real estate with Hoa Seng Realty Company in the 1950s. He was also director ofSingapore Textile Industries with Wee Cho-yaw and Lim Kee-ming and director of Soo Peng-yam’s construction materials supplier Sim Lim Co Ltd.

By the early 1950s, Lim was a member of the Tanjong Rhu Millionaires’ Club which attracted the attention of criminals. In January 1954, he made headlines in Singapore when he and his driver were kidnapped and only released 4 days later after his family paid $100,000 in ransom money. After thorough investigation, police arrested a gang which was responsible for the kidnapping of Lim and another millionaire and fellow Tanjong Rhu club member Thio Soen-tioe earlier in 1953. (Straits Times, 1956-1-24)

When the Sea View Hotel opened in 1969, Lim was its vice chairman and later became its chairman in 1979. He died in 1996 and was succeeded by Lim Sin-hoe.

This article was first posted on 29th January 2021.

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