Detailed History from Board Minutes and Rent Rolls
Until 1931 the area now known as Kadoorie Hill was bare hillside, like much of the Kowloon peninsula at that time. However, on 16 November 1931 the Hongkong Engineering & Construction Co. purchased at public auction "the lot of Crown Land at the junction of Argyle Street and Waterloo Road, known as KIL 2657, with an area of 1,300,000 square feet" for a price of HK$326,000.
Hongkong Engineering, founded in 1922, was a HK-listed company, but controlled by Shanghai-based Sir Elly Kadoorie. Until this time it had been a civil contractor undertaking building, foundation and government works projects, but with limited success, such that in 1930 it was on the brink of bankruptcy. That year the then Chairman, Mr. J.P. Braga, "propounded the rough outlines of a scheme whereby the Company might purchase land at Kowloon Tsai from the Government and erect small houses with garden thereon with a view to selling at a reasonable margin of profit." Later he noted that "it is not my intention to dispose of the entire area when formed. We might advantageously dispose of so much only as will bring in the capital outlay of formation and site preparation, retaining the remaining land for further developments as an estate from which rent will be derived as a certain source of income to the Company. In this way the Company will slowly and surely emerge from a piling company into a land-owning company, and in that position we can look to its permanency in the future with confidence and security".
The Company's bid was submitted successfully at the auction on 16 November 1931, jointly with the French Missions Étrangères, which agreed to take 289,750 square feet on the north-east corner of the site (about 22% of the total).
The South China Morning Post of 17 November 1931 reported on the auction as follows: "With the acquisition at the Crown Land sale yesterday of a huge area of undeveloped land begins one of the biggest property undertakings in the history of the Colony. Plans for its development provide that within five years a carefully laid-out model residential area is to replace the barren uneven area of today. Already a tentative plan of the lay-out of the area has been drawn up, and it makes provision for a modern residential suburb, with fine wide roads and modern up-to-date cottages of a garden city type. To each building there will be sufficient ground for a tennis court, small garden and garage. The company has as its aim a virtual garden suburb and it is proposed to make provision for trees and lawns".
A project manager was engaged to undertake the project - Mr. Hugh Braga, son of the Chairman - and initial site formation plans were prepared, with work commencing in 1932.
Discussions were held with various parties expressing interest in acquiring lots, including Mr. Sun Fo, son of Sun Yat Sen (who did not purchase a lot), and the first lot (now 1 Kadoorie Avenue) was sold in July 1932 to a Mr. H.S. Wong "at $1.20 per square foot including slopes". The same month agreement was reached to sell a 16,050 square feet lot on Argyle Street to the China Light and Power Company Ltd at $2.20 per square foot. This became the site of CLP's headquarters building, completed in 1940, with its distinctive Art Deco clock tower.
An article in the South China Morning Post of 22 January 1933, written to mark "the ceremonial commencement of the Hongkong Engineering and Construction Company's new building undertaking at Kowloon", provides an insight into the vision of the project, representing "a further step in a settlement scheme that began with the garden suburb of Ho Mun Tin" [a project completed by Mr. F.P. Soares in 1920 south of Argyle Street]. "Kowloon Tong is now one of the show pieces of the Colony, a garden city in itself, most attractively laid out, an asset for civil pride … Now, Hon. Mr. J.P. Braga, as head of the Engineering and Construction Company, has taken hold of what seems to be the last available area this side of the hills, and another garden suburb is to appear, becoming one with its neighbours Ho Mun Tin and Kowloon Tong … The need for open settlement, to break up the congestion of the old urban areas, improve public health and contentment and add to the attractiveness of Hong Kong requires no emphasis … Country life, clear air, gardens, tennis courts, chickens, and with these the amenities of the civilised life of the town - the ideal existence is being increasingly enjoyed in Hongkong, and even the public mentality is being oriented for the better. Mens Sana in corpore sano".
At the Company's April 1934 shareholder meeting the Chairman noted that "The development of this extensive property is proceeding satisfactorily. It has now reached the stage when visitors may readily appreciate what the final lay-out will look like. 1931 saw the beginning, last year and this year will see the growth, and next year should see the completion as far as site formation is concerned of one of the most ambitious and interesting land developments within Kowloon. Your Company, in planning the development of this large tract of land, has in mind not only the desire to make the buildings agreeable to look at, but also the hope that their owners will conform to the plan for retaining the green gardens that will be such an important aesthetic feature of the whole scheme. It is hoped to surround these gardens with railings and perhaps low hedges, instead of high forbidding walls that cut off most of the green spaces, so that residents and visitors may get a glimpse of open space and green land as they go by".
The first preliminary plans for houses were drafted in early 1935, as the Chairman reported at the April 1935 shareholders' meeting: "A large portion of the area will be ready for building before the end of the current year, and preliminary plans have been drawn. These plans are for several different types of buildings and have been designed to meet modern requirements. They are for a bungalow, two types of detached houses, and two blocks of apartment buildings. We aim at providing attractive appointments for these various types of buildings including such modern conveniences as electric water heaters".
In October 1935 it was agreed to sell a lot of 14,000 square feet to a Mr. A.W. da Roza for $40,000 to include the cost of construction the building. This was to prove the last lot to be sold before the war. The building was completed and handed over in 1936.
Construction of the first three houses commenced in early 1936, but the effects of global recession were also being felt, and that year it was reported that plans were being prepared "for another type of houses to meet the altered conditions and circumstances locally due to a curtailment of residents' ability to meet the same level of rents as when the Colony was enjoying more prosperous times".
The decision to name the two roads on the estate was taken in October 1936, with Kadoorie Avenue named after Sir Elly Kadoorie and Braga Circuit after the Chairman J.P. Braga. In addition, the first three houses were completed in that same month and two were promptly occupied: one by the project manager Hugh Braga and the other by The Estate's first tenant, Mr. W. Mulcahy, paying $150 per month.
By mid-1937 three houses, a bungalow and six semi-detached houses had been completed and occupied, the demand for accommodation in Hong Kong stimulated by "the large influx of people from the areas of actual and threatened hostilities due to the Sino-Japanese trouble".
The Company remained keen to ensure premium quality properties, with Sir Elly Kadoorie and his son Lawrence (later Lord) Kadoorie urging that each bedroom should have its own en-suite bathroom. However, to this the Chairman responded that "while this luxury might have something to commend itself, he would object on the score of the extra expense and the unlikelihood of all the members of one family wishing to have their baths at one and the same time". Lawrence Kadoorie also "advocated the air conditioning of at least one room in every one of the new houses that would be built in future. In his opinion the time was coming when an air conditioning unit would become as essential as an electric ice box". He also felt that "bathrooms with coloured baths are becoming the vogue, so the Company should not be behind in adopting the most modern ideas as regards its appointments".
A key feature of The Kadoorie Estate is the extensive greenery and mature trees, but it should be remembered that the original site - like much of Hong Kong - was bare and devoid of trees. At the 1940 shareholders meeting the Chairman referred to "the avenue of growing ornamental trees on both sides of the thoroughfares of our Estate. Eight years ago saplings of eucalyptus and cinnamon trees, and flame-of-the-forest, and seeds of horse-tail and other pines were planted on the slopes of the hills and on both sides of the roads running through our property. With proper nursing the young plants have grown to be tall, healthy trees, which do much to beautify the Estate as a whole".
The first entry in the Rent Roll is for October 1936, in which Mr. W. Mulcahy is shown as occupant of 4 Braga Circuit, joined in December 1936 by Mr. B. A. Bradbury in 16 Braga Circuit and total monthly rent of HK$250.
By December 1941, 34 houses were occupied, together with 13 apartments in St. George’s Mansions, which had received its first tenants in November 1941. Monthly rents were in the range of HK$120-200 per unit, and the total rental income due for December was HK$8,607.50, but rents were not received from 16 of these tenants after 6 December.
During the occupation, the properties were used by Japanese forces – which for some reason did not pay rent…
At the first directors' meeting after the war, in early 1946, Lawrence Kadoorie - who was Chairman, due to the death of J.P. Braga during the war - summarized the situation. The estate manager had been in a prisoner-of-war camp, but "immediately upon the cessation of hostilities he arranged to post pickets at both ends of Kadoorie Avenue, which were able to prevent further looting and thus saved many of the houses. Immediately he was able to leave the Camp he proceeded to the Estate and for several days stayed alone on the Estate thus preserving the property from more serious damage. Of the 38 houses, only 20 remained in good habitable condition, 12 very badly looted and 6 stripped of all woodwork. Four houses which were nearing completion on the 8th December 1941 were completely demolished even to the bricks".
All the habitable houses were requisitioned by the military, who "refused to pay 1941 rentals on the grounds that the houses are not in the same condition that they were at that time", and Japanese POWs were used to tidy up much of the accumulated dirt and debris on the Estate.
Therefore, the next Rent Roll entry after December 1941 is for September 1945, when the British Army and Royal Air Force occupied 29 houses and 12 apartments. The total rent received was HK$4,937, with rents for most houses in the $60-80 range.
From February 1946, the first civilian tenants were returning, including China Light & Power and Jardine Matheson & Co., and by early 1947, the military occupied 17 out of 48 properties, with familiar names such as the Hongkong & Whampoa Dock Co., Jardine Matheson, Gilman & Co., General Electric Co. and the Chinese Maritime Customs on the Rent Roll. Mr. ( later Lord ) Lawrence Kadoorie became the tenant of No. 24 Kadoorie Avenue in May 1946 when vacated by the RAF, paying a rent of $225 per month.
By December 1947, the military had vacated all but 2 of the properties, and the monthly rental income stood at HK$10,579.50. In January 1950, this had increased to $19,033.41, with 36 houses and 12 apartments occupied principally by corporates and expatriate individuals.
During the 1950’s an extensive site development programme was undertaken, so that by December 1959 the Rent Roll was comprised of 57 houses, 12 apartments at St. George’s Mansions, 23 apartments at St. George’s Court and 7 retail units on Waterloo Road. The monthly rental income had risen to HK$75,826.25. The tenants were principally corporate, trading, shipping and aviation interests, reflecting the growth of Hong Kong at that time: CLP, GEC, Jardine Matheson, Gilman, Deacon’s, PanAm, BOAC and HAECO. The Army still occupied two houses. One individual tenant, who leased a new house in September 1953 at HK$1,000 per month, is still resident in the same property almost 60 years later.
The tenancy profile was still similar a decade later, in December 1969, being principally leading corporates together with a few – largely expatriate – individuals: HK & Whampoa Dock Co., Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick, American President Lines, Jardine Matheson, HSBC, Wharf, Star Ferry, Gilman, Watson, CLP, Sir Elly Kadoorie & Sons, HAECO, Cathay Pacific, The Chartered Bank, HK Telephone, Deacon’s, GEC, Coca-cola, HK Land, PanAm, Air India, Lane Crawford, BOAC and Lufthansa. By then there were 79 houses and 39 apartments, and the monthly rental income was HK$177,920.
Income increased dramatically in the early 1970s to over HK$920,000 in December 1975 from 80 houses and 39 apartments, with a similar tenant profile.
This profile remained virtually unchanged until the mid-80s, so that in 1984 over 80 of the 124 properties were still occupied by similar international corporations. However, over the next 20 years it was transformed gradually as The Estate became the preserve of choice both for wealthy industrialists and Hong Kong’s media stars and celebrities, for whom it was a prestigious and luxurious environment in close proximity to their business operations and the recording studios.