While the surrounding neighborhood has changed drastically over the decades and its interiors have mirrored its use from early 20th century mansion to Church meetinghouse to public museum, Kom Tong Hall remains a well-recognized LDS landmark in Hong Kong.
Hall of fame — Kom Tong Hall
Church lauded for its historic role in mansion / meetinghouse / museum
And from the outside, it appears much like it did from 1960 when Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, arranged for its acquisition.
For the next 44 years, Kom Tong Hall served first as home to hundreds of missionaries and meetinghouse for thousands of Hong Kong Latter-day Saints and later as headquarters for the Church's Asia Area.
Now hosting the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum honoring modern China's influential statesman, Kom Tong Hall still bears a few reminders of the Church's presence there. The Church is mentioned in audio-visual presentations and featured in a building-front plaque. And preserved from remodeling and restoration efforts, the old, deep baptismal font — built after the Church's purchase — remains, today a prominent display located just inside the ground-level entrance.
Perhaps no one knows Kom Tong Hall — its stained-glass windows, staircase railings and veranda wall tiles — more intimately or has a life more intricately entwined with the building than Stanley Wan.
Now an Area Seventy and the Asia Area welfare services manager, Elder Wan moved into Kom Tong Hall as a young boy with his parents, Wan Leun and Tse Wia Fong. They were hired by the Church as custodians, caretakers and curfew monitors, clearing the building of members at 10 p.m. after activities so the missionaries living there could retire.
"They were there as servants, not as masters," said Elder Wan of his parents, with the small family living in tiny, one-bedroom quarters in the back. The young Wan's regular building duties included locking doors, shutting windows and, after baptisms, hopping into the font to drain the water.
"More than 5,000 to 6,000 of our members were baptized here over the years," said Elder Wan of the Kom Tong Hall font. "Including me."
His ties to Kom Tong Hall continued, including his father serving as branch president there and his father's funeral later being held in the building. Working as a Church employee from 1979 to 2004 there, he first met Kathleen Kah-Wah NG, whom he later married, in 1981, at Kom Tong Hall — of course, their reception was in the building's cultural hall after they were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple.
Photo by Scott Taylor
In the 1970s, offices for local representatives of the Presiding Bishopric were added inside Kom Tong Hall; later, the large top-floor cultural hall gave way to more administrative offices.
Just as Hong Kong membership had grown from 1,700 in 1960 to more than 22,000 by 2004, the Church needed more office space than Kom Tong Hall could provide. After deliberations and negotiations, the building was sold below market value to the Hong Kong government in what then-Secretary of Home Affairs Dr. Patrick Ho Chi Ping called "a three-win settlement" — the Church receiving financial considerations, the government receiving the mansion and the public earning a museum in Sun Yat-sen's honor.
"The people of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China — we all regard him as the father of new China," said Elder Wan, adding that the transaction helped draw the community and Church together.
In its place, the Church constructed its current 12-story Hong Kong Church Administration Building, also located on the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbor but in the bustling Wan Chai district.
By design, Kom Tong Hall features are repeated in the new building, including the five arched-doorway entrances, the dominant multi-pillar facade, similar stained-glass windows and the red-brick exterior.
Photo by Scott Taylor
Also by design, the Hong Kong Church Administration Building contains more than offices, boasting a multi-purpose functionality similar to its sacred counterpart across the harbor, the Hong Kong Temple. Beside the Asia Area offices, the office building — home to several Hong Kong Church units — also features three chapels, classrooms, serving areas, a cultural hall and offices for priesthood leaders and clerks.
President Hinckley returned to Hong Kong to dedicate the new building. The late prophet and Church president remains a common thread with the city's three major Church edifices, having obtained Kom Tong Hall in 1960, receiving inspired direction as to the location and multi-use design of the Hong Kong Temple and then returning for the 2005 office building's dedication.
"The old members, they remember seeing him for years — and he remembered names," Elder Wan said. "His print is everywhere here."
Photo by Scott Taylor