Restoration of No.29 China Street


No 29 is a simple 3 storey building set back off the street. The architecture is in the style of other late 1940 or 1950's buildings that can be seen in the area. On Beach Street there is a similar 2 storey buidling with the same wall finish and 'flagstaff' detail at the top centre of the building. We purchased the building from a Kongsi(clan house) that no longer wanted to deal with the fact that this neglected building had 2 sitting tenants that required lawyers, lawsuits and time to move them. These tenants had been in the building for an age and it would take time and money to clear up the building before anything could move forward. We bought the building without looking inside. At the time it was a reasonable price and we knew it was just a matter of time to get things cleared up. 

Downstairs a newsagents and bookshop had been there for years refusing to pay rent or to move. Upstairs there was the really nasty problem of a long standing non-rent paying, illegal urban swiftlet house. The swiftlet house had caused huge damage by rusting out the main steel beams that provided the main structural props to the building's ground floor. This we had not anticipated. Hoses were left running to keep the inside of the swiftlet house wet and damp to mimic the conditions in a cave. It was this water that caused the damage and of course, there was the health issue of the bird feces on the 2 floors. 

The newsagent had family on the Mainland and was due to move but basically refused to on the basis of wanting compensation after years of being sitting tenants. This was negotiated and they promptly moved out. The swiftlet house was harder and required legal action against the illegal tenant. Despite no licensing, damage to the building, illegal use of the building, the local council and Government were no help and had not endeavoured to enforce any of its laws. As individuals we had to get our lawyers and together, investigate the options and go through council offices locating by-laws, codes, history of this illegal tenant, etc. then take out lawsuits to try to remove him from the building. It took 1 and a half years of lawsuits going back and forth, with this swiftlet farmer making appeals against us himself, before the court decided that we could take repossession. Even after this it took another 6 months before the court decided in our favour and we won the case. 

We started work and painted up the ground floor as soon as the newsagent moved out. In part this was to show that we had committed to the building and wanted to improve its condition immediately. The structure was stabilised. This ground floor became my gallery and office and we smartened it up as soon as possible. The space is open and simple and a clearing of the board partitions, a lick of paint and a coloured cement floor was all that was required to give the space back its dignity. We maintained all the metal grill work in the frontage and repainted the metal fold away security doors which I think are charming. Eric retrieved the old tiles on the front of the entrance floor from another site that threw them away. 

As soon as we received word that we could repossess the 1st and 2nd floors, we moved into the swiftlet house, fumigated and disinfected it completed. We removed all the tubs of feces and took out all the bricks used to block up the windows. Unfortunately some of the original metal and glass windows had been removed but we managed to get them 'copied' in aluminium frames and the same kind of 'bubble' glass, so the facade of the building maintains it's original look. 


Our financial budget was limited to complete the restoration and we were lucky to find, after clearing out the mess, great open spaces on each floor, with the original bathroom section in tact. We had to leave the windows open for quite a long time to allow the dispersement of all the disinfectant and fumigation chemicals we used and during this time, the swiftlets all homed back into their 'cave'. It was amazing how noisy they were at night when they came back to try to grip to the now clear walls. They were really something out of a horror movie! We had removed all the brick work out of the windows so there was no insulation from the sound of their piercing calls. We solved this problem by hanging netting over the open windows. This kept the birds out of the building. What was slightly amusing was that the swiftlet farm on the next street increased the volume of the recorded swiftlet calls in his houses and apparently managed to attract a number of the birds chucked out of our building. He was happy! We had a band of swiftlet farmers hanging out outside our building for a few days, chit chatting, trying to look threatening and taking photos and video of the birds trying to come back into our building. These pictures were published in the chinese newspapers with quotes such as "You can't get rid of the birds!", "They'll keep trying to get back in!" etc. etc. We continued with our restoration of this handsome building and after 2 months the birds had dispersed and stopped trying to get in. It didn't take very long for them to do this and it proves that the swiftlets will move and adapt elsewhere. 

In the meantime we had to sort out doors as all the doors had been ripped out by the swift breeder and chucked away. We managed to find a selection of old wooden doors which we painted cream, fitted with basic old style locks and where there was glass we used the same 'bubble' glass in the original windows. This kept the slightly 'deco' look running through the interior as well. We kept the original metal pull grills at the entrance and half way up the stairs. In the bathrooms we chose a black and white theme and the counter tops are edged with a line of black trim tiles in keeping with the geometric theme. Different size black and white tiles keep it all looking interesting without costing a fortune. 

We painted, retiled the bathrooms, set up a basic kitchen shelf, re-plumbed the sinks- everything had been ripped out by the swiftlet farmer- put down a painted apoxy floor and then decorated with colour and a real mixture of furniture and fun bits and pieces. The old wooden porch fences hung behind the beds I brought back from Indonesia. Eric, our contractor was a star and managed to locate some great pieces to put into the apartments. He alerted me to all the vintage 'Ladybird' signs and tools, the drum table and the old honest furniture pieces including the great dining tables in both apartments. He also found me the stash of old metal chairs which looked only good enough to throw away when I got them. After washing and rubbing, then re-riveting where needed, painted with anti rust and then spray painted the lovely colours they are now, these chairs are totally covetable! The old kids scooters and bikes on the stairwell walls were all used by our kids and now, too small for them, look great displayed here. I'm constantly on the look out for vintage paraphernalia to add to the stairwell collection. 

These are now really great feeling apartments that our grown up sons will be very happy to claim when they come back from Uni! In the meantime however, guests can rent them and enjoy this lively part of George Town.