After immigrating to Victoria in 1952, Paul Chan often enjoyed dinners organized by people from his homeland in Hoy Sun, China.
Within a decade, however, the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Benevolent Association cancelled its annual spring dinner, due to dwindling finances.
“I didn’t really want to get involved (in the organization) until they didn’t have dinner, and I was kind of disappointed,” recalls Chan.
Chan complained and received a challenge in return: run for president.
So he did.
As new president, he reinstated the spring dinner in 1963, opting for a more affordable meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“It was so popular, we had to have two sittings,” he recalls, at the association’s headquarters at 540 Pandora Ave.
Climbing the stairs of the 1884 building, Chan fumbles with a dozen unmarked keys until finding the right one to enter the abandoned third floor.
Nobody has occupied these suites since a 1954 renovation project ran short on funds after the first and second floor upgrades, says Chan, who is still the organization’s president.
Inside, moisture in the brick walls peels the paint and a hole in the floor cautions a careful step.
Five tenants occupy suites on the second floor, but often complain about the state of the building, Chan says. The spacious units rent for only $500 a month.
Most of the remaining space is in such rough shape, it’s only used for storage.
For the past three decades, the cash-strapped non-profit sought grants to renovate, but to no avail.
Now, the association’s governance committee has opted to tackle the estimated $5-million to $6-million job on its own, with a bank mortgage and a concession from city council.
Selling any of the association’s three adjoining buildings is not an option, Chan says firmly.
“We will never sell our buildings,” he says.
“Our forefathers worked really hard for it, to save the money to leave the building for us.”
This year, the association celebrates its 122nd anniversary.
• The application: Hoy Sun Ning Yung Benevolent Association seeks Victoria city council approval to build a two-storey addition to its Fan Tan Alley property. The addition is needed, it argues, to fund costly upgrades to its badly-deteriorating buildings – 536-540 Pandora Ave., 4, 10-14 Fan Tan Alley. The proposal entails ground floor commercial and 30 rental units on upper floors.
• The controversy: Neighbouring businesses and residents argue the extra two storeys will block sunlight, already limited in the alleyway. Business owner JD Scott submitted a petition with 23 signatures opposing the heritage alteration permit.
n The defence: The extra height sought will be set back from the alley, so its shadow will have minimal impact on the alleyway, said architect Allan Lowe. Also, the application falls within the height and density allowances of its zoning.
• The verdict: Last week, council postponed a decision, opting instead to seek legal opinion on holding a non-statutory public hearing.