The former Kwong War Chong building is located in the heart of Sydney's Chinatown in Haymarket. The Edwardian style property has three levels, and was sub-divided into two terrace-style buildings (No 82 and No 84). The building received an interim heritage order from the City of Sydney from March 2019 to March 2020. Following the assessment from an independent heritage consultant, the Kwong War Chong building, including the interior and the contents of 84 Dixon Street, received permanent heritage listing from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage in May 2020, in recognition of the building's heritage significance to Sydney, in particular to the Australian Chinese community.
The history of the building can be dated back to 1910, when Philip Lum Chun LEE (李临春) bought the building on Dixon Street for his company Kwong War Chong & Co.. Philip was from Long Du district of Zhongshan County in Guangdong Province. He came to Australia in 1874 and established Kwong War Chong & Co. with several business partners in Sydney in 1883. The company was originally located on 46 Campbell Street before it moved to 84 Dixon Street in 1910.
The advertisement of Kwong War Chong placed in the Tung Wah Newspaper in 1902 (courtesy of King Fong)
Kwong War Chong & Co. was a typical general store and trading company operated by overseas Chinese in the early 20th century. It engaged in importing and selling of Chinese goods to local Chinese market gardeners and distributing goods to other general stores in NSW and Queensland. The company also acted as a remittance agency for overseas Chinese who came from Zhongshan and provided other services such as purchasing ship tickets, organising paperwork for 'Certificate of Exemption from Diction Test (CEDT)' and repatriation of bodies of deceased Chinese back to their home villages. By 1930, Kwong War Chong operated branches in Hong Kong and Shekki, the capital city of Zhongshan County, apart from the shop Sydney.
The Kwong War Chong building also served as a community centre for Zhongshan people in Sydney. The upstairs of the building was a lodging house for Chinese market gardeners to stay when they came to Haymarket to sell their produces. Kwong War Chong hosted Sunday lunch for Chinese market gardeners from Long Du, enabling them to socialise with each other (Williams, 2005). The third floor of 82 Dixon Street was the meeting place for the 'Tong Sen Tong' (同善堂), the clan society for Long Du people in Sydney.
The Kwong War Chong building in the 1980s (photo by King Fong)
After Philip passed away in 1934, two of his sons Harry and Norman took over the Kwong War Chong business until 1987. Later, the ground floor of 84 Dixon Street was turned into a tea house and gift shop named 'Live Crafts Centre', although the façade and the original shopfront remained in place. The building on 82 Dixon Street has been rent out to different individuals and companies. Since 1971, the Hingara Restaurant occupied 82 Dixon Street until 2017. The Kwong War Chong building on 82-84 Dixon Street was sold to a property developer for $20 million in 2017. The building is currently vacant and unused.
The shopfront of 'Live Crafts Centre' on 84 Dixon Street in March 2017 (photo by Denis Byrne)
A corner of the shopfront of 84 Dixon Street in March 2017 (photo by Denis Byrne)
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage website describes the former Kwong War Chong building 'is at least of local significance in terms of it historical, associations, aesthetic, social, research, rarity and representative value' and satisfied all the Heritage Council's criteria of local heritage significance for local listing. The heritage listing ensures the building's heritage significance will be considered with its future development plans.
Williams, M. (2005) Historical notes on 82-84 Dixon Street
NSW Office of Environment & Heritage (2020) Former Kwong War Chong & Company building, including interiors and contents of No. 84, https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5067050