Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sonny Soon, the last occupant of Soonstead

Incidentally, I was having lunch with a few old school mates just the other day and one of the surprise guests at our luncheon was Sonny Soon Ewe Yin. He is a septuagenarian now but I recognised him well enough.

Sonny Soon, a terror on the tennis courts and an Old Boy of the Penang Free School too. Thus, his presence at my luncheon date was not totally out of place. My friends and I welcomed him the same as we would welcome any Old Free into our little gathering.

Sonny Soon was just about the last owner-occupant of Soonstead, an old heritage mansion along Northam Road in George Town, before he sold it off in the late 1970s for something like RM5 million, if I remember him saying correctly. Soonstead had been in his family for a very long time and he had inherited it from his grandfather, Soon Eng Kong.

In his will, the elder Soon had bequeathed the building, previously called Northam Court, to his "first-born grandson", no name mentioned, and Sonny Soon had to prove that he was indeed Soon Eng Kong's first paternal grandson. So the property passed from grandfather to grandson, bypassing the son, Soon Cheng Sun, who retained the rights to stay in Soonstead. According to Sonny, he survived a litigation action when his father, as one of the trustees of his grandfather's estate, attempted to sell off the property in the early 1970s. An interesting snippet of information.

UPDATE (29 Aug 2014): Soonstead was sold off to the millionaire, Loh Boon Siew, either in his personal capacity or his company's. I heard that after the title changed hands, the iron grille fence fronting the main road was removed and taken to Loh Boon Siew's only mansion which was further along Northam Road. In its place was the present concrete fence with balustrades. Soonstead remained empty all this time and it was not until this year that information emerged that the Boon Siew Group had submitted plans to build a 13-storey hotel on the grounds of this mansion. There is now an on-going campaign spearheaded by the Penang Heritage Trust to save Soonstead from partial demolition.

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