Causeway Bay in the 1960s was a relatively tranquil and laid back part of Hong Kong Island, especially the quadrant that adjoins Happy Valley, roughly bounded by Leighton Road, Lee Garden Road, Percival Street and Hennessy Road. Most of the lands in the quadrant are owned by Lee Hysan’s clan, which the tycoon bought in 1923 from the Jardines Group, then known as Jardine’s Hill.
There was a route that I used to take on foot to and from school. The route ran along Percival Street, passing Hysan Avenue and turning right at Lee Garden Road, then turning left at Leighton Road, and after a few blocks, put me right at my school’s doorsteps. It was a very pleasant walk, especially along tree-lined and airy Hysan Avenue, where the tasteful Lee Gardens Hotel stood (and still stands) on one side, and understated (and now demised) Sunning Hotel perched on the other, accompanied by other unobtrusive low-rise buildings.
On Percival Street, where Happy Valley-bound trams used to and still run before meandering further towards the racecourse, there was a Chinese-style western food restaurant (what some people call 豉 油 西 餐 , soy-sauce western food) called 椰 樹 餐 廳 (Coconut Tree Restaurant). It was located near the Russell Street/Matheson Street junction. Even to this day, I can still remember how good their Russian borsch used to taste. They used to serve a 3-course daily special (called 常 餐 ), which included a soup, a main dish and dessert which was usually ice cream, and this could be had for HK$4.50. My monthly allowance then was HK$8.00, which had to cover all expenses including stationery. So, the daily special could only be a very rare treat for me, however much I liked the food.
Further down Percival Street and where the trams make a 90-degree bend stood the once majestic Lee Theatre. In my humble view, this was one grand piece of architecture that should have been preserved in the name of cultural heritage.
It had a grandiose dome-shape rooftop, an elegant stone-clad exterior and exquisitely ornamental interior which boasted of a grand revolving stage and three-tier seating lodges. Completed in 1925, it was built as a filial gesture of Lee Hysan’s towards his mother who was a Canto opera fan. If only for sentimental reasons, Lee’s offsprings should have considered keeping the theatre from the wrecking ball. It’s a pity that they decided to sacrifice cultural and sentimental values for money.
In my early childhood, I accompanied my grandmother on numerous occasions to watch culture-rich operas at Lee Theatre, which left an indelible mark on my mind. How I loved the fancy shiny opera costumes and the ambience of the theatre. And how I drooled but my craving was denied every time a snack hawker passed by carrying a wooden tray stacked with candies and soft drinks! Then, as a teenager, I used to take my siblings to Lee Theatre to watch Sunday matinees - Walt Disney cartoons.
Apart from Lee Theatre, there were four cinemas in Causeway Bay that no longer exists now. These were: New York Cinema 紐 約 (at the Percival Street/Hennessy Road junction), Capitol Cinema 京 華 (at the western end of Jardine Crescent), Hoover Cinema 豪 華 (at the Hennessy Road/Jardine Crescent junction) and Roxy Theatre 樂 聲 (opposite Hoover).
Capitol used to show Mandarin films made by Shaw Brothers, while the other three cinemas used to feature western films. Of the latter, I liked Hoover best and frequented it most because it had plush seats that could be inclined. It was here that I got totally hooked on Hollywood and awed by great films like Gone with the Wind, War and Peace, Ben Hur, Sound of Music, Ten Commandments etc.