ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “利舞臺

REINCARNATION FROM THE POPPY DREAM, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣), Hong Kong

Wandering the most popular shopping streets of Causeway Bay, it is impossible not to stumble upon streets or places that are named after either a tai-pan (business executive 大班) of Jardine Matheson (怡和洋行) or the family of Lee Hysan (利希慎). Paterson Street (百德新街), Jardine’s Bazaar (渣甸街), Jardine’s Crescent (渣甸坊), Yee Wo Street (怡和街), Percival Street (波斯富街), Matheson Street (勿地臣街), Keswick Street (敬誠街) all refer to the former executives of Jardine Matheson, the giant enterprise that is involved in almost all major business sectors one could think of in Hong Kong; while Lee Garden Road (利園山道), Hysan Avenue (希慎道), Lan Fong Road (蘭芳道), Hysan Place (希慎廣場), Lee Garden One to Six (利園一至六期), and Lee Theatre Plaza (利舞臺廣場) can be traced back to the family of Lee Hysan, the biggest landlord of today’s Causeway Bay. And, what did Jardine Matheson and Lee Hysan had in common apart from owning most of Causeway Bay for the last 180 years? The answer is OPIUM.

No matter we like it or not, the founding of Hong Kong is inseparable with the opium trade. It was the consequences of the two Opium Wars that Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were ceded to Britain. It was the opium trade that first brought wealth to the city. It was the opium trade that brought in investments to develop Hong Kong as the most efficient port city in the region. Soon after becoming a British colony, Hong Kong emerged as the world’s official hub of opium trading and processing. By mid 19th century, three quarters of Indian opium were being handled in Victoria Harbour, and 40,000 chests of opium (worth 16 million pounds sterling at that time) were stored in the city on average at anytime. Due to the trade of opium and other products such as tea and silk, there was a large demand for godowns (warehouses) along the harbour. On 14 June 1841, less than 6 months since the British began their rule, the first lots of land were sold in Hong Kong. For 565 pounds sterling, Jardine Matheson & Co. (怡和洋行) bought 5,309 sq.m of land in East Point to set up their first offices and godowns in the colony. Their office was set up at Lot No. 1, where the former Excelsior Hotel (怡東酒店) stood in modern days. Formed in 1832 by William Jardine and James Matheson, Jardine Matheson traded tea, cotton, silk, and also opium in the Canton area. After settled in Hong Kong, it soon grew to become the largest foreign trading company in the Far East. In the following decades after purchasing their first lots of land, the company continued to expand their headquarters in the area, building godowns, wharves, offices, factories, houses for ships and crews, and infrastructure across Causeway Bay. In 1872, Jardine Matheson ended its involvement in the opium trade after acquiring enormous profits. In the next 150 years, the company continues to diversify itself into the present Fortune Global 500 company, with a huge business portfolio both in Hong Kong and abroad: shipping, railway, real estate (Hongkong Land), hotels (Mandarin Oriental), ice and dairy (Dairy Farm), Hongkong Tramway, Star Ferry, aviation management (Jardine Aviation Services), motors (Jardine Motors, Jardine Cycle and Carriage, Astra International), export and import, banking, cotton spinning, textile manufacturing, sugar refinery, construction (Gammon), food industry (Maxim’s Caterers, Pizza Hut HK), retail (7-Eleven HK, IKEA HK), engineering (Jardine Engineering Corporation), insurance, beer brewery, cold storage… and the list just keeps on going.

Seven years after Jardine Matheson stopped their opium trade, Lee Hysan (利希慎) was born in Hawaii in 1879 into the family of Lee Leung-yik (利良奕), a businessman who obtained great wealth in the Hong Kong’s opium trade. After working as a teacher, interpreter, bank staff, timber factory owner, and shipping company manager, Lee Hysan took over his father’s business, and became a highly successful opium trader, earning him the nickname Opium King. In 1923, Lee Hysan bought the land of Jardine’s Hill (East Point Hill) from Jardine Matheson for the sum of HK$3.8 million. Roughly defined by today’s Percival Street, Lee Garden Road, Yun Ping Road, Leighton Road, and Lee Theatre, this huge piece of land was named Lee Garden (利園山) and intended to host a series of opium refinery facilities. Soon international opium trade was banned, Lee and his family turned to other ideas for the land. In 1925, Lee Garden Amusement Park (利園遊樂場) opened its doors on East Point Hill, becoming the first crowd puller of Causeway Bay. But it was the adjacent Lee Theatre (利舞臺) at 99 Percival Street that proved to be the crowd’s favorite. Opened in 1927, the 2000 seats theatre soon became the city’s primary venue for Chinese operas, and later for movies (first being Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator in 1940), concerts, and live shows such as the Miss Hong Kong Pageant. After screening Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the iconic theatre was demolished in 1991 to make way for Lee Theatre Plaza (利舞臺廣場), a 25-storey retail and restaurant complex. Apart from theatre and amusement park, the Lee family also established Lee Garden Restaurant, Lee Garden Hotel, and a number of residential and office developments in the area, after blasting away the rocky East Point Hill bits by bits since 1953. The last bit of flattening work was completed during the construction of Hennessy Centre (興利中心), the former 41-storey office complex where Mitsukoshi (三越) Department Store was located. The site was redeveloped again in 2006 and reopened as the new 40-storey landmark called Hysan Place (希慎廣場). Today, many developments at Lee Garden are still under the Lee family’s control, including commercial complexes Lee Garden One to Six, Lee Theatre Plaza, and Hysan Place.

East Point was the heart of Hong Kong’s opium trade and almost became home of the city’s biggest opium refinery facility. But as the story unfolded, it eventually evolved into the city’s most well known shopping district: Causeway Bay, and become one of the world’s most expensive retail market. With four prestige Japanese department stores anchoring the lands of Jardine Matheson and Lee Hysan, Causeway Bay was nicknamed “Little Ginza” in 1980’s. Today, hardly any Hongkonger could connect their beloved shopping paradise with the lucrative trade of poppy tears.

Jardine’s East Point offices and godowns in 1844: offices and warehouses at tip of East Point (around today’s World Trade Centre, former Excelsior Hotel, SOGO, Patterson Street) and director’s villas on Jardine’s Hill (also known as East Point Hill and today’s Lee Gardens). The water beyond was Tung Lo Wan (Causeway Bay), the bay that later became Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter and today’s Victoria Park. [Unknown painter, wikimedia commons, public domain]
A director’s house of Jardine Matheson & Co. at East Point Hill, 1868. [Photo by John Thomson, Wellcome Collections, public domain]
Jardine Matheson’s Sugar refinery facilities in 1871 at today’s Sugar Street (糖街). [Photo by William Pryor Floyd, Wellcome Collections, public domain]
Located opposite to the Noon-day Gun at Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, The Excelsior (怡東酒店) was a 4-star hotel that served as the headquarters of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group before it was demolished in 2019. Located on “Lot No. 1”, Excelsior sat on the first plot of land sold in Hong Kong in 1841. Opened in 1973, it was the first hotel in Hong Kong to host more than 1000 rooms. [2019]
Named after William Jardine of Jardine Matheson, Jardine Bazaar is one of the oldest shopping streets in Hong Kong, dated back to around 1845. [2022]
Due to its proximity to city centre, the street market at Jardine Crescent (渣甸坊) is popular with tourists seeking for products at a bargain price. [2022]
At Jardine’s Crescent, The 50,000 sq.ft five level Victoria’s Secret flagship store closed in 2020 during the pandemic. Its 10-year lease in 2017 was estimated at HK$7 million (US$900,000) a month, which was already 50% lower than its predecessor Forever 21. The US fast fashion chain paid a whopping HK$13.8 million (US$1.75 million) monthly rent from 2011 to 2017, before pulling out as the numbers of Mainland Chinese travellers was not as high as they would expect. [2020]
Named after William Paterson, a former partner of Jardine Matheson, Paterson Street is one of the busiest shopping streets in in Causeway Bay. [2022]
Being as small and spatially efficient as possible is the key to survive the high rents in Causeway Bay (or if one has bought the retail space decades ago). Two tiny shops across from Times Square on Matheson Street somehow found their ways to sustain. To put it in context, just around the corner from the two stores, a 1000 sq.ft (plus a 600 sq.ft mezzanine) retail space was sold for HK$180m (US$ 22.9m) in 2019. [2022]
As the Chinese name of Jardine Matheson, Yee Wo (怡和) is used to name a number of things in Hong Kong, from buildings, companies to a street. Between the iconic Hennessy Road junction in front of SOGO Department Store and Causeway Road where Victoria Park begins, the 300m Yee Wo Street was one of the busiest place in Hong Kong before the pandemic, already hosting over 1 million pedestrian traffic in 2007. In recent years, bans on foreign visitors and restaurant dining after 6pm during the pandemic have devastated the business and pedestrian traffic in Causeway Bay. [2020]
Having been a landmark of Causeway Bay since 1963, the circular footbridge of Yee Wo Street is popular spot for people and tram watching. [2020]
The circular footbridge also appears in a number of films, including Scarlett Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell. [2020]

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Opened in 1925, Lee Garden amusement park was an early recreational venue in Hong Kong. [Photo: wikimedia commons, public domain]
Today, Lee Gardens is a commercial area lined with office towers and luxury shops. [2022]
Named after Lee Hysan’s wife, Lan Fong Road (蘭芳道) is a small street in Lee Gardens where a number of old tong lau tenement blocks still remain. The Lee family renovated one of the corner building into a block of service apartments, namely Lee Gardens Apartments. [2022]
In this area of Lee Garden, sightlines of most pedestrians would be focused on ground floor shop windows. Many would hardly notice the office towers above, including the 52-storey Lee Garden One. [2020]
The pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the pedestrian traffic in Causeway Bay, including Lee Gardens. The emergence of vacant spaces signifies that many small shop owners prefer to periodically exit the retail scene. [2020]
Global brands are less affected by the sudden decrease of pedestrian traffic, including the Leica flagship store in Lee Gardens. Opened in 2019, the store brings together retail, cafe, and art gallery into a cool shop inspired by the aesthetics of 1960’s Hong Kong. [2022]
Meanwhile, the cluster of luxury shops on Yun Ping Road (恩平道) stay put during the pandemic despite the dramatic decrease of tourists. [2022]
Lee Gardens is one of the several locations in Causeway Bay that is dotted with luxury shops. [2022]
Interestingly, right behind the row of luxury shops of Rolex, Dunhill, Bvgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Roger Vivier, etc. is actually the street market of Jardine Crescent (渣甸坊), where customers go to get clothing and accessories at a bargain price. [2022]
At the junction of Percival Street, Hysan Avenue and Leighton Road, the retail complex Lee Theatre Plaza replaced the iconic Lee Theatre in mid 1990’s. [2022]
The triangular forecourt of Lee Theatre Plaza often hosts temporary installations for advertisements and events, such as the giant Iron Man in 2019 while Avengers: End Game was showing in cinemas. [2019]
Designed by American practice Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), Hysan Place is the first building in the city to be pre-certified for LEED Platinum at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). [2022]
Three escalators at the intersection of Kai Chiu Road and Yun Ping Road provides one of the main retail entrances for Hysan Place. [2020]
Occupying the site of the former landmark Mitsukoshi (三越) Department Store, Hysan Place, a 40-storey complex split between retail, restaurants, and offices, has become the new landmark of Causeway Bay since 2012. [2021]