Now & Then: Shopping Malls in Causeway Bay

Causeway Bay is the centre of the Hong Kong shopping scene. Walking through the streets, it’s hard not to be lured into shops by their flashing LED signs… and in summer time their cool air-conditioned spaces. But one may wonder, has the area always been this way? With arising popularity of this shopping district, much of the older buildings had been converted into high rises and malls. Let’s go down memory lane for 4 well-known shopping centres and explore their fascinating history.

Times Square (Previously the Russell Street Tram Depot)

One of the main hubs in Causeway Bay was not always crowded with people, but was packed with trams. The Russell Street tram depot was first set up in the 1920s as a large terminal for the tramway to park and maintain their fleet.

With rising property values in Hong Kong and increasing noise complaints by residential neighbours of the tram depot, the Hongkong Tramways diverted their traffic to the Sai Wan Ho and Whitty Street depots. The tramway’s parent company, Wharf, then redeveloped the land into a retail and office complex, which opened in 1994 as Times Square.

Now, Hong Kong’s Times Square is a shopping destination that contains a cinema, 14 floors of shops, 4 floors of restaurants, and 2 office towers. It’s hard to believe the bustling area was once considered an undesirable part of town, isn’t it?

Times Square
Address: 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay
How to get there: MTR Causeway Bay Exit A1

Lee Theatre Plaza (Previously Lee Theatre)

Lee Theatre was first built as a Cantonese opera venue in 1925 with 2000 seats, and it continued to be a prominent performance venue in Hong Kong until 1991. It once hosted Cantonese opera, concerts, Miss Hong Kong pageants, and screened films in its signature Beaux Arts theatre. Its impressive rotating stage was a spectacle in its time, with the ability to change scenes quickly for live performances.

The site was redeveloped and kept its name; now, Lee Theatre Plaza contains 7 floors of shops by international brands like Uniqlo and Muji, while upper floors of the high-rise contains mostly restaurants. The new site once included a 400-seat cinema, which was converted into a restaurant in 2005.

When you visit the Lee Theatre Plaza shopping mall, have a look at its ground floor lobby. The original theatre’s stage decorations hang along two pillars by the escalators and refer to its first days as a theatre.

Interiors of the old Lee Theatre in Hong Kong

Lee Theatre Plaza
Address: 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay
How to get there: MTR Causeway Bay Exit A1

wtc more (Previously Palace Theatre)

Opened in 1979, the Palace Theatre was a nightclub for its neighbouring Excelsior Hotel. The club was later converted into a cinema with 1000 seats, and would host exclusive film screenings to establish its status as a luxurious destination. The cinema stood out in people’s memories as the 1980 film Somewhere In Time ran for 18 continuous months to the delight of eager fans.

The site was redeveloped in the 1990s into World Trade Centre, then expanded into its current state as wtc more a decade later. The lower 6 floors serve as a shopping centre and higher floors as office space. The shops at wtc more sell trendy sportswear, fashion and accessories, cosmetics, and homewares.

The building is still connected to the adjacent Excelsior Hotel via a bridge walkway. You can also visit the Noon Day Gun by walking from the building’s carpark subway.

wtc more
Address: 280 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
How to get there: MTR Causeway Bay Exit D1

Causeway Bay Plaza (Previously New York Cinema)

Built in 1955, New York Cinema was located at the current Phase 1 of Causeway Bay Plaza. To make way for a new MTR station in the 80s, the cinema moved to Causeway Bay Plaza Phase 2 before shutting its doors in 2006.

Once a 4-story building, Causeway Bay Plaza now includes 2 standalone buildings, both of which have 20+ floors of shops, restaurants, and offices. You may not know of the shops stowed away in the office towers, but they’re all indexed into HiStreet!

Causeway Bay Plaza Phase 1
Address: 489 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay
How to get there: MTR Causeway Bay Exit B

Looking back at these photographs of old Hong Kong, we were reminded of the shift in people’s lives over the years. In the days without television, movie streaming and YouTube, it was a common past time to spend hours of the day at the cinema or theatre. Now, all of these destinations have closed, replaced by taller buildings, bigger signs, and tighter spaces.

If you have any fond memories of these historic locations, feel free to share with us in the comments below!

Historic image sources:

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Tracy Wong

As the co-founder of HiStreet, Tracy can usually be found running the operations and communications aspects of the team. She can also be found snapping away on her camera on the streets of Hong Kong.