Dramatic Changes to The Helena May Main Building in 1920s

Two significant extensions to the building were added in the 1920s.  The first was begun in 1921, a mere 5 years after The Helena May opened.  Financially the 20s were a time of boom.  Hong Kong was doing well and The Helena May was also thriving.  More women were coming to the colony to work and taking up accommodation as residential members.  Subscriber membership was also flourishing.  By 1929 there were 455 subscriber members with 70 of them having joined that year.  More members meant that increased facilities were needed.  And the Council was quick to respond.

The building was originally symmetrical.  The additions to the Main Building were placed at the back while the front, facing Garden Road, stayed the same. The work, which began in 1921, was by far the most ambitious and was completed by June 1922.   A five-story extension was added on the left side of the building.  It included two spacious bedrooms on the top two floors, with a room for a library (our present Green Room) at the ground floor level.  The basement and sub-basement levels housed staff quarters and the kitchen respectively.

Original symmetrical design facing Garden Road

Another practical innovation was the enclosing of the lower floor with large doors and windows.  Today this lower floor houses the Library and the Garden Room.  The Helena May was rightly proud of these additions to the building and a grand opening was held, to which reporters from the local newspapers were invited.   The report in the South China Morning Post, on 22 June 1922 stated, “The most striking feature of the innovations is the conversion into a spacious dining hall of the large and formerly open basement.  The dining hall has been fitted up specially with electric power for cinematographic purposes and it is proposed to use the hall for lectures and other forms of entertainment.” 

Design showing completion of two extensions

By 1929 a further addition to the building was needed.  This extension was more modest.  A two-story extension was constructed on the right side of the building.  This extension contained an office, with a veranda for the Secretary, on the ground floor.  This is the location of our present office but the veranda was enclosed in the 1950s to give more office space.  The new room on the lower level was designated as a meeting room.  This is where the bathrooms, off the Garden Room, are located today. 

Over the years there have been other changes to the building but nothing so significant as in the 1920s.

Diane O’Hare

Member of The Helena  May History Group