“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Shanghai’s Broadway Theatre and Roy’s Roof Garden

Posted: June 11th, 2019 | No Comments »

An April stroll through what remains of Tilanqiao and the old Jewish Ghetto. A favourite building is the old Boadway Theatre. The Broadway Theatre was on Wayside (Huoshan Lu) and the Wayside Theatre was on Broadway (Daming Lu). What interested me was that there was a plaque to Roy’s Roof Garden – which I’ve written about before – see below. I may be wrong, but I’m sure there only used to be a plaque to the theatre. Some years ago I slipped up the impressive main stairs, through the pool hall and onto the roof where Roy’s was – but it was all just old boxes of junk and a Jewish ghost or three….My description of it in the old days below….

“Now cross the Soochow Creek, head east and consider those stateless European Jewish refugees who flocked from Berlin or Vienna to Hongkew. They liked nothing better than to go drinking and dancing on Roy’s Roof Garden above the Broadway Theatre on Wayside Road, in the heart of their newfound Oriental ghetto and hoped-for safety from persecution. Ascend through a down-at-heel pool hall to the roof (if the fire door is left open) and see that nothing remains but the rooftop itself – the rattan chairs and plain deal tables, the makeshift bar, the ice buckets, the red and green light bulbs strung around the wood planking that once made a small stage.

The band and the dancing are all gone. Of course in the 1940s, when leaving the ‘Heim’ was problematic, Roy’s offered both music and dancing; a chance to socialise, fall in love, have a little Yiddish conversation, swap ghetto gossip, or enjoy a Friday evening shabbat shalom in the Far East. To climb the broad stairway to the roof of Roy’s was to escape the everyday food queues, fights for onward visas, and the petty squabbles and inevitable kvetching of Wayside Road. It was in itself, perhaps, a kind of freedom for those whose future was so uncertain.”

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