Looking Back At Frances Lee

A recent post about long-ago downtown Westport included a photo of West Lake restaurant.

Located at the head of Main Street, next to the old library park, West Lake served Chinese food when that was the epitome of foreign cuisine.

Main Street 1976, by Fred Cantor. West Lake (left) had just closed.

An alert “06880” reader wanted to learn more. Several Google searches later, he found a long blog posted soon after Frances Lee’s memorial service.

Frances and her husband, Edward Wonkai Lee, opened West Lake in 1950. They operated it — very successfully — for the next 25 years.

Frances Lee died on December 6, 2009 — 2 days after her 101st birthday.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, she graduated at the top of her class at Manhattan’s Julia Richmond High School in 1926. Frances earned an accounting degree with honors from New York University in 1930. She was of one of very few Chinese-American women of that era with a college degree.

Frances and Edward married in 1930. They raised their family through the Depression and World War II, and survived the vagaries of life in the United States and China during the 1930s and ’40s.

In China, she was secretary to the President of Lingnan University in Kwangchow (Guangzhou), and served as a translator-interpreter at the U. S. Consulate in Hong Kong until she and her family were repatriated in 1942.

In 1950 the Lees opened West Lake. The rest is Westport history.

Frances Lee, at the Westport Golf Range (driving range and mini-golf). It’s now the site of the Regents Park condominiums, near the Pier 1 shopping center.

10 responses to “Looking Back At Frances Lee

  1. Excellent follow-up, Dan. And the blog devoted to Frances’ life is worth reading. In your prior items on the West Lake Restaurant, did you mention the 1957 “confrontation” at the restaurant between “gentlemanly” Edward Lee and Academy Award winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. If not, here’s the front-page story from the Sunday Stamford Herald:

    • Wow — thanks for the link, Jeff. And through it I learned that both Paddy Chayefsky and Tina Louise had Westport connections. I never knew!

      • Dan…Tina Louise’s Mother lived next door to us. The fence that separated Compo Hill and Bluewater Hill separated out properties. Everything was fine until Tina came into town…and you always knew when she did. I loved watching all the goings on!

    • Adam Stolpen

      Can I add a little to the Chayefsky – Tina Louise info.

      Following Chayefsky moving out of Betty Myers house my parents rented it for a number of years, and I lived there from age 11 to 15…sleeping in Tina Louise’s bed.

      The house (a low single story ranch) was located at 19 Bluewater (not Compo Road), at the very top of the hill behind high hedges with unobstructed views of the Sound. All the people who lived on the Hill then (in the later 1950s and early 1960s) are now gone except for the REMARKABLE Sidney Kramer.

      It was a very friendly place to grow up. …but Myers was a strange woman. As part of the rent she remained for a year at the house, living in the maid’s room. I remember her as a strikingly beautiful woman with blond hair and the same awesome figure as her famous daughter Tina. She had been divorced from DDS Myers and the Salomon like settlement called for the equity in the house being divided equally between the two. Dr. Myers saying he wanted nothing more to do with Mrs. Myers had given his half of the house to the Jewish Community Center, with Mrs Myers keeping custody of the property until it was sold.

      My father tried for the entire time we lived there to buy the house, but Mrs. Myers insisted she wanted the full value of the property and the Center wanted their half. So in frustration over not being able to buy the place we moved out. At the time the house was valued in the high $50,000s. I understand the unrestored house sold recently for over $3 million.

      Unfortunately I never found any plays or short stories by Chayefsky in the cabinets, but I do remember what Tina Louise looked like when she came to visit her mother.

  2. According to “Stars in Our Eyes” by Thomas A. DeLong, “Tina made her debut as a Westport teen at the Longshore Club Follies and appeared at the White Barn….As Tina Myers, she lived on South Compo Road and Bluewater Hill with her parents, Betty and Dr. John Myers.”

    Also, love the vintage pic of the Westport Golf Range.

  3. Bev Breault

    after reading about the background of Mrs. Lee , I now know why they had the best Chinese food in town & had the best waiter “Jimmie”. Loved him.

  4. Don Willmott

    So interesting. For whatever reason, my family was a Golden House family, not a West Lake family. I never ate there.

    • Jack Whittle

      Us too, my first Chinese food memory being moo moo guy pan at the Golden House. Never ate at West Lake. Families are funny like that.

      And I think Leong owned the Golden House before opening another Westport Chinese restaraunt, Leong’s Palace, where he was later (in no particular order): shot, stabbed, strangled and run over.

  5. Dan,

    Thank you for the post, and especially that picture of West Lake. We used to go there ALL THE TIME, and I vividly remember Mr. Lee, Phillip the waiter, and Mary the bartender. Just awesome to see that shot … Thanks!

  6. Gwen Dwyer Lechnar

    As mentioned above, it was funny how people lined up as West-Lakers or Golden-Housers—as far as I can remember, there was nothing much to choose between them for food quality, which seemed fine at both places. But Golden House was, to my family, a Johnnie-Come-Lately and we rarely went there. Just BTW, anyone rememberThe Farting Waiter at West Lake? Talk about your passive aggression—he’d always wait til his back was to you, lifting plates off the tray, then let ‘er rip! It was a riot.