Friday, September 9, 2011

Howard Lee/ Samoa House Restaurant

Howard Lee at the Van Nuys Ranch

Howard Lee and the Jue girls -Joan, Soo-Jan , and Pingeleen at the Van Nuys Ranch

Auntie Joan:

Howard Lee was a friend of my father, well educated in China as a monk
and an intellectual. He spoke English fluently and well versed in business etc. He often traveled w/Dad on business. Later he partnered w/a white friend to open
a highly successful little restaurant called Samoa House.( chinese smoked ribs served hawaiian style) It did so well, they then opened a huge new place to
accomodate the crowd.

Auntie Soo-Yin
We all called Howard Lee, "Bo Kway Bak," which was his name in Cantonese. "Bo Kway," his name, and "Bak," which is a respectful title for an elderly person (like "Ah Bak" for Leong Shee because she was your great grandmother).
By the time I was born, Bo Kway Bak was an older man with all white hair. At Chinese New Year he would come to the Ranch and pass out "Lei Shee" red envelopes to my siblings and I. He was an old family friend and the friendship goes back a long long way.

Dad ( Jack Jue Sr.)
Howard Lee was my father's good friend in the past and I think he helped out on the farming during the war years and then yes,he was more of a business man and my father helped him start Samoa house , a Hawaiian BBQ rib place in Encino . It was a very trendy place. I worked there waiting on tables with a Hawaiian shirt to all the hoity toity who would come .
It was very successful. For many years, I can remember the ceiling fans running the whole length of the dinning area with fake palm trees and music playing softly in the background. In fact , Howard Lee wanted me to marry his daughter in China so she could come to America. Her picture showed she was good looking but I told my father I liked your mom , Alice, better. Later I think he and my father again were partners in starting a Chinese restaurant called Tang Hall in Reseda.
I always remember Samoa House because I went with Howard and my father to analyze other Hawaiian eateries such as Kelbos in Culver City. Samoa house was Chinese BBQ ribs and they were excellent!

Art Rony , a columnist in the LA times wrote before the Samoa house resturant opened :
"I don't know how mixed up things can get . But this'll do. Partners in the new Samoa House on Ventura Blvd. are a guy named Tex Loving who's spent most of his life in Hong Kong and Howard Lee , a Chinese Boy from Alpine , Texas ..."

Here is the original April 20, 1958 announcement of the new Samoa House restaurant opening .
(Click to enlarge)

Samoa House was a Valley institution and became a successful jazz club in the 1960's and 1970's ...

"The Valley was jumpin' with jazz spots as the 1970s dawned, ...

Everywhere you looked, from the East Valley to the West Valley, the landscape was dotted with jazz joints dating back to the '40s, '50s and '60s that were packing them in seven nights a week for some great music. There was the Shalimar Club,Ram's Horn, Dante's, Chadneys, Whittinghills, Alphonse's, Samoa House, Ruddy Duck, China Trader, Money Tree, Tail o' the Cock, Smoke House and many more.

Today, the old clubs are gone except for the Baked Potato and Monteleone's West in Tarzana.

Why so many popular jazz spots faded away has as many opinions as musicians have riffs. But there is one thing the club owners, musicians and band leaders agree on.

They'd all love to turn that clock back to the days when the Valley was a hotbed of great jazz, and just about every neighborhood had a club in it.

The place was swingin', they said.

``When I opened in '71 at Balboa Avenue and Ventura Blvd there was the Smoke House across the street with jazz, the Ram's Horn just east of me, Travaglini's Restaurant with its lounge down the block, and the Samoa House playing jazz about three blocks away,'' said Monteleone.... "