The Helena May Institute (renamed The Helena May in 1974) was established by Lady May, wife of the then Governor Sir Henry May, to provide accommodation for single working women passing through or staying for a short time in Hong Kong and to organise educational and social activities for its members. The Main Building was built in 1916, when it comprised an office, a library, a reading room, a dining room, a lounge, classrooms, matron’s quarters and bedrooms. The building was used during the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945) to house Japanese troops and to stable horses in 1941 and as the Hong Kong Public Library in 1944. It was taken over by the Royal Air Force (RAF) as their headquarters after the surrender of the Japanese in 1945 and derequisitioned from the RAF in 1946. The Institute reopened to members as a guesthouse for women in 1947, a role it continues to play today.
The building is in the Edwardian Classical Revival style with Beaux Arts, Baroque and Mannerist features. Comprising three storeys and a basement, it is built to a U-shaped plan. The main facade facing Garden Road is symmetrical with a central entrance porch and three tiers of open verandahs on the ground, first and second floors. The segmental arched pediment above the entrance porch is decorated with floral motifs and supported by Neo-classical columns with tasselled capitals.