Jianguo lu (ex Route Frelupt) is one of these small streets in Shanghai old French concession. Walking around it, one can admire long lines of old villas, sometimes interrupted by a small cubic building from the 1970’s. Although most of those villas have not been touched for years, slowly the old ladies get a face lift and recover their former glory. I noticed one of those building, grey and dirty, with unwelcoming walls topped with barb wires. My own apartment is not so far from it, so I cycle around it quite often. Looking between the gate doors, I could see that this military building was the Dauphine, one of the landmark of Leonard & Vesseyre, the architecture company that built most of the Art Deco buildings in the French Concession. The walls were grey and looked uncared for. It is clear that the building was used by the Chinese army and that they did not care about it. The inside of the building was probably not renovated, just covered by layer of dirt but near to its original state. With its military status, the Dauphine Building and its garden were out of touch for old Shanghai’s amateurs like me.
Cycling along one of those lazy Saturdays of summer, I realized that the door to the Dauphine was open. As a matter of fact, they were doing work on the pavement in front of the building. I rushed home to take my camera backpack. Playing the innocent, I talked my way in pretending to just have a look. The building looks great again as the outside renovation has kept the old look. As opposed to other renovations of Art Deco buildings, the original shape has been kept untouched. Balconies have been left open and the original iron windows have been kept in place and not replaced by horrible plastic sliding ones. The tiling on the facade has also been kept in it’s original state. The Dauphine looks just as it did 70 years ago. The outside is a great work of preservation.
I walked into the garden and then got through the entrance door. Inside view was far from thrilling, as the building interior has been gutted and replaced by modern imitation. Fake marble is everywhere and I am sure gold will be splashed all around. The work is far from finished and I only could stay there a few minutes before being asked to go… but it’s clear that interior was not part of the preservation program. The return of the Dauphine is both a good and a bad surprise. It’s a great outside renovation (apart from the garden that is getting its kitch touch) recreating the Grand Shanghai atmosphere from a building left in abandon. At the same time, the original interior is gone away, so are all the furniture and fixtures, the original art deco being replaced by splashes of fake marble. I guess I should look at the bright picture and enjoy the nicely renovated outside… and the fact that this great building was at least saved from destruction. Too bad for the interior though.