Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Shanghai

Spanish revival in Shanghai

I have previously written about Shanghai Art Deco architecture, this post is focused on a different style also popular in Old Shanghai, the Spanish Colonial Revival style. A bit like Art Deco was inspired by the 1925 Paris exhibition, Spanish Revival was inspired by the Panama-California exhibition in San Diego in 1915It was very popular in California from 1915 until 1931, and spread in the Pilippines, Australia… and Shanghai.

Inspired by colonial Spanish architecture in Mexico and Latin America, Spanish Revival Architecture was using it as a base, adapting it with more modern materials and techniques. Many of these houses were built in the Los Angeles and Southern California, becoming the homes of Hollywood movie stars like the 1928 El Cabrillo built by Cecil B DeMille ( made famous by the movie “The ten commandments”) and the 1929 El Greco Apartments once home to star actor Michael Curtis. At this period, going to the movie was a major form of entertainment in Shanghai with movies being shown in many theaters or the many dedicated movie theater freshly built. The life of Chinese and American movie stars was reported in numerous dedicated magazines just like today. It is only natural that Shanghainese of the time wanted to have houses built in a similar style to the ones of the stars of the time. Many turned to Spanish Revival style for the design (the author actually lives in one of those).

Just like Art Deco took a few years to come from USA and Europe to Shanghai, Spanish Revival was really popular in Shanghai when it was already less fashionable in California. Major buildings in the USA were built in the late 1920’s, but the one in Shanghai were often built in the mid to late 1930’s. Most of them are actually located in the south west of the former French concession on streets like Yong Jia lu near Heng Shan Lu, as well Fuxing lu and the surrounding streets West from Huai Hai lu, as houses in this part of town were mostly built in the mid to late 30’s. Some can also be found around Yu Yuan Lu, in the former International Settlement. Like in California, they were mostly villas, one of the best example being the former residence of the head of customs, at the corner of Fuxing Lu and Fen Yang Lu. One of the few examples of an apartments building is in this style Haig Court on Avenue Haig (to day Hua Shan hotel on Hua Shan Lu).

Round windows and white columns

The main characteristics are the round tiles used for the roof and the roof side decoration. Another usual feature is, as well as large windows often with a round top, separated by white fake columns. Doors often are massive wooden doors, with sculpted surrounding. Spanish revival buildings have a very distinctive style and bring a bit of latin experience to Shanghai. From what I gathered, there was no famous foreign architect firm specializing in Spanish revival. The style was mostly developed by local architect with the help of architecture magazines such as “The Chinese architect” and “The builder”. It also seems that Abelardo Lafuente designed of few Spanish revival buildings, although it is not totally confirmed and this is not the style he is famous for.

2 thoughts on “Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Shanghai”

  1. My parents, my sisters and I lived in one of the Spanish Revival town houses on the former Route Delastre (Taiyuan Lu). In that complex is the large house where General George C.Marshall lived after World War II when he tried during the Chinese civil war to negotiate peace between Mao and Chiang. This house is presently an American restaurant, the Roosevelt Prime Steakhouse.

    Thank you for your very interesting articles on Old Shanghai. I was born and raised in the French Concession.

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