Bastille Day in Old Shanghai

Celebration for French National Day, 14th of July or Bastille Day is an icon of French Culture that also took place in Shanghai French Concession. Far from the mainland, it was an important day of celebration for the French community. After finding an original ticket for the 1929 Bastille Day celebration, I looked into that year celebration.

Saturday 13th program from Le Journal de Shanghai on Gallica

Full program of the 1929 Fête Nationale in the French Concession was published in French daily newspaper “Le Journal de Shanghai”. First celebrations were a “Retraite aux flambeaux” on Saturday 13th July in the evening. Night parade under lanterns light has been a tradition of Bastille Day celebration that is still lasting today.

The parade started at 8:45 pm from the French Bund, through Avenue Edouard VII (today Yan’an Lu), turning around the Great World entertainment center toward Boulevard de Montigny (today Xizang Lu). It then moved to Avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai Zhong Lu), Route Voyron (now pedestrian Yendang lu) and finishing in Jardin de Koukaza, also known as the French Park (today Fuxing Park), followed by fireworks.

14th July 1929 official program in Le Journal de Shanghai on Gallica

On Sundat 14th July, celebration started with flag salute at 8:00 at the French Consulate. The main event was the troop review at the Jardin de Koukaza. With French military barracks at Camp Mangin, next garden entrance it was convient to hold the military review in a nearby location. Jardin de Koukaza had a long military tradition, as it was military training ground before being turned into a garden when urbanisation expended westward.

Location of Camp Mangin (original 1937 map from Shanghailander collection)

Seating spectators for the review where located in 3 sections. Below is an original ticket for section C. The invitation was issued by the French Concession municipal Council and it clearly stated that the review started à 8:30. There was probably also many standing spectators as this must have been a popular event to view.

Original invitation to the troop inspection (Shanghailander collection)

The troop review was conducted by Colonel Mallet and was attended by all important people of the French Concession, as well as other foreign Consuls. Reviewed troops included:
– The French Volunteers battalion, with many known people in the community such as architect Paul Veysseyre. The banner was carried by Mr Salabelle.
– Europeans agents of the French Concession Police
– Chinese agents of the French Concession Police
– Annamite agents of the French Concession Police
– Chinese volunteers
– French army battalion stationed in Shanghai
– Fire brigade and tanks
Pictures below are of the troop review and the following military parade from 1938. It was surely similar to the one that took place in 1929. The was followed by award giving ceremony.

Inspection of the French bataillon in Park de Koukaza

After the parade, the event continued at the Avenue Joffre fire station, followed by returning to the French Consulate for a speech to a large crowd of French and Chinese people. The Consul then gave a speech to the Cercle Français on route Vallon. The most fashionable party was surely at the Cercle Sportif Français, where the cream of the crop joined the Consul to celebrate.

Military parade in the Park de Koukaza’s central alley

More popular events took place from 16:00 with games and sport competitions in Jardin de Koukaza. The closure event was a concert and outside movie from 21:00 in the same location.

This whole day of celebration was fully covered and commented in the following issue of the Journal de Shanghai.

Normandy building VR exhibition

Laszlo Hudec first masterpiece in Shanghai, the Normandy building on Huaihai Xi Lu has become one of the icons of Shanghai. The original ISS building on Avenue Joffre from 1924 was remained Normandy building in the 1930s when the ISS extended its building empire in the French Concession, in collaboration with French architects Leonard & Veysseyre.

Normandy building, the spot for picture!

In the last 10 years, it has really become the icon of Old Shanghai architecture, with hundreds of people taking picture in front of it every day. It was quiet and ignored when I used to live around this area 10 years ago. In the same period, Laszlo Hudec has become the symbol of foreign architects in Old Shanghai and a popular figure in Shanghai. His profile has also risen, although much less so, in his native Hungary.

For the 100th anniversary of the 武康大楼 (the actual Chinese name of the building), a great exhibition has been organized at the nearby 上海老房子艺术中心, the Shanghai old building cultural center, on Wukang Lu 393. The main attraction is a VR 3D adventure around the Normandy building and its history. It is very immersive, including a virtual air balloon flight over the part of Shanghai in the 1930s. It really shows that the building and other 1930s skyscraper where really dominating the city at the time. It also makes clear that this part of Shanghai, that is now the heart of the city center, was the edge of the city at that time.

Visiting the Normandy building virtually

The exhibition only lasts until 31st July. Highly recommended!

Award for Shanghailander writer

I recently had the surprise of receiving an award at the 3rd Shanghai culture festival (第三届海派风尚节推行大使), for promoting Shanghai culture through Shanghailander blog.

I was invited as a guest to the 1st Shanghai culture festival (see post “Night out at the French Club“). This has developed to become a real event for Old Shanghai lovers. It is mostly attended by Chinese people an local interest in Old Shanghai has been steadily growing over the years. A great opportunity to use my Chinese!

Meeting with Horose grand daughter

The starting point of this thread was silent movie “Love & Duty” with Old Shanghai superstar Ruan Lingyu/ 阮玲玉. It continued with the discovery of the movie original plot was from a book actually written by a Horose i.e. Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa. She was an unusual character, being a Polish lady married with famous Chinese engineer and writer Hua Nangui / 华南圭. The couple met in Paris were both were studying, but the book was written while the couple lived in Beijing in the 1920s. Then fate put me in touch with their grand daughter (Catherine Hoa / 华新民) who still lives in Beijing.

Léon Hoa, Irène and the children in Beijing. Catherine Hoa in the middle

Catherine Hoa / 华新民 was born in Beijing in 1954. Her father was Léon Hoa / 华揽洪 (1912 – 2012) who was the son of Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa and Hua Nangui / 华南圭. Léon Hoa was a French-Chinese architect who was educated in France and had a successful architecture career in France in the 1930s and 40s, then in China in the 1950s. Horose’s book “Love and duty” is dedicated to him. Catherine Hoa / 华新民 ‘s mother was Irene a French lady. The couple got married in France in the 1930s. In 1951, they decided to come back to China together to help build the new People’s Republic. They lived in the family house in Beijing that was built in 1914 by Hua Nangui / 华南圭. This is also where Catherine Hot / 华新民 grew up.

The family house in Beijing.

Catherine speaks perfect French as she grew up in a French family in China. “My siblings were born in France, they always felt more French. I was born in China and I feel more Chinese.” she said during our conversation. “Life in Beijing was sometimes difficult as I have blue eyes and I stood out among other Chinese people then. It’s only when I went to France that I could find real anonymity.” The family went through a lot of trouble in the 1950s and 1960s during political trouble that were targeting intellectuals. Catherine Hoa / Hua Xinmin only went first to France in 1961 when she took a trip to France with her mother and sister. The whole family moved back to France in 1976, taking the trans Siberian train through USSR.

Talking with her, I could get a lot more personal information on her grand-parents. “My grand mother and grand father spoke French together since they met in Paris. Horose spoke French and English so she wrote the English and French version of Love & Duty and other books. Her work was translated by my grand father and other people.” The tradition continued as Catherine’s mother spoke no Chinese before coming to China. “I was always called Catherine in the family, never by my Chinese name”.

My grand-mother was friend with many interesting people including André Gide who was her neighbor in France. She also befriended Alexandra David-Néel, the first foreign lady to enter Lhassa, who stayed with her in Beijing (probably in her 1937 trip to China). Moving from France to China in the 1910s was very tough. Fortunately, my grand father had an important job in Beijing, so they never had to live together with his family. At that time, China was very traditional, this would have been a great shock for her.

“My Grand-father is quite well known in China.” She actually published a collection of Hua Nangui writings a few years ago in China. “I have been searching for my Grand Mother story, but we don’t have much information about her time in Poland or how and why she came to Paris. We only know that she had several sisters and one of them moved to Israel after she returned in 1946.” She has very strong willpower and a close very link with my father Leon. She left China in 1939, and only came back to spend her last years with him in 1966. At that time, her beloved husband was already buried in Beijing. They could never meet again after he returned to China in the late 1940s.” Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa passed away in 1970. She is also buried in Beijing.

For more information about Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa and her books, please go to original post “The Story of Horose or S. Rosen-Hoa“.

Former Shanghai Belgian Consulate

After a number of years of renovation, the campus of the Shanghai musical conservatory is now open to the public again. Includes several Old Shanghai building that have been renovated.

The most iconic part of the new project is surely “The German building”. This house in Bavarian style had been hiding in plain sight for years, as its main facade was covered by a more modern building for a long time. After renovation, it is now visible from Huai Hai Lu and attracts a lot of attention.

From the outside, it is clear that a lot of care has been put into the renovation. This massive house of German / Bavarian style wasbuilt for a German merchant between 1905 and 1911. It was designed by German architect firm Becker & Baedecker, that also built the former German club on the Bund. At that time, the road was called Rue Paul Brunat and this part was outside the French Concession area. It was formally included under the French jurisdiction after the extension of the French Concession in July 1914.

The back of the house includes a beautiful covered terrasse, also very well restored. An information plate mention that it was the seat of the Belgian consulate, but research shows it was a different building in the same area (see below).

Getting further into the park, one will encounter the former Shanghai Jewish Club, the main building of the modern Shanghai musical conservatory until a few years ago. Having been expended over the years, it is still used although it is now less visible compared to the newly opened buildings. This building is from 1932, with some art deco elements, much later than the “German building”. It’s interior has renovated many times and has little of the original. The location is close to the compound entrance on Feng Yang lu (former Route Pichon).

Former Shanghai Jewish Club

Hidden in the back of the compound is another building that was the biggest surprise as I had not spotted it before as it is hidden in the trees.

Art Nouveau Building in Shanghai

Its Art Nouveau designs looks very much like Vienna style, which is very rare in China. The only other building in that style I saw was in Wuhan. Along with the rest of the compound, the building has also been recently renovated. The inside is still not open to the public. This building is mentioned in an article from 1919, stating it had already been built by Mr Gerecke for a number of years by then so it was probably built around the same time as the German house.

Mr Emil Gerecke (1862-1933) was an employee of the Deutsche-Asiatische Bank (Bank Germano-Asiatic) in the 1890s, and then made his own company. The 1909 China Directory lists E. Gerecke as a bills broker located Route Pichon, and the Shanghai Club. The firm Gerecke & Sierich, Exchange brokers is also located at this address. He was repatriated to Germany in 1919, and came back to Shanghai in 1924.

The house was sold in 1917 and was turned into Dr J B Fearn Blue bird Sanitorium, a modern healthcare facility. It was named after 1908 Maurice Maeterlink’s play “L’oiseau bleu” (or blue bird in English), that was turned into a famous movie around that that time. The Blue bird Sanitorium lasted until 1926.

Blue Bird Sanitorium around 1920

From that point, the house was used as the Belgium Consulate in Shanghai. It is indicated on this 1935 map of the French Concession at 30 Route Pichon. The German house does not appear on the map, so it was not an official building then.

Position of Consulate General of Belgium

The footprint of the existing campus has also been greatly expended, now enclosing neighbouring plots that where previously off limit. This part, including the former Ezra mansion will be introduced in a further post.

Apart from the former Belgian Consulate, I have written posts about the former French Consulate, the former French Municipality and the former British Consulate. Follow the links to access them.

Shanghai Concordia Club

Early 20th century Shanghai counted a sizeable German population although it did not have a German concession, unlike in Tianjin. The German Consulate was proudly standing on the North Bund, next to the US and Japanese Consulate (both the former German and US Consulates long ago).

Like the British, the French, the Americans, the Japanese and others, Germans had their own club in Shanghai. It was named the Concordia Club like many German clubs and associations all over the World, the name of the Roman Goddess of harmony, unity and agreement. Concordia Club started to be created in the US and other locations a few years after the creation of the German Empire in 1871.

Letter to the Concordia Club (source stampauctionnetwork.com)

Although I did not find information about the creation or picture of the original Concordia Club in Shanghai, the Club building was rebuilt between 1904 and 1907, under the direction of German architects Becker & Baedecker. The same firm also designed the former German post office in Shanghai, the now disappeared Dehua Bank Beijing Branch in Beijing and the German house now part of the Shanghai Conservatory compound. The foundation stone for the new club building was laid by Prince Adalbert of Prussia on October 22, 1904.

Prinz Adalbert giving three hammer knocks for celebrating the start of construction of the Concordia Club in Shanghai

For the construction, the Concordia Club issued bonds of 100 Taels, for a total of 100.000 taels in July 1904.

Loan of 100 taels for the construction of the new Concordia Club (source hpwh.de)

The architecture style was German renaissance which was popular in Germany at the time.

View of the Shanghai Concordia Club (source Shanghailander collection)

It was located on 23 the Bund, between the Palace hotel and the British Consulate. The 6 storeys building stood out on the Bund, showing the might and power of the German Empire in Shanghai. It was also a few meters from the Monument dedicated to the Iltis, a German ship that sunk off the China coast in 1898.

Colorized postcard of the Concordia Club with the Palace Hotel on the left (source ebay.com)

The club was the center of the social life of the community, where German business people would gather for meeting. Although I did not find a reliable information, it seems that the Concordia Club was also open to (German) women, as opposed to the Shanghai Club, the British Club that was only open for men (but took a few foreigners). It was also a place where Germans in the city could meet and where formal events in the German community took place. The below picture shows an invitation for a masked ball on 29th February, signed by “Der Vorstand”, i.e. the committee (the year is probably 1908 or 1912). Cost of Supper was 3 dollars.

Invitation for a masked ball at the Concordia Club (source delcampe.com)

As with all Germany’s possessions abroad, the Shanghai Concordia Club was confiscated following the 1919 Versailles Treaty. It was then acquired by the Bank of China that used it as its headquarters in Shanghai. The image of the building was printed on some of the bank’s banknotes.

1926 Bank of China banknote with former Concordia Club (source moneypedia.de)

Construction on the Bund continued in the 1920s. The new Sassoon House, home of the Cathay hotel (today Peace Hotel) built next door in 1929 made it look particularly small. The former Concordia Club was demolished in the 1935 to make way for the new Bank of China tower on the Bund.

Concordia Club next to Cathay Hotel (source Shanghailander collection)

A Concordia Club was also built in Tianjin in 1907. As opposed to the Shanghai one the Tianjin Concordia Club building still stands.

Former Concordia Club Tianjin (source exploringtianjin.com)

For more information about clubs in Old Shanghai, go to post “Shanghai Club revival” and “Inside the Cercle Sportif Français“.

Letter from the French Consulate

I have always been fascinated by mail and posts. Before internet took off, I used to write many paper letters to my parents and friends, including on special super light paper for faster “air mails”. I wrote a post about a letter from old Shanghai French municipality a few years ago, this time I got an actual letter from the Shanghai French Consulate.

This envelop sender was the “Consulat Général de France à Changhai”, i.e. Shanghai French Consulate located on the French Bund, as explained in post “Shanghai former French Consulate“. This kind of document is very rare nowadays. It was sent to France, “Via Sibérie”, meaning it was carried by train to Beijing, then on the Transmanchurian railway to Moscow through Dalian and then further on to Paris. I guess that in 1938, the Japanese occupiers of China were “securing” trains on the line. Alternatively, maybe the mail was sent by ship to Dalian, before being boarded on the train as Manchuria was fully controlled by the Japanese since the Mukhden incident in 1931 and the following invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese army. There were ever only a few flights to Shanghai from abroad, and in 1938 they were surely none apart from maybe Japan. Shanghai was in the lone island period, with the French Concession and the International Settlement being surrounded by Japanese occupation.

The envelop postmark shows 22-07-38 / 19. I assume that it’s 22nd July 1938, at 19:00. Just like on the 1936 letter from the French municipality, Shanghai is written both in English and Chinese (from right to left as was the fashion of the time), although a different stamp was used. It was stamped with five 5 dollars stamps, this being a lighter letter than the French municipality letter that required two 25 stamps and was probably heavier. Currency was the Chinese Dollars. Although it’s pretty difficult to convert to today’s money, it was probably not cheap.

It though the French Consul General at the time was Marcel Baudez, reading that he was Consul General from 1936 to 1939. However, Paul French’s China rhyming blog mentioned that he was Consul General from January 1935 to February 1938 and then from November 1938 to April 1940, thus being out of the post at the time when this mail was sent. In any case I do not think that this letter was an official letter from the Consulate. There was not was seal on the back of the letter and he did not go through diplomatic post. As it was send to France by the normal post, it was not an important or confidential official document.

Adomenil Castle

The peculiar address also attracted by attention as it indicates “Adomenil, par Lunéville”. It turns out that Adomenil is a castle, located in the area of Lunéville, a small town in North-East France. The castle was the property of the “de Ravinel” family, a French nobel family starting from the middle of the 15th century. It has been turned into a luxury hotel after the family sold it in 1978.

Baron Charles de Ravinel (1839-1905), the heir of French nobel family from the 16th century was a French politician in the late 19th century. He was also an administrator of famous companies from the area, including the Faiencerie de Lunéville (Lunéville Chinaware company), the Cristallerie de Saint-Louis (Saint-Louis Crystal factory) and Vittel Spring water, that all still exist today.

Insigna of the de Ravinel family

Baron Charles son was Baron André de Ravinel (1868 1942), who had several children including a daughter called Marie-Françoise de Ravinel born on 6th January 1904 in Lunéville and deceased 20th January 1988 in the same city. She is probably Mlle M. F. de Ravinel, to whom this letter was sent. In 1936, she was 32 years old and was probably unmarried as being named “Mademoiselle”, the then title for unmarried woman in France. From what I could find, she never got married.

Parc de Ravinel (Source Virtual Shanghai)

Today’s Xiangyang park on HuaiHai Zhong Lu, used to called the parc de Ravinel on Avenue Joffre. This particular plot was earmarked to become the location of the new Municipality of the French Concession, designed by Leonard & Vesseyre. The planned building was never built, so a park was created on this plot in 1942. It was named “Square Yves de Ravinel”, after a young employee of the French Consulate who was born in 1911 and based in the Shanghai from 1938 to 1939. He died during WW2 fights in France in 1940 and was remembered in Shanghai through this park. A plate showing his name was also installed then. Yves de Ravinel was the youngest sibling of Marie-Françoise de Ravinel.

So this letter was probably a personal letter from Yves de Ravinel to his older sister, using stationary from the French Consulate. At the time of writing, the Shanghai French Concession and international settlement were pretty lonely, being surrounded by the Japanese army and both areas were overcrowded with refugees. Unfortunately, the letter did not come with this envelop but it certainly mentioned it.

For more research about mails sent from Shanghai French Concession authorities, please see post “Shanghai French Municipality letter“.

Bernadine’s Shanghai Salon

The name of Bernardine Szold Fritz keeps coming up when researching 1930s Shanghai. Susan Blumberg-Kason biography offers a lof of new information about this character, thanks to her in-depth research and access to fresh resources.

Born in 1896 from Hungarian Jewish parents from Poszony (today Bratislava, Slovakia) that had emigrated to the US in 1890, Bernardine grew up surrounded with love and art. Her three siblings started their career in acting. She became a journalist, starting in Chicago, then New York, before moving to Paris in the 1920s. She already showed her ability to connect with artists and art patrons. Her companions in Paris and on the Cote d’ Azur included American expats in France like writer Glenway Wescott, wealthy heiress Barbara Harrison as well as Jean Cocteau. During travel in Asia in 1928, she met highly successful businessman Chester Fritz in Shanghai once and he proposed her soon after. In 1929, she went to China to get married with him on her fourth marriage.

Chester Fritz

Thanks to her talent for connection, she created a network of artist and art patron that was unique in Shanghai. Originally living in her husband’s appartement on Route Kaufmann (where I live for 10 years), the young couple moved to the newly built Cloister Apartment on Route de Boissezon (today Fuxing Xi Lu) in 1930. This is where Bernardine organized her salon, where artist and art patrons, both Chinese and foreigners mixed and mingled. Salons were attended by a long list of famous people of the time, based in Shanghai or visiting from abroad. At times, up to 150 people would gather in Bernardine apartment to discuss art and politics.

Cloister apartments

Foreign regulars included Shanghai “King” Victor Sassoon, writer and reporter Emily “Mickey” Hahn. Chinese close friends of Bernardine included Chinese Ambassador to the US and writer Hu Shih / , writer and linguist Lin Yutang / 林語堂 and his wife, poet and Emily Hahn’s lover Shao Xunmei, Chinese opera super star Mei Lanfang / 梅兰芳 and cartoonist Ye Qianyu / 叶浅予. Famous politicians also attended her salon, including the Soong sisters, Ling Jingmai / 李經邁, son of Qing Dynasty stateman Li Hongzhan / 李鴻章 and former Chinese Ambassador to Austro-Hungary as well as Zhang Xueliang / 張學良 also called the Young Marshall. Thanks to her network many foreign visitors coming to Shanghai also attended her salon, including French-American actress Claudette Colbert, British writer Harold Acton (based in Beijing), cartoonist Miguel Covarrubias, Charlie Chaplin and American Chinese movie star Anna May Wong.

Sketch by Miguel Covarrrubias during his time in China

Bernardine first major achievement was the International Art Theatre Group, where she managed to put together several plays with Chinese crew performing plays or musicals in English. First came The soul of the Ch’in in 1933 was probably the first ballet performed in China by an entire cast of Chinese dancers. Shanghai based Russian composer Aaron Avshalomoff directed it with music was played by the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra directed by Italian Mario Paci. The show took place at the Grand Theater on Nanking Road, that was just completed then.

Bernardine was really becoming famous and was even mentioned in the Shanghai special of US Fortune magazine published in January 1935. That year, the IAT moved to 50 East Nanking Road, just behind the Bund. The next show was Xiong Shiyi / 熊式一 Lady Precious Stream a musical that was already a success in London . The whole cast was made of Chinese friends of Bernardine, including Tong Ying, Henry H. Lin who later became President of Shanghai University and Daisy Kwok whose family owned Wing On department store. The show took place on 25th and 26th June 1935, at the Carlton theater, near the Grand theater on Nanking road. A third performance was held on June 28th at the Lyceum theater in the French Concession, where French Amateur drama was regularly playing. The public was a mix of Chinese and foreigners, mingling and mixing together and the play was a great success. The peak of Bernardine’s activites in Shanghai was surely the IAT Ball on 18th June 1937 as the Paramount ballroom. More events were planned but the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in August 1937 put an end to cultural programs in Shanghai for a long time. Bernardine left Shanghai soon after to New York and never came back.

1920s and 1930s were the high time of Old Shanghai. Barriers between foreigners and Chinese were falling down fast and the very specific Shanghai culture of mix between the East and the West, also called Hai Pai / 海派 was in full formation. People like Bernardine were instrumental in creating this mix and legend of Old Shanghai. Such an artistic mixed community also existed on a smaller scale in Beijing, around writer Horose / Stephanie Rosen-Hoa.

Having lived in Shanghai for more than 20 years, 1920s and 1930s Shanghai feels very similar to the my time in Shanghai. In a similar way, this period was met with an abrupt end with the Covid pandemic that stopped all travel and drastically reduced the number of foreigners in Shanghai. Bernardine was long gone from Shanghai, but somehow the idea of mixing art and ideas from the East and the West came back. In a similar way to Bernardine’s period, the bridge between both sides were expats with a high interest in China together with returning Chinese overseas students. The closest to Bernardine’s International Arts Theater was probably M on the Bund and its Glamour Bar, the location of the Shanghai Literary Festival and many cultural events. It’s legendary owner, Australian restaurateur Michelle Garnault, was definitely the new Bernardine of Shanghai.

Short trip back to Saigon

I spent one year in Saigon (today Ho Chi Minh City) from 1998 to 1999 and did not come back since 2007 until this early 2024 trip. The city has changed a lot since, but sometimes I got flashbacks.

Saigon former town hall

The Saigon I knew in 1998 was very different from today’s tourist mecca. Just in the beginning of its opening, the city was still gray and had seen little development since the mid 70’s. Like when I came to Shanghai, French colonial presence was rarely spoken off. Memories of the US -Vietnam war were still fresh, with the war having finished less than 25 years before. 25 years later, another generation has passed and this seems far away as Vietnam is becoming an Asian economical power house.

French colonial building

The city features buildings of various periods, from late 19th century neo classic (like the former town hall), French colonial architecture, to Art nouveau (like the opera house) to art deco / streamline buildings. Paul Veysseyre of Shanghai firm Leonard, Veysseyre & Kruz moved to Saigon in 1937 and designed buildings including the iconic Bao Dai palace in Dalat and the renovation of the Majestic hotel in Saigon. Modernist and brutalist building have come along in the 1960s and 70s, recently joined by skyscrapers.

Art Nouveau façade of Saigon Opera House

Very little literature was available about Saigon architecture and nothing was available on the internet when I lived there. I could find a bootleg copy of Graham Greene’s “The quiet american” and some photocopied French literature from colonial times in a small book store “Rage blanche” by Jean Hougron, 1951. Without much information, old villas in derelict state started to attract my attention and this later turned into my interest in early 20th architectural styles in Shanghai and this blog. This trip was some sort of a catch-up.

Art deco building on Dong Khoi street

Unfortunately, quite number of large buildings have been destroyed in the center, sometimes to be replaced my more modern ones. Sadly there are still a number empty spots.

Streamline design building on Dong Khoi street.

I also have never seen a map of Old Saigon before this trip. This is when I realized that the labyrinth of housed where I used to live on Le Than Ton (former Rue d’Espagne) was built over the former French navy base. As it probably continued to be a navy base later on, no wonder my landlord in 1998 was a former military personnel, although I never connected the dot at that time.

I started my first own website while in Vietnam, with travel picture and places of interest, many years before social networks. Searching in my own archives, I found an old photo of mine from that time, on the back of my Bonus motorbike… in 1999. Motorbike adventure in Vietnam lead to driving a sidecar in Shanghai about 10 years later. This story is told in post “Visit Shanghai in a vintage sidecar“.

43 Brooklyn Court 1938 rental contract

Brooklyn Court, 153 Route des Soeurs (today Ruijin Er Lu) has attracted my attention for a number of years. Although not outstanding on the outside, the multistorey appartement building designed by an Austro-Hungarian team of architects has very nice feature inside (see post “Return to Brooklyn Court” for more details). It was built and owned by ARCO (Asia Realty Company).

My interest was first raised in this underrated building with the discovery many years ago of an original rental contract for an appartement in Brooklyn Court from 1938. Above picture shows the cover of the folded document, a Lease Contract between Asia Realty Company Federal Inc USA and Mr Char Kee Chow from Aug 16th 1938 for 67 dollars per month. The document inside the folder is actual the renewal of the contrat from October 5th 1939. A 17% was added to the rent for water (!).

First page of the rental contract

Being in real estate myself, this attracted my attention as the rental contract is not much different than rental contract nowadays. The lessee was responsible for fees and taxes, using only the apartment as residence (though a law firm was registered in the same building and probably using their apartment as an office) and sub-letting was not allowed. The tenant was also not allowed to make alteration or to place any kind of sign on the exterior windows. Just as today, he was responsible for the interior and decoration. In case of need, they could always use a construction company like “Gordon & Co“.

What was is surprising is article 19, where it is specifically mentioned that an auction cannot take place in the apartment without the written consent of the owner and if all bills had been paid. It seems that this kind of auction of all properties in an apartment was quite common. Probably when people left Shanghai, they would sell off there properties to raise cash. Maybe this kind of sales also happened if they left and did not come back, for whatever reason. This is reinforced by article 22, stating that all furnitures can be used to guarantee rental debts, and that no furniture can be removed without the authorization of the apartment owner, with a watchman possibly being appointed if rent is overdue by more than 15 days, presumably so that personal effects in the apartment cannot be removed without paying the overdue bill. I found reference to such house auction while researching auction house Noel, Murray & Co in post “Letter from Hugh Martin“.

Article 32 even mentions that the representative of an organisation renting the premises is personnaly responsible for paying for it in case the organisation does not settle the bill. The practice of disappearing without paying rent overdue must have been common in Old Shanghai, for all these closes to be inserted. It was also possible to have a guarantor for the rent, which was governed by article 34 and 35.

Signature page of the rental contract

The most surprising for a rental contract in Shanghai, was that “questions and dispute arising out of this lease shall be determined on the basis on the Laws of the United States of America”. The principal or extraterritoriality that allowed foreigners from major powers in China to be treated under the law of their country was also applied to companies. So an American Court, at the general consulate, would decide on a dispute between lessor and a foreign tenant, or the mixed courts of the French Concession if the tenant was Chinese. It is also added that “the customs usually observed in Shanghai shall be taken into consideration”.

Finally, two specific points were added with a typewriter, one giving a one month notice for both parties and the other stating that French Concession taxes up to 13% were included in the rental price. The rental contract was signed by a manager at ARCO (signature not readable), witnessed by Adina Villers.

Becoming curious about the 43 Brooklyn court, I went in to find the actual apartment covered by the rental contract. A friend owning a flat in the same building allowed a visit to his 2 bedroom with a large dining room / kitchen. Flats in the building seem to be all the same, about 60 sqm 2 bed rooms.

Apartment 43 is facing the back of the building (see post “Return to Brooklyn Court” for outside picture). Unfortunately, the original door has been replaced, but a number of flats still have the original door with peephole and top ironwork allowing for air circulation, while keeping the place secure.

Art Deco ironwork above the doors

I could not get into apartment 43 but I now have a good impression on how its door and interior looked like in 1939.

For more information about Brooklyn Court, go to posts “Brooklyn Court, Route des Soeurs” and “Return to Brooklyn Court“. For more information about Old Shanghai real estate, go to page “Old Shanghai real estate“.