Chinatown, the movie

Although it is considered one of the best neo-noir movies, I had somehow missed this one until recently. Based in LA in 1937, the 1974 Roman Polanski movie staring Jack Nicholson is an acclaimed classic of the genre.

Late 30s period costums

The director spent a lot of time and energy recreating LA in the 30s, with spectacular result. This make the movie very relevant for this blog as fashion, cars and building were quite similar to the ones in the former French Concession and International Settlement at the same time. The only surprising part is the lack of Art Deco buildings in the movie, but most buildings are Mexican or Spanish Revival style that was also popular in Shanghai in the same period.

Just like the movie ” Casablanca” , Chinatown gives a pretty clear feel for the period dress and decor that was very similar in Old Shanghai. I can imagine that it was used as a base for Old Shanghai movies like 2010 “Shanghai” or “Tian Tang Kou“.

Films noirs and period movies like Chinatown must have also been an inspiration for neo noir writers including James Ellroy. See post “Perfidia” about his book. I am long searched for a really good noir book taking place in Old Shanghai. Paul French’s “City of devils” is pretty close to that though it’s not a novel.

Sung Sung dairy box

One of the latest post on Shanghailander, was focusing on milk distribution in Old Shanghai (See post “Shanghai Milkman” for more details). Among other things, I was showing an antic milk box from Culty Dairy. Soon after publication, a Shanghai antic dealer came to me with pictures of another milk box, from a different dairy company.

The box is much bigger than the Culty Dairy one, so maybe it was for a large family.

Sung Sung Dairy (生生牧场) was located at 175 Great Western Road (大西路175号), now the parking of Longemont hotel on West Yan’an Rd, close to Panyu Rd and to the Columbia country club (now site of modern Columbia Circle). In the 1947 Shanghai telephone directory, it was listed as Sun-Shine dairy.

French Master of Shanghai Art Deco

Le Petit Journal Shanghai edition has republished an article about Art Deco in Shanghai, focusing mostly on the work of Léonard, Vesseyre and Kruze firm. I wrote the article together with my friend David Maurizot in 2018.

The article is in French only and can be found following the link below:

https://lepetitjournal.com/shanghai/a-voir-a-faire/promenade-historique-les-maitres-francais-de-lart-deco-shanghai-221435

It’s a great way to enjoy autumn in Shanghai.

Shanghai Milkman

Daily milk delivery has been a feature of English life since the end of the 19th Century. The milkman service was a full part of British culture, with 94% of the milk consumed delivered by the door in 1974. This is probably best illustrated by the 1966 British hit “No Milk Today”. Similar service was also available in Holland and in the USA. Being of such importance in the UK, it is of no surprise that a milkman service was available in Old Shanghai. What is more amazing, is that the service has survived in Shanghai and is still available nowadays.

Milk and milk products were an essential trade for European settlements in Asia, including Old Shanghai (see post “milk and butter” for more details). As the population of Old Shanghai grew, European farming was developed to supply local customers, including dairy products. They were quite a number of dairy farms in Shanghai, including the Liberty Diary on Connaught Road, in the International Settlement (today Kanding Lu), the Standard Milk Company on Great Western Road (today Yanan Xi Lu), or Model Diary Farm on Tifeng Road (today Wulumuqi Bei Lu).

1938 ad for The Liberty Diary
Standard Milk Co ad – Picture MOFBA

The most famous then and today being probably the Culty dairy, located at the corner of Avenue Joffre and Route Culty, today’s location of Shanghai librairy on Huai Hai Zhong Lu. It was a few step away from Hungarian architect Béla Matrai’s home and most well know building.

Shanghai libray, former location of the Culty Dairy

Just like in the UK , milk was delivered daily in glass bottles. Every customer received a small metal box that was hanged outside the house, like the one pictures below. Early morning, the milkman would come, collect empty bottles from the previous day and put filled bottle instead. Bottles were normally half pints, i.e. 236 ml. Milk was delivered and consumed within a short time, it did not really need refrigeration.

Although milk is now mostly sold in cartons, using refrigators, the milkman service is still available in Shanghai, with milk delivered early morning daily. The little box is made of plastic, not of metal anymore but form and function are similar. Glass bottles are 195 ml, that is pretty close to the half pint.

Since very little packaging is used, this is also an environment friendly way of getting your milk. Bright food group was born form the merger of several food companies in Shanghai, including the Yimin N1 food company, the original ice cream company in Shanghai. They probably also included some of the former dairy farms and milk company, including Sun-Shine dairy, so service continued all those years. Bright also owns the Aquarius water and soda brand, that was available in Old Shanghai.

Now that I am regular customer, I enjoy my daily milk just like in Old Shanghai. This is a revival experience, similar to enjoying unchanged palmier from Park Hotel, or having lunch in Old Shanghai Deda Cafe.

Collecting memories

Having lived in Shanghai for more than 16 years, I have seen tremendous changes in the city and the mentality of its inhabitants, in particular regarding the city’s past. The attitude has changed tremendously, with a new trend for collecting the past and old artefacts, as shown in a recent Sithtone article on the topic.

During my first trip in 1998, Shanghai was for from being the trade center it is today. The city was still pretty much emerging from it’s 40 years sleep, at least in terms of architecture. There was many cranes and construction, and I did not pay any attention to the past.

My first book about Shanghai history

It’s a few months after I came back in 2004, that I started to get interested in Old Shanghai. It must have been on a March or April walk on the former Rue Lafayette (today Fuxing Lu), that things started to piece together. There was very few books on the topic, and finding them in Shanghai was not always easy. I remember that the first real book I read about Shanghai history was 2000 Stella Dong’s “Shanghai, the rise and fall of a decadent city”. I started to collect items from the old Shanghai period from 2005 or 2006, going to antic and later book markets. This lead to the creation of this blog in July 2006 (original called Shanghai Old and New, see opening post) and was weird enough to attract the attention of a reporter from Shanghai Daily, and a number of others later.

Having told the story of Shanghai many times, I can see that a younger generation of Shanghainese is getting interested in their own city and its history. Some of my friends believe that Shanghai antics could become the new trend for people here. I am not sure about it, but I still enjoy researching this incredible period of Old Shanghai.

Béla Mátrai, Hungarian architect in Shanghai

Having lived for years in Budapest before coming to Shanghai, I still feel connected to Hungary after all those years (see post Budapest Old and New). As explained in post ” Looking for Hudec“, discovering about the Hungarian architect in 2008 was a big surprise and I could see the parallel with my own travel from Budapest to Shanghai, actually visiting Hudec alma mater during one of my trips there. At the same time, it was also an eye opener into the incredible vitality of Hungary’s architecture before and after WW1 (see post Budapest Art Deco for more details).

Thanks to the research of the Livia Szentmartoni Consul for Culture at Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai, it turns out that Hudec was not the only Hungarian architect in town. Her 2019 book as put Karoly Gonda’s work into light, and while both Hudec and Gonda came from Hungary, there was little connection beetween both. 2020 brought news of another Hungarian architect in Shanghai, Béla Mátrai.

Picture National Archives of Hungary / János Mátyás Balogh

Just like Hudec, Mátrai was a Hungarian trained architect, taken prisonner during WW1, sent to Siberia and finally arriving in Shanghai in the 1920s. It is unknown whether both men knew each other before Shanghai, but Mátrai worked a number of years for Lászlo Hudec firm. He is part of the team creating Park Hotel, a project that lasted from 1929 until completion of the building in 1934. Mátrai was listed as “field assistant to Laszlo Hudec” (source Poncellini 2007). Although unverified, it is very likely that he was also involved in other major Hudec projects before Park Hotel, including The Grand Theater and the Women College of Université Aurore.

In a similar way to Hudec a few years before, he left Hudec firm sometime in the early 1930s to create his own firm. One of his first design was the Modernist apartment building on 273 Route Culty (today Hunan Lu), completed in 1934. He had is office on 278 Route Culty, on the other side of the street.

273 Hunan Lu – Picture Livia Szentmartoni

Interestingly, I had recently visited an apartment in this building, while noticing the floor tile pattern (see post “More on tile pattern” for more details). Here is below a picture of the South garden side, that cannot be seen from the street.

The design of the apartment was very modern with 2 large bedrooms, a large combined dining and sitting room. Kitchen was very much in original condition, including the original wall mounted foldable ironing board. The apartments in this building also have an underground cellar, which is very rare in Shanghai.

The large South oriented windows gave a lot of light and a very modern feeling. I am not sure how it feels with the cold and damp Shanghai winter, though. It was definitely a modern apartment for a wealthy modern family in the 1930s.

According to official Hungarian sources, Mátrai married a Russian lady in 1924. They had 2 children, Margit & Jeno. They divorced in 1935 and Mátrai married Lucy (Ludmila) Dobrjansky. At the end of his time in Shanghai, he sent his children away in 1947 and left Shanghai on 13th March 1948. He settled with Lucy in Glen Ellen (Sonoma, California). Lászlo Hudec settled and died in Berkeley, California… about 80 km away. Somehow, Mátrai followed Hudec path for most of his life.

Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co

Smoking tobacco in China existed long before the establishment of foreign Concessions, but cigarettes were definitely brought by foreigners. Although they were probably invented in South America, Cigarettes get their name from French as the were first largely smoked and produced first in France in the 1830s. The tobacco product became more and more popular worldwide after the development of cigarette manufacturing machines in the 1880s. By the 1920s, cigarette was known in most part of the World and was strongly linked with the export of Holywood movies.

Shanghai was no exception and served as a base for selling cigarettes all over China. The largest companies were British American tobacco and Nanyang brothers which both had their China headquarters in Shanghai. Cigarette manufacturing and trading was a massive and very lucrative business. Many local and foreign companies tried to get a piece of the market, including Russian-China cigarettes company mentioned in a previous article.

I bought the box pictured above a long time ago in an antic market. The long shape of the box was unusual (I later learned that it was to contain 100 cigarettes) and company name “Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co” attracted by attention. Since I never heard about this company, I assumed it was a local company made by a Belgian in Shanghai with Chinese partners. It definitely looked like a foreign brand packaging.

At first, I only found little information about the Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co. Only a couple of boxes like this showed up on the internet, but I later got some better results: Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co (華比煙草公司), incorporated 1919 at 147 Seward Road, later relocated to 1176 Woosung Road. It was actually created by two Belgian people, but I don’t have their names. Both location were in Hongkou, the original industrial district of Shanghai that expanded later into today’s Yangpu district. The building on Wusong lu (pictured below) has disappeared, probably destroyed when the road was enlarged, if not before.

Like other cigarette brands, it published advertising posters. This one is probably from the late 1930s or 40s with it’s geometrical font and simple motives.

Picture MOFBA

I later bought the below smaller box from the same brand, and found the matching advertising.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Captain-Cigarettes-small-2.jpg
Picture MOFBA

Although I mostly mentioned Captain Cigarettes brand (船主 / 克浦), but they also had other brands including Young Lady (名妹) pictured below, Jockey (新骑师) and 大仙烏牌.

Picture MOFBA

Hazelwood Ice Cream

Brands of products in Old Shanghai have long been of interest to me (See post “Brands of Old Shanghai” for more details. After recently been interested in Coca-Cola and Aquarius drinks brands and advertising, I was sent the above ad by a friend. This probably a newspaper cut or a flyer. Although it displays numerous brands I got particularly interested in Hazelwood ice creams.

Hazelwood Ice Cream was made and sold in Shanghai by American merchant Henningsen Producing Company, Ltd. which was founded in 1889 by Danish businessman Fred Henningsen and his four sons. On April 6, 1919, a report stated that the American Haining Company sold imported milk in Shanghai. In 1926, Haining Yanghang’s ice cream products were launched in large numbers, with the English brand name “Hazelwood” and the Chinese name “Lotus” brand.

Hazelwood factory in Shanghai

Above sketch by German artist David L Bloch, shows the Hazelwood factory in Shanghai, with the brand written on the delivery trucks. Although it displays profiles Shanghai landmark such as The Great World, Grosvenor House, the Cathay Hotel and Bank of China on the Bund, it’s probably not a reliable indication of the factory location, that is unknown.

Hazelwood was distributing cooling equipment to ice cream resellers, just like today. The above machines were ready for distribution. (picture source for above and below pictures: Tong Bingxue Twitter account).

The introduction of a full set of cold beverage production equipment from the USA allowed to mass produce multi-price products, adopting new-style refrigeration equipment and popular marketing methods. The brand name was also changed to “Beauty” brand. The products quickly occupied the market and achieved an absolute monopoly in the ice cream industry in Shanghai. It was sold in Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and other places. In 1938, the North American Refrigeration Company also produced “Miracle” ice cream.

Hazelwood ice cream ad from 1938

Henningsen Production company was later changed to Shanghai Yimin Food No. 1 Factory, 上海益民食品一厂 that is still active today.

Tasting Aquarius Orange Squash

In recent post “Aquarius then and now“, I wrote about water company Aquarius and it’s famous Orange Squash. I did not realize that the drink continued to be available in Shanghai for some many years.

In fact, the soda was popular in the 80s but seems to have disappeared since. The above ad is surely from later than the 30s and 40s, though it is difficult to know when. Fortunately, somebody decided to use the brand again. Although it’s still not widely available, I ran into a vending machine selling it… and could finally get a taste of it.

Just like croissants from Park Hotel (see post “Tasting Old Shanghai“) or going to Deda restaurant (see post “Deda Cafe“), this is a way to experience the taste of Old Shanghai, but also remained in Shanghai culture for decades. The nostalgia marketing campaign for Aquarius Orange Squash is targeting Shanghai people that used to drink in their youth during the 80s, decades later after they first came on the market. In that, they have become part of the new Shanghai culture, as much as the Old Shanghai one.

Silas Hardoon’s garden

Silas Hardoon’s story of moving from a poor employee of the Sassoon house to the richest man in Shanghai, maybe Asia, is one of those Old Shanghai legends. He was the man that owned most of the ground on both side of Nanjing Road, making a fortune with the Westward extension of the city.

Silas Hardoon

The real mystery as long been how his famous garden and houses, Aili Garden, looked like. Aili Garden was built on the plot where the Shanghai exhibition center (formerly Sino-Soviet friendship building) is now located. As seen in picture below, this block is absolutely massive, occupying a large section of Central Shanghai.

Hardoon’s garden former location

Although Silas Hardoon was already very rich when he built the place, the Bubbling Well Road area (today Nanjing Xi Lu) was still a far away suburb. This was the area for big mansion with large parks, just like the Hong Qiao area in the 1930s and today’s Qingpu district. Picture below gives a clear idea of the street view of the time.

Bubbling Well Road (today Nanjing Xi Lu) 1910.

The garden was mostly destroyed after Japanese invasion of the International Settlement in December 1941, freeing prime location space for the construction of the Shanghai exhibition Center in 1956. There was no picture available of the garden and its appearance was only described in a few books. Hardoon’s garden was lost in history.

This is until my good friends from Historic Shanghai found a source and published unseen original pictures from Hardoon’s family. These amazing pictures can be found at this link: http://www.historic-shanghai.com/inside-hardoons-garden/