Shanghai history can be a great source of joy, but it can also be depressing. I was quite optimistic earlier this year with my post “Somebody finally got it”. Despite pre-expo destruction of the Shanghai General Hospital I somehow felt that the rise of Old Shanghai as a marketing tool would also help its preservation. I appear to have been just wrong.
First of all, my view that compound developers were now forced to keep some of the old buildings on their ground has proven to be hope only. The house mentioned in the post on Maoming Lu has been kept for a while only standing in the empty field… only to be destroyed a few days ago. This particular plot will be used to build a metro station… at least generating something good for the city besides cash for the developer.
The saddest piece of news is about the house one 130 Route Kaufman (130 Anting lu nowadays). It has now been completely ruined. People occupying it actually moved out a few months after I wrote the “portrait of an old neighbor” and the house remained empty and closed up for a short period of time. I feared the worst and the worst came. Since I live opposite from it I can witness the disaster every day. The house has been reduced to its bare structure and all external decorations have now been hammered down or covered with concrete (see first picture). The main structure will apparently be kept but that’s about it. All windows and doors have been removed to be replaced by new ones which style has nothing to do with the original. I could not get in, but if none of the outside decoration has survived, I am pretty sure that none of the inside will have survived either.
The architects (not sure they deserve such a name though) have basically done to this 1930’s protected (?) Leonard wonder that same that they do to office blocks. They tear done to the bare frame and rebuilt it in the new fashion. I have seen it work wonders on old office buildings but on this old jewel it is nearly criminal. I’m sure the building will be transformed in some brand new and fashionable restaurant or night club, after having the interior covered with plastic, mirrors or any of the cheap artifacts. I don’t know how much the new developer paid for the house, but I guess current market value would place this building at about 100m RMB, withouth considering the massive work done in it. Too bad that a small portion of this money was not used for actual preservation. This is just like the destruction of the interior of the old Paramount night club (see post “Paramount Suicide” for more information). I had heard before that the plates on some of the buildings (see second picture) are an indication of history only. They are surely not a guarantee that those buildings will be protected. There are not many that many private work from Vesseyre & Leyonard remaining in Shanghai and we have just lost one of the least altered.
Fortunately, this house is just one of the sisters. Having explored the surroundings I have found 9 of them.3 are located on Route Kaufmann (128, 130 and 132). The others are located on the parallel route Cohen (today GaoAn Lu). Two of them are on the cross of Route Cohen and Route Frelupt (today corner of Gaolan Lu and Jiang Guo lu).The last three remaining are down Route Cohen. The raw on Route Cohen is not identical but symmetric to the one on Route Kaufmann. Hopefully, they will not all have the same fate of the 130, but I’m not too optimistic about that either.