With its tower dominating the river, the Sassoon House has been the focal point of the Bund since its opening in 1929. Owned by the famous Shanghai real estate mogul Sir Victor Sassoon, it was of very advanced design for its time. The Art Deco tower was to become the place to stay in Shanghai hosting the Cathay Hotel (today’s Peace Hotel) and the most famous building of the city, being only challenged after decades of domination by the skyscrapers in opposite Lu Jia Zui. The building originally hosted a shopping arcade, offices of the Sassoon company, the Cathay hotel and the private apartments of Sir Victor Sasoon.
The building had seen many renovation of dubious quality over the years and the current owner JingJiang hotel has been known for ruinovating great buildings of old Shanghai. I went to the last jazz bar concert in 2007 wondering what would come out of the grande dame of the Bund. Numerous rumors went around during the renovation as very few people actually could see how the work developed. The shopping gallery and the hotel reopened partly in 2010, with the last suites being about to be finished in March 2011.
Being quite fearful of the result, I kind of postponed my return to the Cathay Hotel until I took a guided tour and was strike by the result. The most surprising part is surely the rotunda. I never quite realized how much of the building had been hidden before. The document below is a floor plan of the Sassoon House ground floor and the hotel’s restoration has brought it back. The West Arcade is full of shops again although the new shops may not all be of the class that used to be there Old Shanghai time. Interestingly, this is where the rejuvenated Shanghai Cosmetics Brand Shanghai Vive (mentioned in post “Brands of Old Shanghai”) has established its flagship store… just in the same spot as the Peach & Co shop seen on the map.
The Central Arcade has also been reopened and the main attraction is surely the magnificent Art Deco glass dome that has been restored to its former glory. The rose marble walls of the lobby have also been exposed again, but the luxury shops in that part of the arcade have not reopened but covered by mediocre silver sculptures. Part of the Central Arcade is now the hotel reception. The Cathay Hotel Lounge also found back its place, being transformed again back from the old hotel lobby into a stylish cafe. No orchestra is playing for afternoon “The Dancant” anymore , and the furniture used is surely not antiques but the place still has an atmosphere. The jazz bar has come back to its place before the renovation, the Cathay Bar.
The long corridor leading to the waterfront has also been restored. Although the decors described by Peter Hibbard in his book “The Bund” cannot be replaced, the former entrance of the Cathay hotel has found back a lot of the original majesty. Originally, this was the main entrance of the hotel, with guest disembarking from ships and crossing the street to find comfort and civilization again, away from the noise and crowds of the city. This entrance has virtually not been used for decades as it is particularly bad from a feng shui point of view. Having a river in front of your business’ main door can only lead your money to flow away… something that neither the original architect nor Sir Victor Sassoon took into consideration when creating the building.
Peter Hibbard wrote a book dedicated to the former Cathay Hotel (today’s peace hotel), Peace at the Cathay. Since renovation, the Cathay hotel has been the location for numerous parties including the closing diner of the 2015 World Congress on Art Deco in Shanghai, as well as the first gala diner of the French history in China society.
10 thoughts on “Return to the Sassoon House”
I just wanted to mention that, as many may know, this hotel is where Noel Coward wrote his play Private Lives, reportedly while in the midst of an attack of nnfulenza.
There is substabtially more about this hotel in the 1930s in my book, Gudao, Lone Islet, The War Years in Shanghai.