Inside the Cercle Sportif Francais

The Cercle Sportif Francais on Route Cardinal Mercier (today the Okura Garden hotel) was the center of life for the cream of the French Concession. Built by the French architect firm Vesseyre & Leonard it opened in 1926 was certainly the largest design of the firm in Shanghai. In a effort to compete with Britain it was partly paid by French state money in order to project French colonial power in the city. The Cercle Sportif moved in the new building from what later became the College Municipal Francais.

Construction took the best materials both for the inside and the outside. Outside architecture is of neoclassique style, somewhat similar to the one used on the Bund, however the inside was heavily influenced by Art Deco, the upcoming artistic movement of the time. Although the building has been modified to accommodate the hotel, a large part of the hotel was very well renovated. This post is focused on displaying old pictures of the interior of the Cercle Sportif Francais.

Entrance of Cercle Sportif Francais, Shanghai
Entrance of the Cercle

As opposed to the current hotel entrance at the front of the building, the CFS entrance was on the side of the building, on what is now Maoming Lu (the current hotel entrance was one of the restaurants). The original entrance has been delicately renovated by the Japanese owner and comparison of the old and the new is striking for their similarities.

Today entrance of the Okura Garden hotel
The entrance today

Although the statue is a recent addition, the rest of the room has been renovated with care so that it is very difficult to actually see what was to original and what is new. One of the patterns that can be found all over the interior of the building in a typical Art Deco fashion is the little fan shape, present here in the corners of squares on the sides of the doors.

Above picture is of the former card room. This room is located on the upper floor of the building and now used as a meeting room. The wonderful Art Deco frescoes have disappeared a long time ago as well as the original wood floor and furniture, but the lighting and door frames are still in the same stye (though probably not the originals).

Cardroom today

The general feel of the room has not changed, neither has the great view of the garden that is not seen here but can be guessed from the light flowing through the picture. Above picture was taken during a specific Old Shanghai event. Usual furniture is the blend hotel reception room kind.

Pool of the former Cercle Sportif Francais
Swimming pool

Above picture is the swimming pool. It was supposed to be the best in Shanghai, 54m long. The hotel today has a swimming pool, but the one on the picture was destroyed during renovation.

The master piece of the Cercle sportif Français was and still is the stained glass ceiling of the oval ballroom. The only comparable piece is the Glass ceiling of the Prada Rong Mansion.

14 thoughts on “Inside the Cercle Sportif Francais”

  1. Thank you so much for showing us the Cercle Sportif and the wonderful Art Deco interiors of that time. Best wishes, Margaret Blair

  2. This is a wonderfully detailed article, I enjoyed it. When I show off Shanghai to visiting friends I always bring them here. I’ve always favored the Maoming Lu foyer, and now I see why: this was the real entrance, and it feels that way. I wonder what the grand oval ballroom on the second floor looked like in the past? Today’s tinted glass skylight could be true to the original, but what about the giant carpet?

  3. Hugues,

    grace a ton blog, je decouvre et comprends mieux ce qu’a pu etre Shanghai autrefois.

    Merci pour ce que tu nous apportes comme culture.

    Frederic CONTENOT

  4. Thanks for this travel into the old Shanghai. Give us another insight of this modern city !

  5. I used to go there a lot in the early 1980s to swim. The pool and locker room were straight out of the 1920s. It was magical. I could buy a book of 12 swimming tickets for 1 yuan apiece. There were bowling lanes with manual pinsetters, too, but they were not maintained for use. Thanks for posting.

  6. I visited the Cercle Sportif Francais in 1984, on a single day, April the First, and well recall its exemplary art deco interior though the club itself was all but deserted, its decor stll in place but seemingly unappreciated. The swimming pool too was deserted but for a single waiter presiding alone over a bar at one end of the pool, perhaps where the depicted high-board then stood. The pool itself, and the adjoining change-rooms, were masterpieces in art deco tiling.
    Other recollections were of the ornately ‘severe’ billiard room, still beautifully equipped with the paraphenalia of that pursuit, the card room, and the bowling alley which appeared to be of the finest mahogany.
    Returning there two or more years later I was devastated to find the building no longer there, or at least so renovated as to make the whole place quite unrecognisable.
    (Murray Frederick)

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