Aquarius water, then and now

I recently wrote a post about Coca-Cola and its advertising in Shanghai. The soft drink was bottled in Shanghai by Watson’s Water, a brand that is still sold in Shanghai. Its main slogan was “every bottle is sterilized”, showing the need and attention to clean water then, like today. Its main competitor Aquarius, 正广和,a brand that is also still sold in Shanghai today.

Aquarius serving tray

Aquarius water was originally founded in 1893, producing “water both still and sparkling, for the table”, as noted in “Sketches in and around Shanghai”, published in Shanghai in 1894. The factory was located away from the city, at the cross of Broadway and Seward Road, meaning right behind the Astor House Hotel, in today’s Hong Kou district. Like it’s competitor, it became an essential supplier of water and drinks for foreigners and wealthy Chinese.

Aquarius advertising in the ” Le journal de Shanghai 19 th June 1935″

As displayed in above add, the “every drop is distilled” shows the attention for water purity and safety just like today. One of the main drink on offer in the Shanghai heat of mid June was Aquarius Grapefruit Squash, to be drink with Gin as a refresher.

Aquarius advertising in Shanghai 1930

Aquarius was advertising in Chinese newspaper as seen above, linking is sparkling water with the high life of the day, elite activities including horse riding, tennis, swimming and dancing. Since the ad is in Chinese, it was clearly aimed at the Shanghai bourgeoisie that was rapidly growing at the time. Orange squash was surely a soft drink competing with Coca-Cola.

Aquarius Orange Squash, 1946

Soft drinks brands had also a number of promotional objects to give out to customer. My favorite one is the serving tray (top picture) that was surely used in the restaurants, bars or hotels in Old Shanghai. Along with it came the bottle opener (see below), that it still very usable today. I even found a picture of the actual Aquarius water bottle, though I have never seen the bottle itself.

Aquarius bottle opener

The Aquarius brand is still in use in Shanghai, with one of the main depots in Min Hang district. Funny enough the current logo is still the same as the original and the Chinese name is still the same, though now in simplified characters.

Aquarius modern logo

For Coca-Cola advertising, follow the link to post “More on Coca-Cola ads”.

Coca-Cola in Old Shanghai

Coca-Cola is one of the ubiquitous brand in today’s Shanghai, but the famous soft drink was also very successful in Old Shanghai. It was first bottled in 1927, by the Watson’s Mineral Water Company. “In fact, Shanghai became the first city outside the US to order 10,000 gallons of syrup in a year during the 1930s,” said Ted Ryan Coca-Cola’s director of heritage communications in a 2015 China Daily interview. Like in other countries, Coca-Cola sales were supported by strong advertising.

1938 Old Shanghai Coca-Cola advertising

Above is the front cover of the 1938 Spring Summer Shanghai Dollar Directory, a yearbook including phone and business directory, as well a section on gardening in Shanghai. This ad was the biggest on both covers and must have been a great sale for the advertising section.

By 1938, Coca-Cola was bottled in 2 factories, one in Avenue Haig (today HuaShan lu) and the other one on Wayside (today HuoShan Lu in Hongkou district). Soft drink and sparkling water was a big market, as Watson’s was not the only one (Watson’s has been back in China for many years, but bottling Coke). Another producer of sparkling water and drink was Aquarius (more to come in a later post).

The ad was clearly aimed at both foreigners and Chinese writing. The characters for 可口可樂 (可口可乐 in simplified ) were displayed from right to left as it was usual then. The translation of the brand was the same as today, with characters being roughly translated as “good taste makes happy”, one of the best ever translation for a foreign brand name in Chinese.

Following the link for post “More on Coca-Cola ads” for more examples of Coca-Cola advertising in Old Shanghai.

Russia-China Tobacco Ltd

Cigarettes advertising poster from the 1920’s

Advertising posters were the main way of promoting brands in the 1920’s and 1930’s Shanghai. The methods was brought from the USA mostly by Carl Crow, who made the largest advertising company at the time.

Although there are many fakes and reprints, real old posters are really rare to find nowadays. I happened to buy this one from an antic dealer in 2007 (I think). After years of storage, it is now properly framed and I take a good picture of it.

As common at the time, the center of the picture is a young Chinese girl, dressed with foreign clothes and in a foreign-style environment. This kind of advertisement was showing best style and modernity to be associated with the cigarette brands, so the author used the most up-to-date style. for closing and environment.From the layout as well as clothing, I would date it from the early to mid 1920’s, rather than the 1930’s seen with many of those calendars.

Just like today, advertising from that period was following the latest style. In the mid 30’s, they would show of the environment, focusing more closely on the woman. Her dress and posture would be more modern, and suggestive. Lettering would be more Art Deco inspired.

Russia-China Tobacco Company (驻奉中俄烟草公司 in Chinese) was located in Fengtian (today Shenyang) but little more is known about the company itself. It produced quite a number of advertising posters, that can be found on various auction websites. They range from mid-20’s style to early 30’s. Although some seem to be from a very similar period, I did not find pictures of this particular one.

Another post about Cigarette brand advertising in Old Shanghai is Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co.

Advertising Park Hotel

Park Hotel, the highest tower in Asia in 1934

The horse race track of Shanghai (today’s People square) was at the center of the entertainment district in Old Shanghai. Hotels were built in the neighborhood including the home of Chinese stars, Yangtze Hotel (see post Yangtze Hotel for more details), the Great China Hotel and the New World Hotel.

Lászlo Hudec Park Hotel opened in 1934 on the Northern of the race track, on Bubbling Well Road. Financed by the Joint Savings Society, a major Chinese financial institution, it was a clear attempt to compete with the Cathay Hotel that opened a few year earlier on the Bund. As displayed in the advertising material below, entertainment was the main point of the hotel’s offer. If the Cathay was the home away from home for foreign travelers, the Park Hotel was designed with residents in mind, as well as guests coming to enjoy the race track and other local entertainment establishments. Those included the neighboring theaters (Grand Theater, Nanjing Theater and Metropole Theater), as well as the shopping temples on Nanjing Lu (Wing On, Sincere and Sun Department stores) as mentioned on the below map.

Advertising leaflet for Park Hotel in Shanghai

I particularly like the hotel silhouette and the characters displayed. Their dress look very much like characters from movie Casablanca. Another specific feature is the display of parts of the Chinese city (Longhua Pagoda and the Civic Center, in today Yangpu district ) as possible tours destination from the hotel. Although Longhua Pagoda was (and still is) a major tourist destination, the new Shanghai area of Jiangwan was rarely mentioned in foreign guides.

Using the same concrete raft technique as the Cathay, the 24 floors building was the highest of Shanghai… and in Asia. It only lost the Shanghai crown in the 1980’s when high buildings construction restarted. For decades the Park Hotel tower dominated Shanghai sky. The view from the top floor was unobstructed and stunning, as seen on the picture below. From up there, one could practically see the whole of Shanghai. For people of the time, this view must have been as stunning as the one from today’s Pudong skyscrapers.

Since most of the original Art Deco interior and furniture has disappeared, the Park Hotel does not compare to today’s luxury hotel anymore. The exterior is now roughly back to its original design, but inside only the ball room of which the circle floor was designed by German Bauhaus trained architect Richard Paulick has survived.  When Park Hotel opened though, it was one of the best of Shanghai, competing not only in height but also in the best services with the Cathay. Below is a rare advertising leaflet for the

Rare advertising for Park Hotel

Pictures of the original Park hotel and decoration are extremely rare, but the hotel was clearly of the highest standard. It hosted two major restaurants, the Main Dining Room “remindful of the choicest wines and Epicurean French Cuisine” on the second floor and the Grill room on the 14th floor “which has a reputation on its own”. 14th floor was also the location of the Sky Terrace, I am preparing a special post on this one.

The Grill Room of Park Hotel. Thanks to my friend Peter Hibbard to find this one

It also had a lounge on the 3rd or 4th floor, ideal location for drinking cocktails while watching the horse races. The highest attention was put for the kitchen… though no Chinese restaurant is mentioned.  “The pastry cook has his place, and quite an important one” as high teas were (just like today) an important market for the hotel. The Park Hotel’s pastry reputation survived the years, as it was one of the few places to buy cakes until the bakery revival a few years ago. It was particularly famous for its Palmiers, or “butterfly cookies, Hu Die SU” as it is called in Chinese, that are still on sale today (Please see post “Tasting Old Shanghai” for more details).

It was quite a shock when I discovered this leaflet in a market in Shanghai more than 12 years ago. It can date it from 1937 or 1938, as I know from other sources that Mr T M Lamb was the GM in 1938. Nearly eighty years later, this advertising for Park Hotel looks very much like today’s top hotels promotion material. Another form of advertising for Park Hotel was hotel luggage labels, see post “Old Shanghai luggage labels” for more details.

Shanghai Tang @ Cathay Cinema

Renovated Cathay facade
Renovated Cathay facade

1932 Cathay Theater (see an old picture on post “Ligths on Huaihai Lu”), a movie theater on Avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai Zhong Lu) was one of the anchors of the French Concession. It was designed by Hungarian architect CH Gonda, a less famous countryman of Laszlo Hudec, who also designed the Bank of Communication building (Bund 14) and the Capitol theater (now part of the Rock Bund project). The Art Deco theater had one large room originally seating 1080 people, with 30 rows. Friend who were in Shanghai before me fondly speak about the original Art Deco interior, including “couple seats” that could, interestingly enough, seat two people next to each other without separation. I have never seen it, as the cinema was ruinovated in 2003,with the large room split into small ones and original inside lost forever. Despite the survival of the building’s outside, many Old Shanghai enthusiasts very pretty scared of seeing this piece of architecture and history surrounded again by scaffolding in the beginning of the year. Turns out that the result, the new Shanghai Tang flagship store is much better than expected.

Store main entrance
Store main entrance

Richemont’s Shanghai Tang is one of my favorite clothing brand. Originally started by HK designer David Tang in 1994, it was purchased by the international group in 1998. The brand is strongly influenced by Chinese fashion from the 1920’s and 1930’s which is surely why I like it. It is noted for its use of bright colors and references to Old Shanghai in it’s shop design. Shanghai Tang store music was for a long time “Shanghai Lounge Diva“, one of my favorite CD’s. Considering that Shanghai Tang already had a shop a few meters up the same street and that the Richemont group also occupies the 1920’s twin villas on 796 Huai Hai lu, only a few blocks away, the move is not surprising. Previous attempts of the group at Old Shanghai buildings renovation was definitely a good sign.

Art Deco Staircase
Art Deco Staircase

Since most of the cinema interior was destroyed in previous renovation, the inside it totally modern. Architects have had to cut the store space into several parts to fit the specific of the building, giving more charm to the whole shopping experience. It is somewhat comparable to former HK Shanghai Tang store on Peddler Street. The nice surprise is the stair cases coming up from the cinema entrance. It is difficult to judge whether they are the original cinema staircases that were previously hidden or a modern re-creation (the original theater had no balcony, but they could have been stairs leading to above offices or projection room that were previously hidden). In any case, the Art Deco design really fits the original style and and fashion of the time of the building construction. Somebody really made an effort for this part and it shows, creating an atmosphere and a real connection between the store and the building. The main entrance hall of the theater has also been renovated in somewhat art deco style separately from the store. I guess designers where not the same, as the new inside mock-up Art Deco is much less stylish as the upstairs store.

The combination of Cathay Cinema and Shanghai store shows that combining old Shanghai building and modern retail requirements are possible in a tasteful way. Hopefully it will inspire some more projects in the area.