Meeting with Horose grand daughter

The starting point of this thread was silent movie “Love & Duty” with Old Shanghai superstar Ruan Lingyu/ 阮玲玉. It continued with the discovery of the movie original plot was from a book actually written by a Horose i.e. Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa. She was an unusual character, being a Polish lady married with famous Chinese engineer and writer Hua Nangui / 华南圭. The couple met in Paris were both were studying, but the book was written while the couple lived in Beijing in the 1920s. Then fate put me in touch with their grand daughter (Catherine Hoa / 华新民) who still lives in Beijing.

Léon Hoa, Irène and the children in Beijing. Catherine Hoa in the middle

Catherine Hoa / 华新民 was born in Beijing in 1954. Her father was Léon Hoa / 华揽洪 (1912 – 2012) who was the son of Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa and Hua Nangui / 华南圭. Léon Hoa was a French-Chinese architect who was educated in France and had a successful architecture career in France in the 1930s and 40s, then in China in the 1950s. Horose’s book “Love and duty” is dedicated to him. Catherine Hoa / 华新民 ‘s mother was Irene a French lady. The couple got married in France in the 1930s. In 1951, they decided to come back to China together to help build the new People’s Republic. They lived in the family house in Beijing that was built in 1914 by Hua Nangui / 华南圭. This is also where Catherine Hot / 华新民 grew up.

The family house in Beijing.

Catherine speaks perfect French as she grew up in a French family in China. “My siblings were born in France, they always felt more French. I was born in China and I feel more Chinese.” she said during our conversation. “Life in Beijing was sometimes difficult as I have blue eyes and I stood out among other Chinese people then. It’s only when I went to France that I could find real anonymity.” The family went through a lot of trouble in the 1950s and 1960s during political trouble that were targeting intellectuals. Catherine Hoa / Hua Xinmin only went first to France in 1961 when she took a trip to France with her mother and sister. The whole family moved back to France in 1976, taking the trans Siberian train through USSR.

Talking with her, I could get a lot more personal information on her grand-parents. “My grand mother and grand father spoke French together since they met in Paris. Horose spoke French and English so she wrote the English and French version of Love & Duty and other books. Her work was translated by my grand father and other people.” The tradition continued as Catherine’s mother spoke no Chinese before coming to China. “I was always called Catherine in the family, never by my Chinese name”.

My grand-mother was friend with many interesting people including André Gide who was her neighbor in France. She also befriended Alexandra David-Néel, the first foreign lady to enter Lhassa, who stayed with her in Beijing (probably in her 1937 trip to China). Moving from France to China in the 1910s was very tough. Fortunately, my grand father had an important job in Beijing, so they never had to live together with his family. At that time, China was very traditional, this would have been a great shock for her.

“My Grand-father is quite well known in China.” She actually published a collection of Hua Nangui writings a few years ago in China. “I have been searching for my Grand Mother story, but we don’t have much information about her time in Poland or how and why she came to Paris. We only know that she had several sisters and one of them moved to Israel after she returned in 1946.” She has very strong willpower and a close very link with my father Leon. She left China in 1939, and only came back to spend her last years with him in 1966. At that time, her beloved husband was already buried in Beijing. They could never meet again after he returned to China in the late 1940s.” Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa passed away in 1970. She is also buried in Beijing.

For more information about Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa and her books, please go to original post “The Story of Horose or S. Rosen-Hoa“.

Former Shanghai Belgian Consulate

After a number of years of renovation, the campus of the Shanghai musical conservatory is now open to the public again. Includes several Old Shanghai building that have been renovated.

The most iconic part of the new project is surely “The German building”. This house in Bavarian style had been hiding in plain sight for years, as its main facade was covered by a more modern building for a long time. After renovation, it is now visible from Huai Hai Lu and attracts a lot of attention.

From the outside, it is clear that a lot of care has been put into the renovation. This massive house of German / Bavarian style wasbuilt for a German merchant between 1905 and 1911. It was designed by German architect firm Becker & Baedecker, that also built the former German club on the Bund. At that time, the road was called Rue Paul Brunat and this part was outside the French Concession area. It was formally included under the French jurisdiction after the extension of the French Concession in July 1914.

The back of the house includes a beautiful covered terrasse, also very well restored. An information plate mention that it was the seat of the Belgian consulate, but research shows it was a different building in the same area (see below).

Getting further into the park, one will encounter the former Shanghai Jewish Club, the main building of the modern Shanghai musical conservatory until a few years ago. Having been expended over the years, it is still used although it is now less visible compared to the newly opened buildings. This building is from 1932, with some art deco elements, much later than the “German building”. It’s interior has renovated many times and has little of the original. The location is close to the compound entrance on Feng Yang lu (former Route Pichon).

Former Shanghai Jewish Club

Hidden in the back of the compound is another building that was the biggest surprise as I had not spotted it before as it is hidden in the trees.

Art Nouveau Building in Shanghai

Its Art Nouveau designs looks very much like Vienna style, which is very rare in China. The only other building in that style I saw was in Wuhan. Along with the rest of the compound, the building has also been recently renovated. The inside is still not open to the public. This building is mentioned in an article from 1919, stating it had already been built by Mr Gerecke for a number of years by then so it was probably built around the same time as the German house.

Mr Emil Gerecke (1862-1933) was an employee of the Deutsche-Asiatische Bank (Bank Germano-Asiatic) in the 1890s, and then made his own company. The 1909 China Directory lists E. Gerecke as a bills broker located Route Pichon, and the Shanghai Club. The firm Gerecke & Sierich, Exchange brokers is also located at this address. He was repatriated to Germany in 1919, and came back to Shanghai in 1924.

The house was sold in 1917 and was turned into Dr J B Fearn Blue bird Sanitorium, a modern healthcare facility. It was named after 1908 Maurice Maeterlink’s play “L’oiseau bleu” (or blue bird in English), that was turned into a famous movie around that that time. The Blue bird Sanitorium lasted until 1926.

Blue Bird Sanitorium around 1920

From that point, the house was used as the Belgium Consulate in Shanghai. It is indicated on this 1935 map of the French Concession at 30 Route Pichon. The German house does not appear on the map, so it was not an official building then.

Position of Consulate General of Belgium

The footprint of the existing campus has also been greatly expended, now enclosing neighbouring plots that where previously off limit. This part, including the former Ezra mansion will be introduced in a further post.

Apart from the former Belgian Consulate, I have written posts about the former French Consulate, the former French Municipality and the former British Consulate. Follow the links to access them.

Return to Brooklyn Court

The building on 143 Route des Soeurs (143 Rui Jin Yi lu) has often attracted my interest. I wrote an original post about it in 2008 (See post Brooklyn Court, Routes des Soeurs for more details). The whole area has been under reconstruction for a long time, so I went to have a look again recently, taking pictures of the inside of the building.

Using every single inch

The lilong at the corner of Avenue Joffre and Route des Soeurs (today Huaihai Zhong Lu and Shaanxi bei lu) has been destroyed a number of years ago, as a metro station was built on part of it. New construction in the area has now started and no concession has been left to the history of the area, nor to aesthetic. The surrounding building kind of wraps around half of Brooklyn Court, making sure that every square inch available is used fully. The result is weird and frankly not very nice and will drastically reduce the light coming into the appartements overlooking the back side.

Backside of Brooklyn Court

I also managed to get into Brooklyn Court, hunting for more architectural details than in my first visit. Brooklyn Court was first announced in 1931, as part of the Asia Realty (also known as ARCO) redevelopment of the lot with the adjacent Luck Terrace (now demolished, unfortunately). This was an apartment building “of a medium class”, costing 370,000 taels to build. By 1934 it is finished and occupied. The outside of the building is not particularly sophisticated.

While entering in the building, one of the first sight is the large cross-shaped light wells. It is very disctinctive, while bringing a lot of light to this dark passage. Their shape is so specific that they can be seen from the sky like on below picture (right picture by Matthias Guillin).

Although Brooklyn Court was only “of medium class”, it is clearly marked by his time with inside decoration. Art Deco was the style of the time, and it really shows in the iron work for windows and doors which are really unique in Shanghai.

ARCO’s architects at the time of construction (1931 – 1933) were listed as J. A. Hammerschmidt & F. Schäffer.
– Josef Alois Hammerschmidt was an Austria architect born in Vienna in 1891. He studied at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna, was captured during WW1 and sent to Siberia. After the war, he worked in Tianjin, part of the time with Rolf Geyling, reaching Shanghai in 1931.
– Férenc Schäffer was a Hungarian architect, trained in Budapest and also taken to Siberia as a war prisonner. He reached Shanghai in 1920, were in probably first work with Lászlo Hudec in the office of American architect Rowland A Curry. During his time in Siberia, he met a fellow Hungarian, Sandor Hugo who later became ARCO’s General Manager including at the time of construction of Brooklyn Court.

This is probably through this Austro-Hungarian connection that Hammerschmidt was brought to ARCO in 1931. A few years early, ARCO already headed by Sandor Hugo had hired Lászlo Hudec’s new firm for a development project in 1925-26. The little communitee of Hungarian architects in Shanghai also included art deco star Karoly Gonda (designer of the Cathay Cinema among many others), Béla Mátrai and Janos Komor who designed the Lester Institute in Hongkou district.

The crime is mine

French movie “The crime is mine” is inspired by a play from the 1930s. Director Francois Ozon have turned into a movie that has many references to French cinema past and present, including many actors that are famous in France. This will probably be lost to the non French viewer. What is stunning for the 1930s and Art Deco fan are the fantastic decors and costumes.

1930s locations around Paris and further have been used, including the below bridge that is located in Bagneux, a few kilometers from Paris.

Le pont des Suisses in Bagneux

The story is focused on two ladies, one of which being accused of killing a major film producer, and the other one being her lawyer. The crime is taking place in the luxurious villa of the producer, which is actually the fabulous Villa Empain in Brussels.

The villa Empain in Brussels

Costumes were carefully modeled after the 1930s fashion, creating a real visual univers for the movie. This helps to imagine how life in part of the former French Concession looked like.

Great 1930s costumes

The whole movie has a light atmosphere. Many people seem to like it, although I tend to prefer a noir atmosphere for movied taking place in this period, just like TV series Babylon Berlin taking place in the 1930s. In any case, The crime is mine will delight Art Deco et 1930s fan.

Farewell Avenue Dubail

The cross of North-South and the Yanan elevated motorway is the center of Shanghai. Its construction in the 1990s was a major construction work. Although it was a major step in the city modernity, it came along with the destruction of many beautiful building on the main road of the former French Concession, l’Avenue Dubail.

This video made in collaboration with Augustin Vouilloux shows the beauty of the architecture and a few pictures of the lost beauty of old buildings.

The previous video with the same crew was “Looking for love and duty“.

Peak Café, Hong Kong

While Shanghai history is the focus of this blog, post on related locations are also added including Tianjin, Wuhan, Rangoon, Singapore, Paris, Budapest and many more. During my last business trip to Hong Kong, I visited a place that had lot of echoes from Old Shanghai.

The Peak Cafe is located along the Lang Kwai Fong escalator. In the middle of the city, very close to the super modern skyscrapers, this place is a little bit of Old Hong Kong. Opened in 1947, it still has the feeling of Old time. The interior is surely not older than 1947 but it definitely feels much more like the 1920s or 1930s.

Although Hong Kong has kept very little of its history, with exception of the former jail and police station close by, this little spot feels like time travel to Old Hong Kong, or to Old Shanghai.

Peak Café: 9-13 Shelley street, Central, Hong Kong

1929 Flower Show at the Majestic Hotel

The Majestic Hotel in Shanghai (1924-1931) was a legendary hotel in Old Shanghai. I wrote a post several years ago about it, that is regularly toping the most read article list (See post “The rise and fall of the Majestic hotel” for more info). Since the building was destroyed in 1932, there are only few pictures of the hotel available. Going through my own collection, I recently realised that I have a few of them taken during a special occasion.

According to Nenad Djordjvic “Old Shanghai Clubs & Associations”, The Shanghai Horticultural Society was founded in the 1860’s. It had a yearly Autumn Flower Show, the last one taking place on 20-21 November 1940. It was certainly an important association as it received financial support from the Shanghai Municipal Council and was presided for many years by Horace Kadoorie, whose family owne the Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels company owner of the Majestic Hotel. The above picture also appeared in the North-China Sunday News Magazine Supplement on 24 Nov 1929 (Thanks Katya Kniazeva for finding it!). So these pictures must be from the 1929 Autumn Flower Show.

The reception room also appears in the original post “The rise and fall of the Majestic Hotel” but looks really different with all the flowers.

Imperial Chemical Industries was a major British chemical firm with strong presence in Old Shanghai. One of their products was fertiliser, a great product to advertise at a flower show. Our friends at Mofba did a post on ICI in Old Shanghai, follow the link to read it.

This picture is taken from the hotel, looking toward the winter garden. The Italian garden of the Majestic hotel where the event takes place was designed by Abelardo Lafuente, a spanish architect in Shanghai.

One of the few pictures of the beautiful iron work inside the hotel.

For more views and history of the Majestic Hotel, go to post “The rise and fall of the Majestic hotel

Shanghai American School building

Founded in 1912, American School of Shanghai was one of the famous high level schools in old Shanghai. The campus on Avenue Pétain (today Hengshan lu) was opened in 1923. The building has long been off limit for visitors, and only part of the façade was still visible from the street. Fortunately, a building next door has just been renovated and turned into commercial. This gives an open view on the former Shanghai American School building.

Former American School building

From this angle, it is clear that the streetside façade is only a short part of the whold building. Although I lived in this neighborhood for years, I was never able to see it before so clearly. The skyscraper in the background it the Shanghai library, located on the spot of the former Culty Dairy.

Back building of the Shanghai American School

As seen on below map, there was a back wing the building. This part has been demolished and modern and larger building has been built instead. The commercial building where I took the pictures from is located on the part where “Shanghai American School is written”. This was an empty space when the school was operating. The former running track is not occupied by a commercial building.

Walking down the alley next to the former school building, one can see the former school water tower. As mentioned by Betty Barr, who actually attended the school herself, “the tower was famous for romantic reason: couples used to climp up there to sign their names.” Looking at it today, it’s not recommended to climb it up, but it amazingly survived all those years.

The American school of Shanghai closed in 1950 but was been recreated in 1980 and still operating today in a different location. Their website is www.saschina.org .

Former Shanghai French Consulate (Part 2)

Located on the Bund, the French Consulate building was on the cross of the Quai de France (French Bund) and the Rue du Consulat (Consulate street, today Jinling lu). As explained in post “Former Shanghai French Consulate (Part 1)“, the Consulate moved to this plot in May 1867. Due to the low quality of the construction, a new building was erected in 1896, when Paul Claudel was Consul General.

The new building was of neo-classical style, matching buildings on the Bund of the International Settlement, a few hundred meters away. It was asymmetrical with a round extension on the side on Rue du Consulat (on the left side, today Jinglin Dong Lu).

Below is another view of the building, probably taken later with trees significantly larger. It is also much closer and gives many more details of the building. it gives a clear pictures of the façade’s balcony and windows. The style was definitely noe renaisssance, typical from the French 3rd Republic period. It is quite similar to the former Saigon municipal building, built by France between 1901 and 1909. Although the picture is not dated, the text on the back side of the postcard dates it from 1927.

Like other postcards then it was made from a black and white photograph (color photography was not widely available then) and colorized by hand. Although the colors were added later, it looks very real and was probably close to original of a grey stone building similar to the first picture. I don’t think the roof was green, probably dark grey colored. Yellow is used for the trees and some part of the front, maybe the “RF” (République Française) sign was covered with gold like on the picture though I doubt it. The characters on the street side clearly indicate the scale of the building that must have been clearly visible from the river, just like buildings down stream in the former international settlement.

The building was the office of the French Consul as well as his family home. If the area was not so busy when this consulate building opened, it was very different in the 1930s as Jacqueline Meyrier, daughter of Consul General Gustave Meyrier ,who was born in Shanghai in 1927 and lived in Shanghai from 1932 to 1936 and from 1945 to 1950. As stated in her interview by Didier Pujol, “She remembers the noise coming from the Quai de France which was always filled with coolies carrying loads off the boats.” The Rue du Consulat was the main road in the East of the French Concession, and was next to Route Colbert were the godown (warehouse) of Butterfield and Swire was located, so the area must have indeed been noisy.

The location of the French Consulate remained unchanged until the end of the former French Concession in 1946 as shown on below map from 1937.

French consulate location

This version of the French Consulate lasted the longest, and the building continued to be used long after the Consulate closed in 1950 as the Jin Ling Road Middle school. A French friend told me the story of the destruction of the building in the early 80s, when he tried to salvage a few pieces. Unfortunately, those remaining pieces have been lost over the years. Below picture is from 1983, shortly before the building was demolished.

The former French Consulate building was replaced by an unimaginative office building. Fortunately, this building was renovated and a neo-art deco style top was added in 2006. It is now occupied by ICBC bank. The ground level of the building reminds of the style of the former Consulate building, including wrought iron fences around the plot. Maybe it is an hommage to the former building that was once on that same spot.

Location of the former French Consulate (Right)

The neighbouring building, the former office of the Messageries Maritimes still stands (right to the main tower), being now the seat of the Shanghai archives. For more information, about the earlier French Consulate (1861-1896) that was located on the same spot please go to “Shanghai Former French Consulate (Part 1)”.

More New Asia Hotel luggage label

Search about New Asia Hotel continued after the original post “New Asia Hotel“. Not much seem to have been written in English about it, probably due to its off side location in Hongkou (Hongkew in old spelling) district and its short original life from 1932 to 1937 (before being taken by the Japanese authorities). My original post “New Asia Hotel” attracted attention from fellow researchers, who shared the information with us.

First of all, the original post showed one example of label, but I found another one. Style is very similar but this one is round, compared to the original with slightly different shape. The round shape is also smaller, with different font used though design is very similar.

Luggage labels were is fashion in luxury hotels, and New Asia Hotel was one of the many hotels in Shanghai. More Old Shanghai luggage labels are displayed on post “Old Shanghai luggage labels” as well as “More Old Shanghai luggage labels“.


Peter Hibbard, who has researched the Cathay Hotel and wrote a book about it (See post “Peace at the Cathay“) gave a lot of information of the original mission of the New Asia Hotel.

” The New Asia deserves special mention as it was a remarkable diversion from other ‘modern’ Chinese hotels. Before the Japanese arrived the hotel was a moral exemplar. The New Asia Hotel decided to break away from the prevailing standards of Chinese hotels by barring mahjong, women of ill-fame and opium. With branches of the hotel already operating in Hong Kong and Canton, the nine storey Shanghai hotel, situated on the corner of Tiendong and North Szechuen opened in January 1934. The aim of the Cantonese general manager, Mr. Cheng Bew, known to foreigners as Mr. B Jones, was to conduct business along the lines of the foreign hotels where the morals of young men may be preserved and where the charges will be within reasonable reach of the average man’s pocket.

The unusual combination of Christian fellowship and sound business practice brought, to the surprise of many, immediate and lasting success. In it’s first year of operation the hotel received over 72,000 guests. All of the hotel’s 450 staff were meticulously trained in the hotel’s own lecture rooms, with many of them being able to speak English.

The hotel company, in deliberately omitting a ballroom from the hotel, substituted a spacious roof garden for healthy recreation and games. However a small bar was to be found on the ground floor near a club-like lounge and reading room. The hotel invited international patronage, with the Chinese and foreign dining rooms being a favourite lunchtime haunt of Shanghai’s diplomatic circle. “

Peter also added specific information about the drastic change of policy after the takeover by the Japanese authorities.
“The China Weekly Review May 28th, 1938:

Christian Hotel Converted into den of intrigue…

The New Asia Hotel …has been diverted to strange usage, so strange as to verge on the occult if one would believe all the stories told about the hostelry.

When opened it announced that it would be ‘operated in strict accordance with Christian principles,’ in sharp contrast to some other hotels in the city which catered to ‘the flesh and the devil.’ It had Gideon bibles in every room and was the first ‘strictly modern’ Chinese hotel in Shanghai.
When the Japanese seized the Hongkew area, the Special Service section grabbed the New Asia and established its headquarters there. For a time it was operated by foreigners but now totally Japanese. Now serves as headquarters for around 30 different ‘puppet organisations.’ The New Asia is a hotbed of traitorous activity, housing all manner of organisations which the Japanese warlords are using fro breaking down Chinese resistance or misleading or confusing the public as to what really is going on.’
Secret agents of the organizations are sent into the International Settlement and the French Concession to solicit members. They are plentifully supplied with funds and their main purpose is to invite the prospect to the New Asia for a feat and party. Many Chinese newspapers carried stories of nightly orgies.”

After WW2, the hotel continued being used by the military.
” The China Daily Tribune 3.3.48
Air Transport under General Chennault – the Flying Tigers, moved into New Asia Hotel after V-J Day, later occupied by the US Army and then the Army Advisory Group in 1948.”

Finally, the building was designed architect S. A. Sayer, but American Chinese architect Poy Gum Lee (See post ” Poy Gum Lee lost building“) was also involved as a consultant. He was a rumored to be the actual designer but denied in a new paper post. He retained shares of the hotel after he returned to New York.