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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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 location of the French Consulate remained unchanged until the end of the former French Concession in 1946 as shown on below map from 1937.
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.
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)”.
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.
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.
The 1920s and 30s was a period of intense building in Paris outer districts and in Paris close suburbs. Away from the grand building of Central Paris, buildings in suburbs tend to be a little smaller, with more space around. They are more similar to the ones of Shanghai former French Concession.
As a stopover before flying back to Shanghai, I spent a day in Asni`eres/Seine, a very close suburb to Paris. Asni`ere is familiar for French people, as French standup Fernand Raynaud (1926-19730) mentioned it in one of his most famous pieces, asking for phone number 22 in Asni“eres in the 1950 (see video below).
Like many cities in the Western part of Paris, it was built up before and after WWI, so Art Nouveau and Art Deco are plentiful. Another similar exemple is much more though after Boulogne-Billancourt (see post From Boulogne to Nanjing for more details). Walking around the city, I found a number of nice Art Deco examples.
With such a sunny and hot weather, it felt even more like in Shanghai, surrounded by Art Deco buildings.
Travel books from the late 19th century are a good source of information about Shanghai at the time. However, the engraving that come with them are often wrong or invented. I recently receive the picture below, a extract from French review “Le tour du Monde” (around the World) from 1860. Unlike some others in the same review, this one seems pretty true to the original scene.
The above engraving was made from a painting from Pierre-Eug`ene Grandsire (1825-1905), a well known French painter. As the painter did not travel, it was made from a description or an earlier drawing from French marin officer M de Trévise. The picture must have been a great success, as it was later used for other publications in the UK.
Published in 1860, the picture is a reflection of 1858 or 1859. Control of the Chinese customs was handed to the British in 1854, and in 1857 the Shanghai authorities spent 6800 taels to built the customs office that was located on the Bund. From some sources, it seems that the building was originally a temple on the river side. The engraving is quite similar to the few pictures of the building that there taken later. The shape of the building was kept, though the actual proportions and size of the building is somewhat flawed.
In 1893, it was replaced by a more western building, as seen below. That building was demolished in 1925 and replaced by the current customs house in 1927.
After 2 years without foreign travel, I was able to get back to France. The trip included a short day in Lyon, with some Art Deco photo opportunities. This post follows another post about Lyon Art Deco from… 2012.
Lyon has a lot of Art Deco architecture (See one of the best sites on the topic… in French only). Unfortunately, I did not have so much time to visit it apart from walking around between business meetings, so I focused on the business district of Lyon 3rd district. The first stop was this beautiful building on Avenue Maréchal de Saxe, that features really of lot of the Art Deco ornaments.
Later I walked up Cours Lafayette, one of the main boulevard leading to Lyon Part-Dieu station. Bordering the 3rd and 6th district, that were developed in the 1920s and 1930s, it really goes trough Art Deco splendors in Lyon and is located very close to Palais de Flore, on the Art Deco Lyon icon.
It was a really short view of Lyon Art Deco, but was a nice a sunny reminder of a style that is so present in Shanghai.