Having lived for years in Budapest before coming to Shanghai, I still feel connected to Hungary after all those years (see post Budapest Old and New). As explained in post ” Looking for Hudec“, discovering about the Hungarian architect in 2008 was a big surprise and I could see the parallel with my own travel from Budapest to Shanghai, actually visiting Hudec alma mater during one of my trips there. At the same time, it was also an eye opener into the incredible vitality of Hungary’s architecture before and after WW1 (see post Budapest Art Deco for more details).
Thanks to the research of the Livia Szentmartoni Consul for Culture at Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai, it turns out that Hudec was not the only Hungarian architect in town. Her 2019 book as put Karoly Gonda’s work into light, and while both Hudec and Gonda came from Hungary, there was little connection beetween both. 2020 brought news of another Hungarian architect in Shanghai, Béla Mátrai.
Just like Hudec, Mátrai was a Hungarian trained architect, taken prisonner during WW1, sent to Siberia and finally arriving in Shanghai in the 1920s. It is unknown whether both men knew each other before Shanghai, but Mátrai worked a number of years for Lászlo Hudec firm. He is part of the team creating Park Hotel, a project that lasted from 1929 until completion of the building in 1934. Mátrai was listed as “field assistant to Laszlo Hudec” (source Poncellini 2007). Although unverified, it is very likely that he was also involved in other major Hudec projects before Park Hotel, including The Grand Theater and the Women College of Université Aurore.
In a similar way to Hudec a few years before, he left Hudec firm sometime in the early 1930s to create his own firm. One of his first design was the Modernist apartment building on 273 Route Culty (today Hunan Lu), completed in 1934. He had is office on 278 Route Culty, on the other side of the street.
Interestingly, I had recently visited an apartment in this building, while noticing the floor tile pattern (see post “More on tile pattern” for more details). Here is below a picture of the South garden side, that cannot be seen from the street.
The design of the apartment was very modern with 2 large bedrooms, a large combined dining and sitting room. Kitchen was very much in original condition, including the original wall mounted foldable ironing board. The apartments in this building also have an underground cellar, which is very rare in Shanghai.
The large South oriented windows gave a lot of light and a very modern feeling. I am not sure how it feels with the cold and damp Shanghai winter, though. It was definitely a modern apartment for a wealthy modern family in the 1930s.
According to official Hungarian sources, Mátrai married a Russian lady in 1924. They had 2 children, Margit & Jeno. They divorced in 1935 and Mátrai married Lucy (Ludmila) Dobrjansky. At the end of his time in Shanghai, he sent his children away in 1947 and left Shanghai on 13th March 1948. He settled with Lucy in Glen Ellen (Sonoma, California). Lászlo Hudec settled and died in Berkeley, California… about 80 km away. Somehow, Mátrai followed Hudec path for most of his life.
This church is hidden in the labyrinth of lanes from 370 Da Tian Lu, currently in Jing An district. When I first found out about it, it was really difficult to see from the outside as the whole are area was surrounded with blocks and block of lane. This area has now changed tremendously, with most of the blocks now transformed with tower blocks and sometimes a park. This picture from my friend Shi was a good opportunity to write a post about Saint Therese Church.
There is very little information about Saint-Therese of the Child Jesus (or Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus as it is known in French) to be found. The Catholic Church was built in 1931, on the spot of former Saint-Joseph Church damaged during 1927 fights. It is of neo-roman style, with double front columns. Construction started on 30th Octobre 1930 and the Church was consecrated on 3rd October 1931 by Mgr Auguste Haouisée, who later became the first bishop of Shanghai.
Saint Therese de Lisieux was a French Catholic Discalced Carmelite nun who became widely venerated in the 20th century. She was canonized in 1925, and named co-patron of the missions, with Francis Xavier by Pope Pius XI in 1927. As Saint-Therese was highly venerated at this period, the dedication to her was an obvious choice. Mentions of several Churches dedicated to her in Asia around the same period were found during the research for this post, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Hangzhou and Saint Theresa Cathedral in Changchun.
What makes this Church special in Shanghai is that it is a Catholic Church located in the International Settlement, where Christians missions where mostly seated. It is away from the French Concession, where Catholic Church was predominant, as well as away from Xu Jia Hui Jesuits area. It is also in a area that was mostly Lilongs, the local style of accommodation, away from the areas where most foreigners lived, so probably aimed and maybe financed by the local population.
In post “Déjà vu from Shanghai to Paris”, I looked into a strange tile pattern and color scheme that I saw both in Shanghai and in Paris. I believe the tiling below was imported from France.
The tiling pattern is sophisticated and used in Art Deco interiors, including on the Normandy steamship. Like many things in China, the original one was probably imported, then it got copied, changed and adapted for local production.
I happened to recently visit a building on Hunan Road (former French Concession), with a very similar tile pattern.
Like the original one in the FONCIM, it is used in the common areas, building entrance. The main differences are the color scheme and material used. The color scheme is definitely less elegant than the original. Material is different, as terrazzo (typical from original Art Deco) have been replaced by stripes of marble. Usage of marble is frequent in Chinese architecture, so I guess this tiling was designed by a Chines architect inspired by LVK work, or maybe for a Chinese client. To confirm this theory, the building were I took the picture was definitely built a few years later than the original FONCIM.
Update October 2020: It turns out that this particular building was built by Hungarian architect Béla Mátrai.
On the way to visit Qibao Old town, in Minhang district, I was not expecting to see any Art Deco architecture. This part of Shanghai used to be a separate village in the countryside, reachable by boat, crossing the swamps over the small rivers that were surrounding Shanghai then. The trip would have been shorter, but similar to the one to Sheshan (see post Climbing Zo Se for more details).
Although Old Shanghai was one of the largest cities in the World in the 30’s with more than 3 million inhabitants, its footprint was much smaller than today’s Shanghai. If early 20’s century architecture, in particular Art Deco, can be found in the center of Shanghai, it is unheard of outside of today’s first ring road. The only exception being Hudec Laszlo’s Catholic Country Church, built then in the countryside, now located in the residential area of Hong Qiao (picture above) in Changning district.
I was then really surprised to discover this Art Deco building close to Qibao Temple. It was hidden between a large advertising poster and seems to be soon to be demolished, but the style was impossible to miss. How could an Art Deco building end up here?
The mystery did not last for long, as although the style was very much modernist / Art Deco, the cover of small tiles is typical of the 1980’s architectural style in China. This building is the former Minhang phone exchange. This kind of building seems to have crossed through time more or less unchanged, just like the ones in the former French Concession or the Former International Settlement. It was probably the first modern building in the area, and like in other cases, architects in the 80’s reused techniques and styles from the late 30’s or 40’s. Architecture did not change much in the meantime in China, so the modern ideas of Old Shanghai were still modern 40 years later. As new technology allowed larger buildings, this lead to Frankenstein Art Deco (see post Frankenstein Art Deco for more details).
Even if it was out of fashion for more than 40 years went it was built, it must have been the top of modernity in this rural surroundings… and somehow it still is very modern. Too bad it will soon go down.
With its mix of influence, Old Shanghai had bits of pieces coming from all over the World including Beaux Arts style, Art Deco, Andalusian, Mexican revival, New Normand, German, traditional Japanese to name a few. They all added up and sometimes got inspired by traditional local style or its modern incarnation, neo confusion (sometimes called Republican style). While walking around in Old Shanghai, it’s sometimes surprising to see details that are heavily influenced by another place.
I have been fascinated by the floor tiling pattern in the picture up, since I discovered it a few years ago. The original picture was taken on the ground floor of the FONCIM D building (1933) at the corner of Jian Guo lu and Gao An lu. The building was designed by the firm Leonard, Vesseyre & Kruze (or LVK) (See post ” Shanghai Art Deco master” for more details or my article, in French, in Lepetitjournal.com Shanghai edition). The firm was highly creative and the building was designed for their largest client, the FONCIM real estate investment firm, so I first assumed it was unique.
The only other similar pattern I found was in a villa on Yong Jia Lu, a few hundred meters from the FONCIM building. The area was built by the LVK firm (Leonard and Vesseyre’s personal homes are nearly opposite from this building), including this one, probably from the mid 30’s. The tiling shape is slightly different, with the beige stripe wider, but still very similar. This was the only place were I saw this pattern until a recent trip. A later found a similar pattern with different colors in a building on Hunan Lu (see post more on tile patterns).
Having diner in Paris a few days ago, I realized that the early 1900’s building had been extended by an Art Deco part with the tiling on the picture right. It took a while to retrieve the Shanghai picture, but when confronting both, the similarity was striking. So the Shanghai Art Deco pattern was probably not the invention of LVK, but probably imported from France. Looking for more about this pattern, I received a big help from my friends of the France Art Deco Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/franceartdeco).
A similar pattern was used for the flooring of the kitchen of flagship cruiser SS Normandie. Launched in 1935, SS Normandie was the largest cruise ship of its time, a floating palace fully designed in Art Deco Style. Because of WW2, it only operated a few years before sinking in New York in 1942, but it is still a legend in term of cruise ships, technological achievement and as an Art Deco masterpiece. Exemple of the ship’s decoration was shown in the Paris Art Deco exhibition in 2014 (see post “1925, when art deco dazzled the World” for more details).
Unfortunately, all pictures of the Normandie are black and white, so it’s impossible to know the original color of the kitchen tiling, but in any case it looked quite similar to the one used by LVK on Jian Guo Lu. As the pattern originated from France and it is so rare in Shanghai, it is likely that the actual tilling was imported from France. Shanghai was a modern city, in touch with the latest fashion in the World… just like it is today.
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.
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
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.
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.
The territory that formerly covered by Old Shanghai is today separated in several Shanghai districts. With a large share of the former French Concession on its territory, Xu Hui district has been the leading district for history preservation. I recently came across this article mentioning the renovation plan for this part of the city.
The article also mentions an exhibition about the revival on “old skills” related to construction, that were used to build these old houses. This exhibition looks interesting and I will surely visit it. It is really nice to see that after years of destruction or ruinovation, preservation has become a matter of interest.
At the same time, while those old skills have been lost in China and have now to be rediscovered, I cannot fail to notice that they are still available and used in Europe and other parts of the World. Several European countries, have been involved in restoration programs in Shanghai in the past. Maybe one does not need to look back for those skills to be “reacquired through the demolishing campaign on some damaged houses”… just ask other people involved in preserving similar skills elsewhere. I am sure they would be glad to help.
I have often heard or read that in Old Shanghai, the business district was in the International Settlement, and the higher class residential in the calmer streets of the French Concession. Although most of it has now disappeared, the International Settlement although had its select residential district. Bubbling Well (today Nanjing Xi lu), was originally a countryside road with large mansion along with their massive gardens on its side, including the former Majestic Hotel. In the 1920s and 1930s, these large properties were sold and new buildings were erected in a much denser fashion. The residential streets moved up North, along Avenue Road (today Beijing Xi Lu). Although this part of Jing An has been massively built over in the last 20 or 30 years, a few villas have resisted in this area, they include the Laszlo Hudec Hu Mansion (the Green house), the former Pei Mansion and a few houses around the corner of today Changde Lu and Beijing Xi Lu.
Another street further North with a number of large villas was the Western section of Wuding Lu, although very little information available about them. Large houses seem only to have been in that section of the street as opposed to the (now gone) shikumen and factories that lined the more Eastern section. This stretch of a few hundred meters really feels like other residential streets in the French Concession or around Yu Yuan Lu, making it a pleasant stroll. Although each house is a different style, they all seem to have been built in the 1930s. From a neighboring rooftop, I could see them all and noticed one in particular, an Art Deco mansion, behind a modern school building. Although I could only see part of it, I always thought this house was special.
I thought the design looked familiar, but did not really knew from where until seeing the rendering. The Yan Mansion designed by Poy Gum Lee and built in 1934, is actually the house I saw from the rooftop. This was further confirmed by an old picture, although original balconies have been glassed over and the ornamental doors and windows are long gone. Lastly, a map of the location was provided showing it located on “Wuting Road”, today’s Wuding lu.
Although there is no historic plate on the building, it is without a doubt, the Yan Mansion designed by Poy Gum Lee, located on today’s 932 Wuding lu. Unfortunately, most of the garden has been eaten by a new building masking it from the street. Being a school also makes it off limits for most people. Funny enough, the exhibition showed its blue print but did not show any current picture, nor mentioned that the building still stands. Hopefully, one day it will be recognized and protected. In the meantime, its current use should keep it standing for long.
Shanghai has always been a city of fast paced life and constant change. One of the best example is the fate of grand hotel shooting star, the Majestic Hotel (大華飯店 or Dai Hua Jiu Dian in Chinese) on Bubbling Well Road (today Nanjing Xi Lu). As seen on a 1932 map below, the hotel was occupying an enormous plot, on what is today Nanjing Xi Lu, from Jiangning Lu all the way to Taixing lu.
The building and its park were originally the McBain residence, of a successful business man who represented Shell (among others) in China, and sold the property to Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels company.
Renovation and transformation of the building was given to Spanish architect Abelardo Lafuente in 1924. The inside yard was covered to be converted into the dining room, modern sanitary and heating system was installed and the facade was covered with marble. The garden remained despite the addition of a winter garden and a massive ballroom that became the center of Shanghai Social life for the upper class for a few years.
The Majestic hotel was the best and most luxurious in Shanghai and one of the leading hotels in the World from it’s opening in 1924, being the jewel of the Hong Kong and Shanghai hotels company. The gigantic ballroom became the place for most important official parties to take place, including St Andrew’s and St George’s, the Washington and the Russian ball as it was the largest venue in Shanghai, able to host more than 1000 guests.
The ballroom was also one of the main point where Shanghai dancing craze started, with a jazz band featuring, local stars such as Serge Ermoll and Whitey Smith. In 1927, the Majestic Ballroom was the location of a major event, the wedding of Chiang Kai Shek, the ruler of China then, and Song Meiling (See the Soong Sister for more information). In 1929, Hollywood star Douglas Fairbank and his wife Mary Pickford visited Shanghai and stayed at the Majestic, underlining its success on Shanghai scene.
With all its grandeur, the Majestic Hotel proved to big and too luxurious to be really profitable, and the hotel was sold to developers in 1930 (source: Hong Kong and Shanghai hotels official website). At the same period, the Cathay hotel (today’s Fairmont Peace Hotel) opened on the Bund. The Majestic hotel ballroom finally closed in 1931 and the building was destroyed in 1932. The massive land was separated in several lots, including the one where Majestic Theater was built in 1941. The former location of the hotel is similar to the one of today’s Westgate Mall on Nanjing Xi lu.