Dancing in the bank

The Bund was the center of business in Old Shanghai. Major banks and companies had their headquarters on the riverside or in the streets behind. A number of these buildings are finally being renovated in turned once again into greatness, though mostly into fancy bars and restaurants. One of the most popular one is Bund 18, open in late 2004, the old building of the “Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China”. Renovation of this old lady was run by Italian experts in old building renovation. Thanks to their work, this dilapidated piece of art has been turned into a luxury shopping mall and an entertainment complex. Bar Rouge on the 7th Floor opened in late 2004 along with restaurant Sens & Bund. Bar Rouge was the undisputed star of Shanghai nightlife (see my post “Decadence on the Bund“) and has been joined by Lounge 18 (4th floor) in late 2007.

Bar Rouge is all about modern design, using very little of the original building’s features, apart from the incredible terrace with the fantastic view on the Pudong. Lounge 18’s decor really uses the building much more, as the 4th Floor was originally dedicated to be an art gallery. The careful restoration of the windows, ceiling and interior adds a lot to the atmosphere, giving real feeling of history in the building. The most breathtaking part certainly is the staircase seen by most people on their way to the bars.

The original owner, the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China was founded in 1853 in London, following the grant of a royal charter from Queen Victoria. The Shanghai branch opened in 1858. It developed in the city, financing trade between India, China and other parts the British Empire. Business must have been good, as the bank built its headquarter on the Bund in 1923. The building was remarkable, competing in style with others along the river… but at the end of the day, it was a bank. In here, like in any bank, people would come in to deposit and take out money, collect their salaries and make investment. Exactly like in today’s Bank of China, people would have a little booklet listing all operations executed on the account. I happened to find one of these booklets from 1940 (picture up and left). The last operation is from September 1941, as probably the client left Shanghai then. Everything was handwritten at the time and very well kept. The Chartered Bank merged with the Standard Bank in 1969 to become “Standard Chartered bank”. After leaving the country in the 1950’s, it has come back many years later as one of the main foreign banks now operating in China. Bund 18 is not a bank anymore, but I think about the booklet every time I go there and the building still is one of the jewel of the Bund.

Last serving on Wujiang Lu

Wujiang lu is one of the most popular and peculiar streets of Shanghai. It’s a restaurant street. My office moved on this street about 4 years ago, before it was actually pedestrianized. Their was not many cars crossing, but every now and then a Shanghai driver would force his way through the crowd. The street was blocked for cars last year, and is full every night with people eating small snacks on sale in the many shops.
When we moved in the tower (in the background of picture left below), the owner of the office proudly told me “All these horrible old buildings will be destroyed in 3 months and they will create a nice park instead”. It was so true that although the building is physically on WuJiang Lu, there is also a postal address on Nanjing Xi Lu… for the time when these buildings will not exist anymore. This was more than 4 years ago and the buildings still stand although the neighborhood has already been destroyed (Click here to see post “Another one bites the dust“). Unfortunately, this is all about to change.

Restaurants are still serving, but shops on the Shi Men Yi Lu side of the blockare already closed down and walled up. Soon will come the last serving on Wu Jiang Lu. The city will loose one it noisiest but also most popular street. This part of Shanghai will become more shiny, more modern and more sterile. Like in other areas, the renovation is a great excuse to destroy very nice old buildings that could be renovated. It surely will make much more money for the developers, but will also greatly alter the landscape of this part of Shanghai.

The block separating Wujiang lu from Nanjing Xi lu is one single building. Like many of the old Shanghai, it is a combination of several styles (art deco mixed with beaux-arts and neoclassical columns). Still there is something really nice about the round shape espousing the street corners (see pictures below). To judge form the construction details and location, this was once a luxury apartments and high class shops building. Renovation could have made a great small boutique shopping center out of it, keeping the corner’s historical view while creating high street shopping… just like this was done on Huai Hai lu. Unfortunately, this is not what will happen and soon this building will be gone.  I particularly like the balconies, the columns, the shape of the building and the white shape repeating itself all along the facade. They are detailed on the pictures below. Adieu little building on the corner of Bubbling well road and Yates road.

Brooklyn Court, Routes des Soeurs

People often ask me why I am so fascinated by old Shanghai. The answer is very simple, there is a sense of mystery about it, of uncovering a past that was long lost. In my (nearly five) years in Shanghai, a lot has been re-discovered and documented… but there is always something more to find.

ARCO logo on the wall
ARCO logo on the wall

Walking on the Ruijin lu 1, we passed an old building near the corner of Huai Hai Lu one spring evening. The buildings on the East side looks old and tarnished, particularly compared to the newly renovated Estrella Apartment, designed by Laszlo Hudec, on the opposite corner. We were looking at an old door in what was probably its grand entrance, when we noticed the sculpture on the wall (picture left). After some research, it became clear that the “ARCO” sign stands for “Asia Realty Company”. This American company was the largest property owner in Shanghai and had a large office building near the Bund. Like many others, the building has suffered a lot from the lack of maintenance, various episodes of Chinese history and the add-hoc transformation by residents. Despite all this, the sign of the original owner still stands in its place.

Street facade of Brooklyn Court
Street facade of Brooklyn Court

The facade on RuiJin Lu has seen better days, but would surely look great after some renovation. The bottom floor of the building is occupied with shops, as probably in the original design. Real-estate in this part of town was surely not cheap when this was built, and has become again very expensive. The building has three entrances, a central one large enough for cars to go through and two smaller one for access to other apartments. The main entrance of Brooklyn court leads to a back yard, passing by entrances to the apartments above and a cross shaped light well (picture down). The left entrance is occupied by a temporary socks shop. The ARCO sign is located right above the shop’s display on both sides. The shopkeeper was really surprised that I wanted to take a picture of this “thing on the wall” that she probably never noticed before.

Light well in Brooklyn Court
Light well in Brooklyn Court

In my old Shanghai documents collection, there is a rental contract for an apartment in building in what I thought was on Rui Jin Lu. The address of the property was “143H Rue des Soeurs”, which is quite different from the 243-245 Rui Jin Lu, where the ARCO building is. However, from an old map of the French concession, it shows that this particular section of Rui Jin Lu (from Avenue Joffre / Huai Hai Lu to Avenue Foch / Yanan Lu) was called Rue des Soeurs… the 143 Rue des Soeurs is this particular building. “Brooklyn Court” was clearly an upper class residence. This part of Avenue Joffre was an upscale area, with proximity to the “Cercle Sportif Francais”, The Cathay apartments, the Lyceum Theater, the French Park (now Fuxing Park) as well as the French municipality. This old piece of paper that I bought 2 years ago turns out to be a rental contract for an apartment in this particular building. Too bad it’s not valid anymore… Sounds like a great place to live.