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.

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 Er lu, 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 (building left)

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”, not so different from the 143-145 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.

For info about Brooklyn Court, go to post “Return to Brooklyn Court“.