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.
I only became interested in Art Deco in Shanghai, long after leaving Budapest where I lived for a number of years (see post “Budapest Old and New“) . Just like in France, Art Deco was until recently seen as a minor style, often enclosed in the “Entre- deux guerres” period (Literally “between the 2 wars”), see post “Art Deco in France” for more on that. During my previous trip to Budapest, I was looking for Hudec connection in Budapest (see post “Hudec Alma Mater“. This time I walked around the city in search of Art Deco.
The search was greatly helped by a great guide book, from Zoltan Bolla, that is both in English and Hungarian. I had already looked for Art Deco in Budapest districts where I used to live in (mostly 6th, 7th), including UjSzinhaz theater, that is on the guidebook cover. This time I went to the 8th, 11th and 13th districts, parts of the city I never really visited while living there, but main points of Art Deco and modernist style. The border between Art Nouveau, Art Deco and modernism are often blurry and Budapest is no exception. This made a really interesting trip.
This area is pretty central, and Art Deco buildings are spread between earlier styles building. I focused on Népszínház utca, from Blaha Lujza Tér. The largest and most noticeable building on that road (though not the only onw) is pictured above, a beautiful and massive corner building. Although it is very central, the area was not very desirable when I lived in the city. This has massively changed and it is transforming fast.
Spending most of my life in Pest, I rarely went to Buda, the other side of the river. This is the home of one the main Art Deco et modernist area, around Móricz Zsigmond Körtér, with its large modernist buildings (picture above). I always felt that this part of the city was mostly about large boulevards, but strolling the small side streets looking for Art Deco completely changed my impressions on the area.
Small leafy streets with Art Deco buildings, like Szábolcska Mihály utca (number 3 on that street is pictured above) are really quite, with a high concentration of Art Deco and modernist buildings, as this part of the city was really developed in the late 20’s and 30’s. Away from the traffic, but close to transportation, they make a really nice area to live, away from the tourist crowds.
Further down Bartók Béla út, around Kosztelányi Dezsö Ter, Art Deco and modernist buildings are much larger, overlooking large boulevard. This gives a much more urban and modernist feeling.
Although I lived in that area at some point, I only realized many years later that my flat was located in a modernist building from the 1930’s. This part of the city has quite a mix of buildings, including art Nouveau, Art Deco and mordernist. The most noticeable Art Deco part is surely around Szent István Park (above picture). This is also the location of Duna Park Kaveház, a fully renovated Art Deco Cafe and restaurant. A great spot for a rest while on the hunt of Art Deco in Budapest.
Another really valuable guide about Art Deco and modernism in Budapest is the new guide book from Kovács Daniel, with pictures from Gulyás Attila. Although, it is only (so far) in Hungarian, the English translation will be a great addition for international Art Deco lovers.
Thanks to a recent business trip, I finally had the chance to view the ” Art Deco, the French-China Connection” exhibition in Hong Kong. Opened in early March, it will last until end of June and is worth seeing for Old Shanghai fans visiting Hong Kong.
The exhibition is the result of a very unique cooperation. It’s origin is the major Art Deco exhibition in Paris that took place in 2014 (see post “1925, when art deco dazzled the World” for more details), with a number of major pieces having been brought from Paris. Had this new exhibition been only a short version of the Paris one, it would already have been really interesting, but there much more to see.
One of the major and little known Art Deco link between France and China, is the mausoleum statue of Sun Yat Sen in Nanjing. If the purple mountain based mausoleum and the statue are extremely famous in China, few people know that the statue was created by French sculpture Paul Landowski in Boulogne near Paris, before being shipped to China. Landowski was also the creator of another World famous piece, the Christ statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. (See post: From Boulogne to Nanjing for more details).
With a France-China Connection theme, Shanghai art deco was also called in, with the help of major Shanghai based collector including Deke Ehr, Patrick Cranley and Tina Kanagaratnam. The original Paris Art Deco exhibition had shown a few photos of Shanghai Art Deco architecture by Leonard & Vesseyre company. Here, the Shanghai part is much larger with great examples of Shanghai Art Deco furniture, as well as fashion and famous art deco advertising posters. Side by side with the ones from Paris, they highlight the similarities between style and fashion in both cities during the same period.
Many more of those advertising posters from Hong Kong were on display, but the most important contribution to the exhibition is the whole room full of 1920’s and 30’s compact boxes or “necessaires” as they are called in French. These small boxes for ladies to carry make-up became really trendy in this period, and the collection on display is simply amazing thanks to the Liang Yi Museum.
Although the neighborhood of Kowloon Tong is quite far from the center of Hong Kong, the exhibition is definitely worth the trip for anybody interesting in Art Deco and Shanghai.
It is open until 30th June (10:00 to 19:00, closed on Monday), at CityU Exhibition Gallery, 18/F, Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, City University of Hong Kong, 83 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong
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.
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 development was fueled by real-estate and construction. Just like in every big city, people moved house, bought and sold properties and remodeled them. There was also maintenance work, as well as upgrade to be done.
I recently noticed this ad in a 1937 Shanghai publication. I particularly like the “All works satisfactorily executed”. The company was surely a foreign one, located behind the Bund, on today’s Sichuan Middle Road, close to Fuzhou Lu. In such a central location, it must have been involved in building or maintaining the buildings of the business district of the International Settlement, though I did not find more information about. I tried to call 16077, but sadly this number does not exist anymore.
Being in the subtropical zone, Shanghai weather varies strongly over the course of the year.
Summers tends to be very hot, with the back ground noise of cicadas (see post Singing trees and Shanghai heat), the damp atmosphere feeling more like tropical Saigon. On the opposite, winters are cold and damp (See post freezing Shanghai). While snow is rare (see post snow in Shanghai), the humidity makes living in the city really miserable for a few days. Mid-season between those Scylla and Charybdis are really nice, and best to visit Shanghai either in spring, or in Autumn.
Shanghai sub tropical sun light is very strong and a few sunny hours tend the change the city mood really fast. This is why most houses face South, as light coming directly inside the home will brightens up the dampest winter day. In the rare days of winter sunshine, lanes fill up with hanging clothes and bedding, the sun light being most effective to chase away bugs and humidity of the old houses.
Best days for me are also those blue sky days in winter, even better late winter or early spring. Winter time is a particularly great time to look at old architecture in the former concessions. While plane trees leafs provide a nice shadow in the summer, they tend to cover up low rise buildings from the 1920s and 30s. Winter see the leafs disappear and the buildings appearing clearly. It’s a great time to walk around, look at the buildings and take photographs. With the spring a few days away, buds will soon open before becoming leafs. They will recreate the charming green vault overlooking the streets, but will also cover Old Shanghai low rise buildings. With a few days to enjoy it, every day of blue sky is an opportunity to discover more about Old Shanghai, so just go out and look around before it’s too late… for this year.
The name of Casablanca is largely associated with the 1940s, thanks to Michael Curtiz’s movie from 1942. I had heard from friends that the city center had a number of Art Deco buildings and hotels, so this large port city became part of our Morocco trip, but nothing could prepare me for the shock of so much Art Deco in one place.
Shanghai and Casablanca have a number of interesting common points. They are both large port cities and subtropical, located slightly above the Tropic of Cancer. Although they have been used as ports for centuries, both cities were largely developed in the early part of the 20th century thanks to export of exotic goods from the hinterland to West colonial powers. This greatly influenced the architecture of both cities. All these similarities, give a strong sense of familiarity to a Shanghai visitor to Casablanca. Like new western district were build around Shanghai Old City while preserving it, Casablanca Western city was built next to the Old Medina, that is still inhabited. With a similar structure, history and timing, Casablanca and Shanghai shared a similar architecture from the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco.
Although numerous Shanghai Art Deco buildings remains in the city today, many have been demolished and the city center has changed a lot since the 1930s. What is fascinating with Casablanca, is that little has changed. Most of the 1920s to 1940s buildings are still in place, and Art Deco clearly flourished in Casablanca. In the central district, nearly every single building is a declination of the Art Deco style. French young artists and architects (like Majorelle) moved to Morocco and used the city to experiment with the then modern style. Local crafts were used to create unique pieces for the new style. In Shanghai, Chinese wood carving skills were in Art Deco furniture. In Casablanca, the most visible is the use of plaster and ceramic inherited from islamic art, to create exterior sculpture on buildings and mosaics.
Like in Shanghai, early 20th century heritage has been used but largely neglected for decades. Shanghai has its Historic Shanghai association, Casablanca has Casa Memoire. The association’s map was very useful for an overview of the best places to see, although the best is sometimes (just like in Shanghai), just off the beaten track.
Although Casablanca the movie was not fimed here, an American former diplomat has opened a real life version of Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca. The bar definitely has the right atmosphere, an evocation of the 1930s or 40s, reminding me of Shanghai’s own M on the Bund. A great way to close this short stay in Casablanca.
Our short Morocco trip took us to Essaouira, a sea side resort that is famous for its constant climate all around the year. Before air travel, it was the cooling station for Marrakesh and Casablanca, just like Qingdao or Yantai were for Shanghai. Essaouira has a small and pretty Medina with narrow streets to protect from the wind (now protected as UNESCO heritage) and a few Art Deco buildings. The medina is surrounded by a city wall, originally designed by a disciple of 18th century French architect Vauban.
The current main square overlooking the sea was clearly made by taking down parts of the Medina wall to clear space in the early 1920s, when the city was called Mogador. Near the square stands Beau Rivage hotel, with is modernist style and its ground floor Café de France that has kept is Moorish Art Deco interior.
The other spot of Art Deco buildings are villas along the beach, South from the old town. This area feels quite similar to places Miami Beach, Long Beach California or Bondi Beach in Sydney. The beach side is now a mix of modern hotels and apartment blocks with a few Art Deco beach villas remaining.
I managed to talk with an old man enjoying the sunset on the balcony of one of the them. “This house was built for the director of the regional veterinary administration, in 1948, under the French protectorate” he said. For the French civil servants, posting in Mogador must have been quite a remote location, but having a nice villa on the beach to watch the sunset was a pretty nice compensation.
The really interesting part is that I had always thought that French Art Deco stopped with WW2. It seems that in Morocco, Art Deco continued well in the late 1940’s and maybe further, just like it continued in Asia (See post Frankenstein Art Deco). Casablanca architecture was also influenced by California in the 1940s, so the trend of Art Deco beach villas came all the way to Mogador, just like it came all the way to Qingdao, Yantai and other sea side resorts in China.