Typhoon over Shanghai

I recently came across this amazing picture of flooded street of Shanghai in 1933.

Although considered as subtropical, Shanghai climate really has very different seasons with steep differences in temperature. Winter can be very cold, with snow (see post “Feeling like European winter” and “Snow in Shanghai” for more details). Summer are very hot and humid, giving an equatorial feeling to the city with Cicadas sound (See post “Shanghai heat“, and “Singing trees“). Another feature of Shanghai climate is tropical rain. As the city is not tropical enough to received massive rain all year around, like Hong Kong or Taipei, it always seems to be taken by surprise every time a typhoon hits the city.

Policeman working in flooded Shanghai

Pictures in this article is taken from 11th November 1933 issue of French newspaper L’illustration. The caption is “One of the main streets of Shanghai after the typhoon”. French readers will notice that Shanghai is spelled “Changhaï” as it was spelled in French then. I have not been able to identify the street shown, but it looks very much like a large street in the Chinese city, as main Concessions streets in the 1930’s were already lined up with much higher stone building.

“People of Shanghai, walking in the water under the protection an umbrella”

The pictures were actually taken during 20th September 1933 typhoon that flooded the city. It mentions that Chinese city wooden houses are very exposed to the typhoon, but the main body of the article is focused on the Jesuits weather forecast network based in Xu Jia Hui, collecting information from all over Asia to predict the weather. It is nowadays Shanghai weather forecast institute in Xu Jia Hui, still on the same location.

Once it was sure that a Typhoon was coming, the information was broadcasted by radio to ships at sea. The article also mention that canons shot were used at the harbor as the usual way of warning ships. Although it is not mentioned in the article, flags were probably raised on the Shanghai Bund Semaphore, also called Gutzlaff tower (see post “Best view on the French Bund” for more details). Flags were a usual way to give instructions and warning to ships at that time.

Floods on the Normandy in 2009

Shanghai sewage network has been upgraded in the last years, so flooding when a typhoon comes to the city do not seem to happen to that extend anymore. This is quite a recent development, as similar scenes were a regular feature in the former French Concession… as seen in enclosed picture taken in July 2009.

 

Shanghailander… Cafe and bakery

The famous cafe

Having lived for years on former Route Kaufmann (today Anting Lu), my daily routine took me to the Zhao Jia Bang lu metro station, at the intersection of Route Dufour (today Wulumuqi Nan Lu) and Route de Ziccawei (today Zhao Jia Bang Lu). This area is also the location of Shanghailander Cafe & bakery.

Route Dufour in Chinese


Having spent a lot of time in cafes in many places in the World, opening my own would surely be quite some fun. Although the name can be misleading, I have no link with this establishment, as a number of friends and readers have asked. Since I pass in front of this place nearly every day, I tried it and can recommend both the pastry and the coffee. The link with Old Shanghai does not stop with the Shanghailander name, as the Chinese name 聚付 is also significant, as it was the Chinese name of Route Dufour, former name of Wulumuqi Nan Lu.

Former Shanghai Nursing Home

Route Dufour was constructed between 1918 and 1921 and was named after a French employee of the Standard Oil who was killed in WWI. Most buildings in the bottom stretch of the street are not original, but they kept the right style. A notable building not far on the same street is the former Shanghai Nursing Home, that is now hidden in the trees and hosting many families. Much more visible is the Dufour apartment building, one of the lesser known Art Deco wonders of Shanghai.

Dufour Apartment, Art Deco in Shanghai

The location of Shanghailander Cafe has only become popular for cafes and bars in the last few years, with the transformation of parts of the Former French Concession in a trendy area.  Starting to be inhabited in the 1920s and 1930s, this area was residential and quiet, considered like the suburb of Shanghai. The proximity to the end of the French concession, the Zhao Jia Bang Creek (where the main road is now located) was surely not a good location for a cafe.

JingAn Coffee House

As show on this advertising for the long gone Jing An Cafe House, Cafe culture is nothing new to Shanghai, and coffe have spread everywhere in the last few years. When I wrote the post “Shanghai Coffee Culture” in 2010, Shanghai Coffee drinking was all about coffee chains and some old timers like Deda Cafe. In the meantime, independent coffee shops have opened up everywhere… and some have already disappeared (see Boona Cafe and Citron Cafe post for more details) in the fast pace of Shanghai business. In new Shanghai, cafes have become trendy again, just like in Old Shanghai.

The best days for Old Shanghai are nearly over

Being in the subtropical zone, Shanghai weather varies strongly over the course of the year.

Art Deco behind the trees

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.

Uncovered façade on Anfu lu

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.

Soon covered by leafs

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.

Leaving Route Kaufmann

House Anting Lu
Leaving the house

Today was a major change in Shanghai for me. After 12 years of living in Old Shanghai houses (nearly all my stay in Shanghai), I finally moved to a modern high rise. My first Old Shanghai home was at the corner of Rue Lafayette (today Fuxing Lu) and Rue Pottier (today BaoQing Lu), beginning Avenue Pétain (today HengShan Lu), where I staid one year. More information about this great former banker’s home is available in post First home in Old Shanghai. I then moved to the end of a lane of the tranquil Route Kaufmann.  Passage 81 Route Kaufmann (Anting Lu 81), was the entrance to a private lane, Route d’Adina (this small street has no name today, only Anting Lu 81). This was not only time travel, it was practically a time trap.

Waking up to the sounds of birds in the surrounding garden, at the very end of a quite lane was practically like living in Old Shanghai. Although we shared the house with 4 -5 neighbors (including some really evil ones), we had a 2 bedroom apartment in an old house, with most of the original doors, ceilings and windows. This apartment was just like a time machine and having taken it empty, we filled it slowly but surely with lot’s of Old Shanghai treasures found here and there.

sculpture Anting lu
Doors sculpture

I have often though about the original (wealthy) owners of the house (probably Chinese from my research). With the level of details, I assume they took great care in building this Spanish Revival house around 1936. Unfortunately for them, by 1937 the Japanese attacked Shanghai, invading the concessions in 1941. Then the Chinese revolution came in 1949 and the house was probably confiscated, if the original owners were still living in it. I can probably say that we lived longer in there than the original owner, while really caring about the house. Unfortunately, some of the others inhabitant were not so careful

When I moved in, the house was in a good state, though it clearly was not really cared about. It was really similar to Eastern Europe communism confiscation of bourgeois property, sharing a beautiful building among numerous people who used it without care. Unfortunately, in the last 10 years, needed maintenance was lacking, including massive roof repair (to stop water leaks !), water proofing the walls, pruning the trees that obscured the house and cleaning the garden that became a jungle. Since nobody was willing to do anything… it became clear at some point that we needed to get away.  We waited as much as we could, but finally moved yesterday.

view
Room with a view

The major change is that we moved to a high rise. This is definitely a jump in time, a slide from Shanghai 1930’s straight to modern Shanghai. The great advantage is the view, overlooking Xu Jia Hui Park. We have moved to modernity but not left the French Concession, now living at the corner of Route Destelan (GuangYuan Lu) and Route Prosper Paris (Tianping lu), nor left our lovely furnitures and other items. Moving to modernity will surely not be the end of the passion for Old Shanghai nor of this blog… which is now turning 10 years old.

mystery house on ChangLe lu

Original Staircase
Original Staircase

Historic buildings in Shanghai have been badly maintained for many years and have sustained the lack of care fairly well. Many have been renovated in the last year, either with love and attention like Bund 18 or Kee Club. Many more have seen a ruinovation keeping only the external façades and totally destroying the interior with no respect for the original.  As a history enthusiast, I rarely agree with the transformations that often take place along with the renovations. It was then really interesting to find out about an unfinished art deco villa, in a location where I have been many times, but never noticed it.

Art Deco balcony
Art Deco balcony

The original building was an enormous house, on three floors with about 1200 sqm of surface. The facade was facing South, like most houses in Shanghai with a large garden on the south side, ending on today’s ChangLe lu. As the house was used by the army for many years, some buildings used as army barracks and offices have been built in what was the garden. A small park was also added on the ChangLe Lu side, closing the view and covering it up from the general public view. Without knowing, it was impossible to see the original modernist / Art Deco villa in the middle.

Versailles parquet
Versailles parquet

What makes it really special, is that this house was clearly never finished by the original team. From the style and the construction details, it was probably started between 1945 and the late 1940’s, but was not completed as planned. The staircase (first picture) and the second floor and balcony was completed, but the ground floor remained unfinished. It is clear that half of the ground floor terrazzos were high quality, but the rest was finished in a hurry using lower quality materials. Both the ground and first floors have a very large room in the middle, surrounded by small rooms. Only 2 of the small rooms, seem to have had the original Versailles parquet installed. The rest of the parquet is of much less quality, although age has colored it nicely.

art deco fireplace
art deco fireplace

Another nice touch is the Art Deco fire place on the second floor. Like most original fireplaces in Shanghai, it has been filled up with concrete (see post freezing Shanghai for more details). Renovation has turned it back into a nice, though useless, piece.

The general structure of the house is really interesting, as the central second floor is made of concrete (covered with a woodfloor), but the small surrounding rooms are parquet only. The original ground floor decoration was never made, altough the house was eventually finished-up at some stage and used as offices. Two more buildings were added in what was originally the garden. Since the house was never finished in its original style, the developers have spent a lot of effort restoring original details, while adding a very modern touch to it.The building is about to open again as center for design and fashion firms with the now usual addition of fashionable shops, bars and restaurant. The place will be called Mixpace and located on Changde Lu, close to the corner of Shaanxi Lu.

 

Population Zoning in the former French Concession

Urbanisation zones in the French Concession
Urbanisation zones in the French Concession

I have often wondered how zones of Old Shanghai were urbanised, of there was any planning at all. I recently encountered a document showing occupation zones of the French Concession in 1934. The document is in French and I have not been able to ascertain its origin or its author, but here is it for sharing with readers:

“Zones of population dispatch in the French Concession in 1934.

The dispatch of population was started from the beginning of the 20th century, continue following similar trends. From the cadaster study from 1934, the concentration of Chinese population is the highest near the Chinese city (Zone I). From the administration point of view, it is reserved for the native population; buildings of all styles can be erected, shops, factories in living quarters are mixed altogether.

Zone II is next to the business district (located in the International Settlement), occupied by many living quarters and Chines shops. The French municipality wanted to transform it into a ‘European City’ because of its size and it proximity with the business district but ambitions of the French municipality was never realized due to heavy cost of such a project. However, in order to smooth traffic and create more space between the buildings, it is decided to erect higher buildings in this area and avoid the anarchy of older constructions.

Zone III is occupied by shops and residence for the middle class. All constructions are allowed, but they must follow rules about aesthetic and keeping quiet around public facilities, including schools and hospital. Those exclude polluting or noise generating industries. European styles shops are favored on the street side, along with keeping space between buildings.

Zone IV is reserved for residential area and was further extended up to Xu Jia Hui. As a consequence, any factory not following “aesthetic rules” of the French municipality were prohibited so as to guarantee a western type of architecture and avoid pollution in this upper class area.”

It is interesting to compare this 1934 study with current urban development in Shanghai. Zone I is being totally transformed into a modern living area, along with the area  of Zone III where Xin Tian Di is located. At the same time, Zone VI has kept most of its charm and is now often referred as “the Former French Concession”, when it actually is only a part of it.

Collège Municipal Français, Route Vallon

Cercle Sportif Francais
Cercle Sportif Français

Most people interested in Shanghai history know about the “Cercle Sportif Francais”, the current Okura Garden hotel on Maoming lu. The French Club as it was called in English moved to this brand new building in 1926, from its original location on Route Vallon (today’s Nanchang lu). The very large building previously used was then allocated to house the French High School or “Collège Municipal Français” in French.  The garden of the Collège Municipal Français extended all the way to French Park, i.e. today’s Fuxing Park. Unfortunately the park has been separated from the building and a wall is now separating them. It would be extremely difficult to take the same picture again.

Shanghai Science Hall
Shanghai Science Hall

I managed to get into today’s Shanghai Science Hall on Nanchang lu, the building that was the old Collège Municipal Français. It is not a high school anymore, but a building dedicated to science studies. As such, it is sometimes difficult to enter  as the guards are not happy to see foreigners coming in. The side on Nanchang lu is oriented towards North. The much nicer facade is oriented toward the South, overlooking the park. Like in many buildings in Shanghai, a south orientation allows to get some light and warmth in the gloomy winter.  With the large space this building is very cold in the winter, like most buildings in Shanghai. I have not seen a real heating system in place, but the may have been one when it was built. One of the most interesting feature is the art deco stain glass in the hall way (see picture left). Stain glasses were very much in fashion when this building was erected, as found in a number of building in Shanghai. This one is the largest I have seen in the city. I have tried to take pictures of it before, being chased out by the guard… but today was my day of luck. The stain glass is not noticeable from the outside, but really nice from the inside. Although it has been clearly repaired in some parts, it has crossed time and Shanghai history while being well preserved.

up the stairs
up the stairs

Among others, two famous authors attended the teaching of the Collège Municipal Français, Rena Krasno and Liliane Wilens. As explained by the later when we met (see post “a date with Liliane“), students of the Collège Municipal Français were French children and other foreigners, as well Chinese from Shanghai upper class society. Located in the heart of the French Concession, the Collège Municipal Français was very near to some famous residential areas such as Rue Lafayette (today Fuxing Lu) and Avenue Pétain (today’s Heng Shan lu). Since the building was not originaly designed as a school but as an entertainment club, it became a school with a wonderful design, surely giving life long memory to the children who went to school there.

This location was also the seat of the original Alliance Francaise de Changhai, teaching French to Chinese students just like it is today on the Wusong Lu campus. This very large building is still in use without much repair and still has grand style and appearance. It is very well worth a visit if you can sneak in.