Park Hotel accounting

Park Hotel was the most modern hotel of Old Shanghai. The iconic building from Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec, overlooked the race course on a prime location and was the closest competition to the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel). I got a unique inside view of how the business worked through a rare find.

Employing a large number of people and keeping the operation running to please guests was, and still is, a massive task for hoteliers. Long before computers, hotels had to keep a daily clear and detailed accounting system, this is exactly what I found in an antic market. The stack of papers in above picture is the full account of Park Hotel activity for 22 Oct 1938.

1938 was a dark time in Old Shanghai, as the Japanese army had already landed in Shanghai in August 1937 and surrounded both the International Settlement and the French Concession. Crossing out was difficult and dangerous for most Chinese people. Business for the hotel, was probably much down, at least for short term accommodation as there was little visitors from abroad already and not so much travel in China. Still the accounting file gives out a lot of information.

Spending accounts for Park Hotel 22 Oct 1938 part 1
Spending accounts for Park Hotel 22 Oct 1938 part 2

First columns on both pages details the spending of the hotel in terms of food (vegetable, meat, eggs, poultry) on first page. Second page is dedicated to beverages (water, wine, beer), as well as other expenditure. Details of fresh products bought by the kitchen are displayed below.

Second column includes supplier names including a few famous brand like EWO Brewery (EWO is the Chinese name of Jardine & Matheson). Dairy farms include Laiterie Delicate, Scotch dairies and Standard milk Co. Bread supplier was Paul Tchakalian (one of the famous Russian bakery in Shanghai). The hotel also purchased items from the famous Sincere department store.

The above sheet details the purchase from the kitchen. When comparing with the above one, it is clear this is not by far the only purchase from the hotel. I would assume this one was cash purchase from markets or local vendors.

The Park Hotel shopping list was still large, with 29.5 lbs (more than 13 kgs) of beef fillet, 38.5 lbs (17 kgs) of veal leg, and 39 lbs of chicken (about 5 to 7 chickens). Sea fish consumption must have been high as the hotel also bought 45 lbs (20.5 kgs) of Sole fish and 42 lbs of Cod fish (19kgs).

Since I am not a specialist on hotels or F&B, comments and comparison with today’s hotel purchase are more than welcome.

Taras Grescoe’s Shanghai Grand

Shanghai Grand Book Cover

Searching for “Shanghai Grand” on the internet leads directly to a Hong Kong action movie from 1996 set in Shanghai. Much more interesting is the new book from Canadian travel writer and journalist Tara Grescoe, focusing on the life and relationships of New Yorker writer Emily (Mickey) Hahn during her stay in Shanghai in the 1930’s.

Many books have been written about Old Shanghai and not all of them are good or interesting. Although published in mid 2016, Shanghai Grand only came to the attention of Old Shanghai lovers based in Shanghai, when Grescoe presented his book during the 2017 M Literary festival in Shanghai. I have to admit that I was very skeptical about an Old Shanghai book written by an author mostly known for his work about public transports and World overfishing and who never spent more than a few weeks in Shanghai. The presentation itself was of high interest, while the book turns out to be one of the best written and best documented book about Shanghai in the 1930’s and some of its memorable characters.

Emily (Mickey) Hahn, and her gibbon Mr Mills

Shanghai Grand tell the story of the most crazy years of foreign Shanghai, the late 1930’s. Emily (Mickey) Hahn arrived in Shanghai  in 1935, and through chances and connection got quickly in touch with Sir Victor Sassoon and the highest class of foreign society. As free and adventurous women, she defied conventions with her interest of the Chinese Society, that was exposed to her through her liaison with Chinese Poet Zau Sinmay (Shao Xunmei in modern PinYin, 邵洵美 in Chinese characters). The books centers on the love triangle between the three of them, while exploring Sir Victor Sassoon’s thoughts about the Shanghai political situation in those troubled times. 1930’s  Shanghai was a booming city,  but the party was abruptly interrupted by the Japanese invasion, Saturday 14th August 1937, that changed the city forever. Life conditions deteriorated rapidly and Emily (Mickey) Hahn left for Hong Kong, then taking a trip to Chongqing and write her first famous book, the Soong Sisters. She stayed in Hong Kong until repatriation in the US in 1943.

Sir Victor Sassoon

Instead of using local information and archives about the city, Grescoe focused on researching foreign based sources. He primarily used the hand written notebooks from Sir Victor Sassoon (now stored in a library in Dallas, Texas) that where previously unheard of by most people studying Old Shanghai. Another major source was writings by Emily (Mickey) Hahn for the New Yorker written during her time in Shanghai (1935 to 1939), her books written about China and the many letters she wrote back to her family as well as unpublished works, that Grescoe is probably the first person to have researched intensively.

Besides the main characters, Grescoe also cast a light on a few secondary characters that he managed to find new information about. Maurice “Two Guns” Cohen is definitely one of them as little was known about him apart from his work as body guard for Dr Sun Yat-Sen. Bernardine Szold-Fritz, who introduced Mickey Hahn to the Shanghai social life is also an exotic character. The background of Shao Xunmei is exposed thanks to his relatives who are still in Shanghai today. The background of the whole story, and nearly a character in itself it the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel) on the Bund.

While researching the book, Grescoe also received support from Old Shanghai experts like Peter Hibbard and Andrew Field, as well as actually meeting with numerous authors of books about Old Shanghai or the life of his central characters. He also used a number of books written by Shanghai foreigners about their life in the 1930’s, most of them being mostly unknown or really difficult to find. The body of data collected is enormous and a large part of the work was surely to compile it, summarize it and cross references. Thanks to great writing skills, the result is a highly readable book that will satisfy readers that are not familiar with Shanghai history. At the same time, the depth of the research is a treat for Old Shanghai connoisseurs as the author has spread details and references all along the book, making it a great start for further research.

The rise and fall of the Majestic Hotel

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.

Majestic Hotel Garden

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.

Advertising leaflet for the Majestic hotel

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 majestic hotel ballroom

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.

The winter garder shows the opulence of the place

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.

Corridors of the Majestic Hotel

Peter Hibbard’s Peace at the Cathay

Peter Hibbard's new book
Book cover

Peter Hibbard has long been one of the leading scholars on Old Shanghai. He wrote the best (if not only) guide to the Bund: “The Bund Shanghai: China faces the West”, as well the privately published book celebrating the opening of Shanghai Peninsula, covering the history of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotel corporation. Peter Hibbard is also known to have revived the Shanghai Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society , an association that was at the center of cultural and intellectual life of Old Shanghai and has come back to life in recent years. With his years in Shanghai and is long term interest for city’s history, Peter always mentioned several book projects, with the most exciting surely an history of the Cathay Hotel (today the Fairmont Peace Hotel). Having started researching in the mid 80’s, the book has finally become reality.

Author Peter Hibbard
Author Peter Hibbard

With in-depth knowledge, historical photos, documents never seen before and years of passion in the making, Peace at the Cathay is the definitive guide to what is now known as The Peace Hotel. The book covers the history of the spot of its predecessor, the Central Hotel, as well as the competitor on the other side of the street, the Palace Hotel (now Swatch Peace Hotel). This is where is learned that the Palace Hotel was renovated in 1925 by Spanish architect, Abelardo Lafuente.

Obviously, the main part is focused on what became known as the Sasoon House (still known under this name in Shanghainese), and its most well known host, the Cathay Hotel that opened in 1929. With its revolutionary design, highest end service and luxury shops  offering the very best available at the time, the Cathay quickly became the center of the high class social life in Shanghai and a magnet for international tourists. Owner Victor Sassoon, with his office in the building and private apartments on the top of it, probably became the most famous Shanghailander ever and many celebrities stayed at the Cathay, as Shanghai was becoming part of the international scene.

Metropole Hotel
Metropole Hotel

Sasoon hotels also opened the Metropole Hotel n 1932 (and its sister building the Hamilton House). They completed the existing Cathay apartments in the French Concession, and were joined by another Art Deco icon of Shanghai, the Grosvenor house in 1935. All of them are also covered in the book, as well as the later use of the building after 1949.

Despite the in-depth research and the quantity of information it brings, the book makes a good read as well as a pretty coffee table book. Unfortunately, only a few hundreds of copies were made in the first print, so people interested in it should buy it fast (as far as I know, it can be bought at shop in the hotel itself as well as by contacting the author). Hopefully, as second print will be made on a larger scale, making the original copies even more valuable.

Peace at the Cathay is definitely the book about the Cathay Hotel, from the best source. We are lucky it is finally available.

Abelardo Lafuente, Shanghai Spanish architect

Old Shanghai was a place where people from many origins came to, including architects. Added with a long construction boom, this created the patchwork of architectural styles that is still visible today. The most famous architect firms of Old Shanghai were Brits Palmer & Turner, French Vesseyre, Leonard & Kruze and Hungarian Hudec Laszlo. Besides them smaller firms such Minutti (Switzerland), Gonda and Matrai (Hungary), Atkinson & Dallas (US). There was also a number of Chinese architects that designed buildings mostly from the 20s, including Poy Gum Lee.

A new one has recently got a lot of attention, Spanish architect Abelardo Lafuente. Thanks to the research of Shanghai-based Spanish architect Alvaro Leonardo, Abelardo Lafuente’s work and story was uncovered, carefully stored in Spain within Lafuente’s personal stuff.

Alberado Lafuente

Abelardo Lafuente was born in Madrid in 1871. Following his father who became the municipal architect of Manilla, he moved to the Philippines with wife and kids. Abelardo also became an architect in Manilla but most of his work was done in Shanghai after moving in 1913. He quickly made a partnership with G.O. Wooten, introducing “Mozarabic” or Moorish-Andalusian style to Shanghai. Only few of those buildings still exist, including the former Star Garage on Nanjing Xi Lu (picture further down) and the former Jewish Club next door. The master piece of the style is surely the Andalusian villa on Du Lun Lu, that is still standing. 

Abelardo Lafuente then operated alone and was in great demand for interior design, creating the ball room of several hotels. This included the Astor House hotel on the North Bund that he did the design for one of the extension in 1917 and then renovated in 1923 (this can still be visited) and the Majestic Hotel on Bubbling Well Road in 1923 (around of the same place as current CITIC Square on Nanjing Xi Lu).

Astor House hotel ballroom

Being the only Spanish architect in town, he also made a design for the Jai Alai building in the French Concession at the corner of Avenue Joffre (Today corner of HuaiHai Lu and Shaanxi Lu, at the place of the Paris Spring shopping mall), although it is not confirmed if his design was finally constructed. Lafuente also created film theaters for the Spanish business man Antonio Ramos who introduced cinema to Shanghai and a few villas including the former Soong villa, today’s home to Sasha’s restaurant at the corner of Avenue Pétain and Rue Francis Garnier (today HengShan lu and Dong Ping lu). 

When Lafuente went to the USA in 1927, one of his draftman, Russian architect Alexander Yaron, was made partner and kept the office running. Although Lafuente designed buildings in the USA, the 1929 crisis stopped his effort there. Without much money, he tried to return to Shanghai, first stopping in Mexico and finally reaching Shanghai in 1931. He died only a few months later of pulmonary disease probably caught in Mexico.

Lafuente exhibition poster 2011

Abelardo Lafuente’s style was unique in Shanghai. An exhibition about him and his work in Shanghai was organised at South Bund 22 in December 2011. It was organised by Alvaro Leonardo and the Spanish Cultural Center in Shanghai. Details are provided in the invitation on the left hand side.

More recent information about Abelardo Lafuente can be found on the page of the Abelardo Lafuente research project page.

Yangtze Hotel, home of the stars of Old Shanghai

Old Shanghai was a major touristic attraction. Although international travel at the pace of cruse ships and hydroplanes was much slower than in today’s jet age (see posts “No Flight to Shanghai”  and “Two months in rationnaire“), hotels of all categories where numerous then. A number of them have now been renovated, like the Cathay Hotel (see post “Return to the Sassoon House“) or created from Shanghai old monuments (see post “Shanghai Club revival“). One of the less wellknown is the Yangtze Hotel, currently the Langham Yangtze Hotel.

Yangtze Hotel, Hankou Road
Yangtze Hotel, Hankou Road

Yangtze hotel was planned in 1932 in a plot next to the newly built Moore Church designed by László Hudec. Near the Shanghai race course and Nanjing Road shopping street, the hotel was located in the entertainment area of the International Settlement. Designed by Chinese architect Paul Lin Pan 李蟠, the hotel was built by Pan Shang Lin 潘尚林 building firm. The same firm, who belonged to the family of famous Old Shanghai author Lynn Pan,  also built major landmark of the period including Park Hotel on People Square, Picardie Hotel on Heng Shan Road and the head quarters of  Bank of China on the Bund. The hotel external design is one the best examples of Art Deco architecture in Shanghai. Balconies in particular were decorated in the famous “Zig Zag Style” complementing the geometrical feel of the whole construction. Although is the middle of the city, it is less noticed at the corner of Hankou Lu and Yunnan lu, both one way streets away from it.

With is very modern design and location in the heart of the entertainment district, the Yangtze hotel quickly became the favorite of the entertainment crowd. The Great World entertainment center (corner of Xizang Lu and Yannan Lu) was only a few steps away, along with the theaters in the area. The hotel was also very close to the shopping mecca of Nanking Road, with Wing On department store among others. Finally, it was also very close to the race course as well as theaters such as the Grand Theater and the Metropole Theater. The Yangtze Hotel attracted Chinese celebrities, coming to dance on it’s famous spring wood dance floor in the Yangtze Ballroom. It was home to the first all Chinese Jazz Band, the Clear Wind Jazz Band. It’s resident singer was the legendary Yao Li who is most famous for the song “Rose, Rose I love you”.

1930's luggage label, Yangtze hotel, Shanghai
1930’s luggage label, Yangtze hotel, Shanghai

The hotel produced luggage labels like the one above in Art Deco style, perfectly fitting the hotel’s design and time period. I particularly like the Art Deco Chinese characters designs. Hotel luggage labels have long disappeared along with the attraction of the Yangtze Hotel for Chinese celebrities.

The interior of the hotel was ruinovated in the 1980’s and 1990’s in an effort to modernize it. It was used as a cheap hostel, like its sister hotel the Astor House on the North Bund. Original decoration including the famous spring wood floor was lost forever. From 2007, the hotel was renovated to put it to high level standard. Although not the original one, the current decoration is Art Deco inspired with a grand staircase and a stained glass ceiling similar to the ones of the time, like in the Cathay Hotel. With its new renovation the hotel still has a lot of charm both outside and inside, making it a nice place to stay in the middle of the city, but away from the modern hotels towers nearby, like a little time travel to Old Shanghai.