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.

Béla Mátrai, Hungarian architect in Shanghai

Having lived for years in Budapest before coming to Shanghai, I still feel connected to Hungary after all those years (see post Budapest Old and New). As explained in post ” Looking for Hudec“, discovering about the Hungarian architect in 2008 was a big surprise and I could see the parallel with my own travel from Budapest to Shanghai, actually visiting Hudec alma mater during one of my trips there. At the same time, it was also an eye opener into the incredible vitality of Hungary’s architecture before and after WW1 (see post Budapest Art Deco for more details).

Thanks to the research of the Livia Szentmartoni Consul for Culture at Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai, it turns out that Hudec was not the only Hungarian architect in town. Her 2019 book as put Karoly Gonda’s work into light, and while both Hudec and Gonda came from Hungary, there was little connection beetween both. 2020 brought news of another Hungarian architect in Shanghai, Béla Mátrai.

Picture National Archives of Hungary / János Mátyás Balogh

Just like Hudec, Mátrai was a Hungarian trained architect, taken prisonner during WW1, sent to Siberia and finally arriving in Shanghai in the 1920s. It is unknown whether both men knew each other before Shanghai, but Mátrai worked a number of years for Lászlo Hudec firm. He is part of the team creating Park Hotel, a project that lasted from 1929 until completion of the building in 1934. Mátrai was listed as “field assistant to Laszlo Hudec” (source Poncellini 2007). Although unverified, it is very likely that he was also involved in other major Hudec projects before Park Hotel, including The Grand Theater and the Women College of Université Aurore.

In a similar way to Hudec a few years before, he left Hudec firm sometime in the early 1930s to create his own firm. One of his first design was the Modernist apartment building on 273 Route Culty (today Hunan Lu), completed in 1934. He had is office on 278 Route Culty, on the other side of the street.

273 Hunan Lu – Picture Livia Szentmartoni

Interestingly, I had recently visited an apartment in this building, while noticing the floor tile pattern (see post “More on tile pattern” for more details). Here is below a picture of the South garden side, that cannot be seen from the street.

The design of the apartment was very modern with 2 large bedrooms, a large combined dining and sitting room. Kitchen was very much in original condition, including the original wall mounted foldable ironing board. The apartments in this building also have an underground cellar, which is very rare in Shanghai.

The large South oriented windows gave a lot of light and a very modern feeling. I am not sure how it feels with the cold and damp Shanghai winter, though. It was definitely a modern apartment for a wealthy modern family in the 1930s.

According to official Hungarian sources, Mátrai married a Russian lady in 1924. They had 2 children, Margit & Jeno. They divorced in 1935 and Mátrai married Lucy (Ludmila) Dobrjansky. At the end of his time in Shanghai, he sent his children away in 1947 and left Shanghai on 13th March 1948. He settled with Lucy in Glen Ellen (Sonoma, California). Lászlo Hudec settled and died in Berkeley, California… about 80 km away. Somehow, Mátrai followed Hudec path for most of his life.

Art Deco in Minhang district

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.

Advertising Park Hotel

Park Hotel, the highest tower in Asia in 1934

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.

Advertising leaflet for Park Hotel in Shanghai

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

Rare advertising for Park Hotel

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.

The Grill Room of Park Hotel. Thanks to my friend Peter Hibbard to find 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.

Laszlo Hudec alma mater

Hudec uni 002m
Inside the main lobby

Having lived in Budapest for years before moving to Shanghai, I always felt a special connection to Hudec Laszlo, the Hungarian architect who did the same things about 100 years ago to become one of the leading architect in Shanghai. Hudec was totally unkown when I reached Shanghai in 2004, but his return to fame from 2007-2008 helped me getting back in touch with Hungary. I recently took a trip back to Budapest after a number of years of absence. Having met Hudec great grandniece at the Shanghai World Congress on Art Deco, it was obvious to go and meet her in Budapest and a great opportunity to visit Laszlo Hudec’s alma mater, Budapest Technical University also called Müégyetem.

Hudec mark book
Hudec mark book

Csedy Virág, Laszlo Hudec great grandniece has created the Hudec project in Budapest, studying the elements of Laszlo Hudec’s life available in Hungary, including correspondence with his family, in particular with his sister and brother in law. Originally from Bistrica Banya (today Banska Bistrica in Slovakia), Laszlo Hudec went to Budapest for studying at what was the main technical school of Hungary at the time, and one of the most advanced in the world. He lived in a place owned by the reformed church in Budapest VIII district and studied at Müégyetem. In this period before WWI, Budapest was a vibrant city, full of people from all corners of the empire. Art and crafts were celebrated and a massive transformation of the city had taken place in the previous 30 years until that time. As an architect student, Hudec surely walked around these buildings, along with Gresham Palace, the chain bridge, taking the tram 47 -49 over the Danube to city center.

Hudec uni 001m
Laszlo Hudec used to walk here

As shown in Hudec marks book, his teachers at the university were the best at the time in the country, many of them designed architecture wonders that still make the city beautiful today. Amongst many was Karoly Kos, who designed the Budapest Zoo. Another graduate of the same university was Imre Steindl who designed the Budapest parliament house. Being taught by the bests of his time, Hudec carried this heritage and skills to Shanghai, creating some the iconic buildings of the city including the Park Hotel, Grand Theater and many more. Having made it in Shanghai, he brought his younger brother from Hungary to help him, who unfortunately died after a few years. Hudec was planning of returning at some point in Hungary, purchasing land and a ranch in the area surrounding Budapest. Leaving China after World War 2, he never went back as it was occupied by Soviet troups and became part of the East European bloc.

Visiting Müegyetem was a great experience, as I had passed in front many time but never went into it during my time living in Budapest. Hudec Laszlo story of traveling so far and being one of the main architects in Shanghai, to be forgotten for decades is still a fascinating story, strongly linked to both Hungary and China. Hudec and his work are now famous again in Shanghai, unfortunately few people know about him in his homeland of Hungary. I hope this will change in the future.

Looking for Hudec

Lászlo / Ladislav Hudec was one of the main architect of the old Shanghai. He designed major buildings of the city, such as the Normandie Building on Avenue Joffre (toady Huai Hai Xi lu). He also introduced a new style to the city after his trip to America creating the most modern buildings at the time such as Park Hotel on the race course (see post Advertising Park Hotel for more details) and the “Green” House of Dr Woo on Avenue Road (today Beijing Xi Lu). His legacy can be clearly seen around the International Settlement of the old Shanghai. I got particularly interested in Hudec since he came from a city that is now Slovakia, but was Hungary when he lived there. This resonates with my own story as I spent several years in Hungary myself, before coming to Shanghai (see post in love again and Budapest Old and New” for more details).

One of my Australian architect friend was recently putting together a presentation about Hudec work. She knew very little about the history Central Europe. I had to tell the story of the Austro-hungarian empire and how the treaty of Trianon (1920) dismantled it, creating tensions that are still so vivid today. I even took my map of Hungary before and after Trianon treaty that I bought a few years ago in Budapest as a souvenir. Anybody who has spent sometime in Hungary will know exactly what I am talking about.

50 years after his death, Hudec is finding himself in the center nationalistic competitions that started after he left the, then, Austra-Hungarian empire. He never returned to it after the split into several countries including Hungary and Slovakia. Hudec was born in a city that was Hungary then, but is now located in Slovakia, know as Banska Bistrica today. He studied in Budapest Royal Academy of Science (see post Laszlo Hudec Alma Mater for more details), and wrote his notes in Hungarian, one of the most difficult language in the World. Hungary was ruling this part of the world at that time so his education was certainly in Hungarian, thus he is seen as Hungarian by Hungarians. At the same time, he is referred on some of his buildings in Shanghai as Laudislav Hudec, a architect from Czechoslovakia. While making Slovaks pleased, this surely infuriates any Hungarian knowing about it. In any case, his genius knows no border.

Having heard the story from both sides so many time, when I lived in Central Europe, I find it really strange to be caught back this typical Central European story such a long way from its origins, now that I live in Shanghai. Both countries are now part of the EU and entered the Schenghen space but this competition is still going on. Seen from China, they are tiny nations (Hungary and Slovakia’s population combined is smaller that Shanghai). Hudec was taken prisoner on the Russian front in 1917 and escaped a train to a prisoner camp in Siberia to finally arrive in Shanghai. Not able to return to Hungary after 1945, he moved to the USA when Old Shanghai closed its doors to foreigners. Though is never went back, he still finds himself caught back by the Hungary/Slovakia competition even after his death.

This will not stop the celebration of the “Year of Hudec” that is taking place all over this year, celebrating his work that is so much part of Shanghai (more details on www.hudec.sh).

* Update from 2017: Nearly 10 years after the original post, it is now clear that László Hudec is seen as a Hungarian architect in Shanghai. Thanks to “The year of Hudec” in 2008, as well as numerous books and article, László Hudec is now fully recognized in Shanghai. At the same time, he is also gaining fame in Hungary, that he left in his youth, never to come back.