Gordon Road Police Station

IMG_4168Although I now have spent nearly 12 years in the city, Old Shanghai still offers surprises for me. One of the latest one was my recent rediscovery of Gordon Road Police Station on Jiangning Lu (former Gordon Road). A walk in the North part of the International Settlement, looking for a famous new restaurant (The Commune Social) took me there. This is when I ran into what is called “The Design Republic Commune“, a major design store and display. The colonial style of the building was quite clear, surely a former colonial administration building, in the former Shanghai International Settlement. The style different, but the overall look is pretty similar to Hong Kong Central Police Station, currently under renovation. Like for many renovation in Shanghai, the interior of the building has been totally gutted to make space for the new usage of the space. In any case, the external cleaning makes it stand out in the area.

Gordon police station was a special place in the Shanghai municipal police organisation, as it was the place were all freshly arrived police officers were sent for training after arrival in Shanghai. The plate on the building mentions “about 1910’s” as a construction date., however the Shanghai Municipal Gazette of 20th March 1908, shows the completion of the “Police training school” Gordon Road to be completed in February of the same year. Since the area at that time was not densely urbanized, this massive police station and the police training school were probably the same building. It is mentioned in Robert Bickers'”Empire made me” (2003) as “Gordon Road Training (or Western) Depot”. As explained in the book, the building had a “large parade ground”. The training and drilling ground is long gone,  but at construction and during the 1920’s the area was pretty much countryside, with factories and houses being built around in the 1930’s. Sikhs and Chinese police officers were also stationed there for training, staying in dorms that have long disappeared. It is difficult to imagine the size of the ground surrounding the police station, but it was surely massive.

British Police ShanghaiFrom 1909, all police force arriving in Shanghai was sent to the Gordon Road Depot for a few months of training before being sent the operation. This was a new organisation, pioneered by the London Metropolitan, opening it’s first depot a year before. The training was close to military training, along with class about the city, police procedures and the Shanghai dialect. Free time as only allowed after diner, until the 1 am curfew. Learning Shanghai dialect was done using “Lessons in Shanghai dialect” by F.L Hawks Pott, president of Saint John University and author of “A short history of Shanghai“. Mastering Shanghainese was essential for promotion as most of the population that the police dealt with did not speak English… nor Mandarine Chinese.

After training, the police officers were sent to various police station around the International Settlement. Wearing the same uniform as in England, the “bobbies” were a familiar sight of Shanghai, with Sihks policemen as subordinates. Although pictures of the later are pretty common, the pictures of English policeman on the Bund is pretty rare.

French police accommodation

Police accomodation on Huai Hai Lu
Police accommodation on Huai Hai lu

The building pictured left is one of the most viewed old building of Shanghai, though it may not be the most looked at. Located at the corner of Huai Hai Zhong lu (former avenue Joffre) and Baoqing lu (former route Pottier), its architecture really stands out but it is dominated by the opposing and much more visible art deco building. Its architectural style is quite unique in Shanghai, I once read that the architect was from Marseille and that it is clearly similar to some buildings of this city.

This corner of the former French concession was once the location of the Foch police station, one of the five police stations of the French authorities. The actual police station is long gone (a sky scraper stands in its place), but I found the below old picture on the internet. Being next to the police station, this building had a very specific function, it was designed to accommodate the police officers working at the police station. As far as I know, the building inhabitants are still police officers to this day. The building is still in a good shape, despite the usual DIY modifications, in particular the closure of some of the balconies. I have noticed this particular building since I first came to Shanghai in 1998 and I thought it was unique in Shanghai until recently. It turns out that it is not.

Police accomodation with Joffre police station
Police accommodation with Foch police station

Apart from the Foch police station, the French concession had 4 others, covering the whole area of the concession. The most well known is probably the police station Mallet, a large Art Deco building near the Bund, which is still a police building. The Pétain police station one was located at the bottom of Heng Shan lu (the former avenue Pétain), there is still a police station in this area, but I am not sure it is at the same location. The Joffre police station was located next to the fire station on Huai Hai lu (former Avenue Joffre, near Xin Tian Di). This particular building has been under renovation since a few years, and a French luxury brand should open its flagship store in it.

Police accommodation on Jiang Guo Lu
Police accommodation on Jiang Guo Dong Lu

The main police station was the Central Police station on Jiang Guo Dong Lu (former route Stanislas Chevalier). It was the headquarters of the French police, at least until the Mallet police station was opened. The large building was also the seat of the mixed court, the special court with a French judge and a Chinese judge seating together. Although it was covered up by an ugly entrance and somehow horribly modernized a while ago, it appears that the original structure is still in place. Moreover, renovation work has started a few months ago and it seems the final result will look like the old pictures. This is where I found copies of the building on Huai Hai lu (see picture).

The twin building
The twin building

The Huai Hai lu version has the main decorated facade facing North and visible from the street, making it very distinctive. On the Jiang Guo Dong Lu one, the decorated facade is also facing North, but the street side is on the South side, so the facade is only visible if you get into the courtyard. There are in fact two buildings surrounding a garden.  Both buildings are identical, but they are not exactly the same as the one of Huai Hai Lu which is a little wider with a much wider roof. However colors, balconies and decoration details are extremely similar, making clear that the same architect did them all, with surely the same purpose of accommodating police officers, which I believe is still the case today.