Silas Hardoon’s story of moving from a poor employee of the Sassoon house to the richest man in Shanghai, maybe Asia, is one of those Old Shanghai legends. He was the man that owned most of the ground on both side of Nanjing Road, making a fortune with the Westward extension of the city.
The real mystery as long been how his famous garden and houses, Aili Garden, looked like. Completed in 1909, Aili Garden was built on the plot where the Shanghai exhibition center (formerly Sino-Soviet friendship building) is now located. As seen in picture below, this block is absolutely massive, occupying a large section of Central Shanghai.
Although Silas Hardoon was already very rich when he built the place, the Bubbling Well Road area (today Nanjing Xi Lu) was still a far away suburb. In the 1910s, this was the area for big mansion with large parks, including the Rong Mansion and the original Mc Bain mansion that was turned into the Majestic hotel. It really became densely populated in the 1930s, when the Hong Qiao had become the new place for large estate and large villas, a little like today’s Qingpu district or Sheshan area. Picture below gives a clear idea of the street view of the time.
The garden was used as base by the Japanese army from December 1941 and mostly destroyed by fire in 1943, freeing prime location space for the construction of the Shanghai exhibition Center in 1956. There was no picture available of the garden and its appearance was only described in a few books. Hardoon’s garden was lost in history.
This is until my good friends from Historic Shanghai found a source and published unseen original pictures from Hardoon’s family.
These amazing pictures can be found at this link: http://www.historic-shanghai.com/inside-hardoons-garden/