Shanghai Club revival

Reviving the Shanghai Club
Reviving the Shanghai Club

The old Shanghai Club building had been closed for quite a number of years. Its transformation and re-opening in the Waldorf Astoria hotel happened with much less hype than the renewed Peace Hotel down the Bund. However, restoration of this piece of history has been very careful and the result is matching the highest expectation.

Shanghai club postcard
Shanghai club postcard

Built in 1911, this is the second building of the Shanghai Club. The male only British Club was the center of power and wealth in Old Shanghai. A few meters down from the main banks, trading houses and administrations, the club was the second home for the rich and powerful people of the International Settlement. The building contained all that was needed by its members, including bowling alleys, billiard rooms, a barber, restaurants and the long bar, supposedly the longest bar in the world. The top floors where occupied by 40 en-suite rooms for the residency of the members.  The club membership was the cream of Shanghai businessman, drinking on the long bar with a carefully selected order.

Bund with Shanghai Club
Bund with Shanghai Club

The richest and most powerful would stand near the front windows, when the griffins (or newbies) would be relegated towards the back end of the room. Climbing Shanghai’s social ladder also meant going up the Long Bar. The Club also had massive dining room on the 2nd floor with giant portraits of the British Royalty. Besides the Italian marble staircases, a small lift was installed for the convenience of the members.

Unfortunately, the building suffered quite a lot in the 50’s to 80’s period. It became the seaman’s club serving a very different clientele from the dignified British gentlemen that occupied it before. The upper floor was turned into a hotel, also of much lower standard. The Long Bar was destroyed at some point and little remained of it when the ground floor was turned into the first KFC in China. Although this brought masses to the place, it is clear that no care was taken of the remains of splendor of this old lady of the Bund. Fortunately, the hotel renovation has been done with great care, recreating the Long Bar in its original location. I am sure that this piece of Old Shanghai will soon become one of the hangouts of the rich and famous of new Shanghai. The massive ball room on the 2nd floor has been renovated into the hotel main ball room. Although the British royalties portraits are long gone, the place still has a lot of majesty (except for the horrible new carpet) and gave a real official turn to the ceremony I recently attended. This would make an incredible location for one of my conferences on Shanghai history. The higher floors of the building have been turned into luxury suites that will surely attracted a very wealthy crowd. As the Waldorf Astoria is not fully open, the building still had a cozy a private atmosphere that matches the old club style. This is the best time to visit it, as the full opening of the hotel will surely change that.

Dancing in the bank

The Bund was the center of business in Old Shanghai. Major banks and companies had their headquarters on the riverside or in the streets behind. A number of these buildings are finally being renovated in turned once again into greatness, though mostly into fancy bars and restaurants. One of the most popular one is Bund 18, open in late 2004, the old building of the “Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China”. Renovation of this old lady was run by Italian experts in old building renovation. Thanks to their work, this dilapidated piece of art has been turned into a luxury shopping mall and an entertainment complex. Bar Rouge on the 7th Floor opened in late 2004 along with restaurant Sens & Bund. Bar Rouge was the undisputed star of Shanghai nightlife (see my post “Decadence on the Bund“) and has been joined by Lounge 18 (4th floor) in late 2007.

Bar Rouge is all about modern design, using very little of the original building’s features, apart from the incredible terrace with the fantastic view on the Pudong. Lounge 18’s decor really uses the building much more, as the 4th Floor was originally dedicated to be an art gallery. The careful restoration of the windows, ceiling and interior adds a lot to the atmosphere, giving real feeling of history in the building. The most breathtaking part certainly is the staircase seen by most people on their way to the bars.

The original owner, the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China was founded in 1853 in London, following the grant of a royal charter from Queen Victoria. The Shanghai branch opened in 1858. It developed in the city, financing trade between India, China and other parts the British Empire. Business must have been good, as the bank built its headquarter on the Bund in 1923. The building was remarkable, competing in style with others along the river… but at the end of the day, it was a bank. In here, like in any bank, people would come in to deposit and take out money, collect their salaries and make investment. Exactly like in today’s Bank of China, people would have a little booklet listing all operations executed on the account. I happened to find one of these booklets from 1940 (picture up and left). The last operation is from September 1941, as probably the client left Shanghai then. Everything was handwritten at the time and very well kept. The Chartered Bank merged with the Standard Bank in 1969 to become “Standard Chartered bank”. After leaving the country in the 1950’s, it has come back many years later as one of the main foreign banks now operating in China. Bund 18 is not a bank anymore, but I think about the booklet every time I go there and the building still is one of the jewel of the Bund.

Snow in Shanghai

Sow in Old Shanghai
Snow in Old Shanghai

With latitude in the range of to Casablanca, Baghdad and New Orleans, Shanghai is much more associated with warm summer than cold winters. Harsh winters happened every few years. I saw a little bit of snow in January 2005, but it’s nothing compared to the snow in January 2008 (see pictures in my photo albums).

As you can see on the picture, snow in Shanghai is not a new thing. The postcard was written in December 1930, but the picture is from an earlier time. Peace hotel was not yet built when the picture was taken, so the picture is from before 1928. On this picture, Palace hotel still had it’s tower that were destroyed in August 1912 and rebuilt in 1998 (according to “The Bund” from Peter Hibbard). Railways track visible on the postcard were laid down in 1908, thus the picture is from the period between winter 1908-09 until 1911-12. I have not found yet the records of temperature for this period, but clearly one of those winter was really cold. I am not sure how frequent snow fell on Shanghai then, but it could have been quite rare since the picture was still in use 15 to 20 years later.

Cold in Shanghai at that time was surely not a problem for the rich foreigners and Chinese alike. Most western style houses were fitted with fireplaces. It must have been warm in then, much warmer than later. As I explained in another post (Freezing Shanghai), most Shanghai houses have no real heating, only air conditioners that are used to warm up some air. Fireplace heating can be found in a few bars in Shanghai and a few house have it, but most people just freeze. Snow was rare then, but the cold certainly did not spare the poors. The rickshaw pullers on the picture must have been freezing, right on the most expensive stretch on road in the city. Poorer houses must have been heating burning coal, like they still do in rural parts of China. Just like today, people were certainly wearing multiple layers of cloths to fight the wet cold.

Pictures of Shanghai under the snow are very rare. This is one of the reason I bought this one. Besides the glorious pictures of wide avenue, large villas and imposing building, this picture shows a Shanghai that is rarely seen. I recall seeing another postcard of Huang Pu park covered with snow, that would be directly opposite where this picture was taken. I have not found yet when was the winter in the early 10’s that saw so much snow… just some more research to do.