Architectural wonders of old Shanghai

Posted on April 15, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

My last entry on Shanghai continues with the theme of architecture and the fascinating stories and people behind them...


literature club

The former residence of Liu Jisheng designed by László Hudec


Out of all the amazing buildings that I visited during my trip in Shanghai, my favourite was the Shanghai Writers Association/The former residence of Liu Jisheng in the former French Concession designed and built by László Hudec (675 Julu Lu) in 1926-7. I only learned of this building while I was having coffee at La Mer cafe, which is situated at the front of the building. The friendly cafe owner told me that the cafe used to be the garage of the villa, and she encouraged me to explore the building after my coffee. I probably would not have done so if it wasn't for her because I didn't want to be arrested for trespassing!

Interestingly, I did not encounter anyone during my 'exploration', there was no other visitor nor guards on site... Walking alone in the garden and inside the villa, I became slightly melancholic and began to imagine its glorious past. Aside from the ground floor, the floors upstairs are semi-abandoned, yet from the splendid chandeliers and stained glass windows, one could imagine how the place looked when it was occupied. It must have been a fabulous setting for dinner parties! But the 'soul' of the villa is its garden/the Psyche founatin... during my stay in Shanghai, I did not see the sun until this (last) day, and it made the garden look even more stunning.

It was only after my visit that I learned of the 'love story' behind this villa and garden, which is also considered to be the most romantic building ever built by László Hudec.


literature clubliterature clubliterature clubliterature club literature clubliterature clubP1080637P1080643literature club literature club

Liu Jisheng's former residence on Julu Lu


Liu Jisheng was a coal magnate in Shanghai in the 1920s, and he bought this plot of land as a gift to his wife, Rose on her 40th birthday. She then appointed the star architect of the time, László Hudec to design the Italian Renaissance style villa and its Greek-style garden. Hudec was inspired by the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, and the layout of the villa resembles British artist, Frederic Leighton's "The Bath of Psyche".

The couple left Shanghai for Hong Kong in 1948 and they stayed together until Liu's death in 1962. She died two years later and they were buried side by side in Montreal, Canada. The garden's statue of Psyche survived the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution thanks to its gardener who hid it away in the greenhouse. The gardener continued to work here until his death and now his son has taken over his job as the guardian of the garden.

I love this story, but even without knowing the story, it is hard not to fall in love with this villa and garden. I believe that architecture has its own 'soul', and this place is definitely very special, if you go in with an open heart, you will 'feel' the love, poignancy and its glorious past.


P1080526 Moller Villa HotelMoller Villa HotelMoller Villa Hotel P1080527

 Moller Villa Hotel


The former Moller villa is a grand castle-like villa and garden not far from the the former residence of Liu Jisheng. The villa has been bought by the Heng Shan group and has been renovated and turned into Heng Shan Moller Villa Hotel (30 South Shanxi Road) in 2001. The Scandinavian-style (with Chinese architectural elements) villa was designed and built by the renowned Allied Architects for Eric Moller, a Swedish shipping magnate and horse-racing fanatic in1936.

Although there was a rumour about the design of this fairytale-like villa being based on a sketch by Moller's youngest and favourite daughter, it was denied by her during an interview. Like most other privately-owned mansions in the city, the villa was taken over by the Communist army in 1949 and Moller left Shanghai in 1950, but died in a plane crash a few years later.

The Villa also has an impressive garden covering an area of about 2,000 square meters. Being the chair of the Shanghai Horse Racing Club, Moller erected a bronze statue of his beloved horse Blonic Hill on the lawn of the garden which still can be seen today.


shanghai museum of arts & crafts P1080431 IMG_6187P1080441P1080461 IMG_6231P1080448

Top: Mansion hotel; 3rd row: Russian Orthodox Mission Cathedral; Bottom row: Elasu building on Shanxi South Road


There are several heritage hotels in the area and one of them is Mansion hotel (82 Xin Le Road). The original villa was a club house given to Du Yue-Sheng (also known as "Big-Eared Du", China's most powerful triad boss) by his chief financial controller, Jin Ting Sun. Designed by the French architect Lafayette in 1932, the villa became a famous landmark as the gangsters' headquarters and where lavish parties took place. Many of the original furniture and historical artifacts can still be seen at the hotel today. Du's former residence in the area has also been turned into a hotel called Donghu Hotel on Donghu Lu.

Opposite the Mansion hotel is a blue-domed building that looks rather out of place... it is the Russian Orthodox Mission Cathedral,built in 1937 for the Russian community in Shanghai at the time. Religious services here ceased in 1962 and the building was used as a warehouse (bizarre). While much of the cathedral's stained glass was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, the Committee of Cultural Heritage restored the building in 1988 and soon after that, it was turned into a bar/nightclub known as The Dome (even more bizarre). Now the cathedral is a museum/art gallery, and it hosted its first service in 51 years last May.


shanghai museum of arts & craftsP1080465 IMG_6302IMG_6296IMG_6299IMG_6304

Shanghai museum of arts and crafts


In my previous entry, I wrote about the Shanghai Museum of arts and crafts (79 Fenyang Lu, near Taiyuan Lu), and here is a bit more about its architecture and history. Built in 1905 for the French Concession's Chamber of Industry director, this three-story late French Renaissance mansion is one of the most gorgeous mansions in Shanghai. The mansion became the residence of Chen Yi, Shanghai's first mayor after 1949, and eventually turned into Shanghai Arts and Crafts Research Centre in 1960. Now visitors can still admire the mansion's marble staircases, stained-glass windows, dark wooden paneling, ceiling beams, original fireplaces and a lovely lawn.


children's palace children's palacechildren's palacechildren's palacechildren's palacechildren's palacechildren's palace children's palace

Shanghai's Children Palace/ former Kadoorie family's mansion


I stumbled upon the China Welfare Institute’s Children’s Palace (64 Yan'an Xi Lu, near Huashan Lu) by accident... I saw the colonial style mansion from across the street and was immediately drawn to it. I had no idea if it was open to public or not but since the door was opened, I went inside. I then found out that this 'palace' provides after-school programs for children in music, art, science, sports, and computers, which was set up by Soong Ching-ling (Madame Sun Yat-sen) in 1953. I was rather gobsmacked by the scale and grandness of this palace, the marble ballroom was especially magnificent, it would seem normal to see this in the U.K. or Europe but in Shanghai... I was astounded. At the time of my visit, there was an exhibition on the history of Chinese illustrations in several rooms, and although the exhibition was very interesting, I was rather distracted by the backdrop/ interior of the mansion.

It all made sense when I found out that this opulent mansion used to belong to one of Asia's wealthiest Jewish family, the Kadoories. Built in the 1920s by British architect, Graham Brown for Sir Elly Kadoorie, this mansion took 4 years to complete and was known as the 'Marble Hall'. Covering an area of 1,500 square meters, the two-storey mansion has more than 20 rooms, and white Italian marble can be seen everywhere. During the war, some members from the family were put into detention camp while some were placed under house arrest here. After the invasion of the Japanese, it served as a recreation centre for British and American soldiers until it eventually became the Children's Palace. The Kadoorie family left Shanghai for Hong Kong where their family business continued to flourish until today.


P1080481 P1080488IMG_6337IMG_6339P1080486 P1080485 P1080491

Top row & 2nd row left: the former residence of Dr. Sun Yat Sen; 2nd row middle, right & bottom right: Former Residence of Zhou Enlai; Bottom left: the quiet and calm Xiangshan Rd


One of the popular tourist attractions in Shanghai is the former residence of Dr. Sun Yat Sen (7 Xiangshan Rd, near Sinan Rd) in the French Concession. Dr Sun Yat-sen was the founder of the Republic of China, and he lived here with his wife, Soong Ching Ling from 1918 until his death in 1925, and Soong continued to live here until 1937 when the Japanese army occupied Shanghai. Eight years later, when the Japanese were defeated, Soong offered to provide her home as a memorial site to commemorate of her husband. The European style house now displays most of the original furnishings, historical artifacts, documents and photos. The house also has a back garden and the overall ambience in and outside of the house is low-key and calm, which is very different from the bustling city life that is normally seen elsewhere in the city.

About 5 minutes from this house is another former residence (73 Sinan Road) of a well-known Chinese politician, Zhou Enlai. Zhou was the Chinese Prime Minister in the 1960s and 70s and he lived briefly here in 1946 to 1947. The house was used more as an office than residence, and it was quite basic and modest in style.


P1080479 sinan mansionP1080480P1080478 sinan mansion

The newly renovated, Sinan Mansions


Yet contrary to the subtlety seen at these two former residences, the Sinan Mansions ( situated in between them) reveal a new and different China: it's all about luxury. The 51 Western-style houses built around the 1920s have been renovated and turned into luxury condos, accompanied by a string of high-end restaurants, cafes, bars ( including a Johnnie Walker house) and a luxury hotel, Hotel Massenet.

To be honest, I am not entirely convinced about this 'new' development, the place looks more like Xintiandi (i.e. Disneyland) to me. The facade of the buildings look too 'polished' and the ambience does not feel at all authentic. Interestingly, the entire street and many of the eateries were almost empty when I was there, it seems that this new playground for the wealthy Shanghainese is yet to be hottest spot in town.


Duolun Lu duolun luP1080682P1080693 P1080690duolun luP1080703old film cafeP1080691P1080706 P1080695

Duolun Cultural Street: 2nd & 3rd row right: former residence of H.H.Kung; 5th row middle: Old film cafe; Bottom left: a long mural featuring famous Chinese writers and intellects from the 1920s-30s; right: former residence of Bai Chongxi


In the historical Hongkou district, there is a famous road called Duolun Road (previously Darroch Road, named after a British missionary), originally built in 1911 as a residential road. The private residences were initially built by Chinese industrialists but later attracted many famous left-wing writers and even politicians. In 1998, the local government started a regeneration project to conserve and restore the historic buildings and turn them into museums, galleries, cafes or craft shops. And as a result, the 550 metres long road was also turned into a pedestrian street.

There are many interesting architecture on this road, and one stood out particularly due to its white Islamic-style facade. No.250 was built in 1924 and it was former residence of H. H. Kung, who was the richest man in China in the early 20th century, and the husband of Soong Ai-ling, one of the Soong sisters.

No. 210 was the former residence of Bai Chongxi (a General of Republic of China and a prominent Chinese Nationalist Muslim leader), and No.123 is the nostalgic Old film cafe that pays tribute to Shanghai's silver screen and occasionally shows reels from the '20s and '30s.


P1080720 P1080713P1080714P1080724P1080711P1080697P1080725 P1080707duolun luP1080699IMG_6532duolun lu P1080727

Duolun Cultural Street: Top right, 2nd row & 3rd row middle: Xi Shi Zhong lou/Bell Tower; 3rd row left & 4th row left: Fitch Memorial Church; 5th row left: a bronze statue of Uchiyama; 5th row middle: a bookstore selling vintage Chinese classics; 5th row right & bottom row right: Duolun Museum of Modern Art


Another prominent building on this street is the 18.5m-tall Xi Shi Zhong lou/Bell Tower, named after a well-known book title by famous writer, Lu Xun. And not far from this is the Fitch Memorial Church (or Hongde Tang), named after George Field Fitch. Built in 1928, this unique East meets West style architecture is the only one of its sort to survive in Shanghai.

Outside of the Neishan bookstore stands a bronze statue of Uchiyama Kanzo (a good friend of Lu Xun), the owner of Uchiyama bookstore established in 1917. The bookstore published many works that espoused revolutionary ideals. It moved to the nearby crossing of Shanyin Road and Sichuan Road North in 1929, but was finally closed by the Kuomintang in 1945.

One popular and newer addition to this road is the Duolun Museum of Modern Art (no.27), a first state-owned non-profit institution that is dedicated to Chinese contemporary art. Covering more than 14400 square feet, this 7-storey building is worth a visit if you are in the area but not a 'must-see' sight.


P1080667 P1080657P1080666P1080674P1080673 lu xun museum lu xun museum P1080678P1080670P1080668

Top left & 2nd left: Lu Xun's former residence; Top row right, 3rd row: Lun Xun museum; 2nd row middle: the famous 'love' postbox on Tian'ai Road; 2d row right: the former site of Uchiyama bookstore; bottom row left: another former residence of Lu Xun


Although Lu Xun never joined the Communist party, he was a left-wing writer, and his 'presence' can be seen everywhere in this area where he once lived and worked. Not only there is a park dedicated to him (now being renovated) which contains his tomb and the Lu Xun museum. His former residence ( Building 9, Lane 132, Shanyin Lu, near Sichuan Bei Lu)  is also open to the public via guided tours. This three-story red-brick townhouse was where he lived from 1933 until his death in October 1936.

The museum is worth visiting even if you are not familiar with the author's work as there are many historical documents, artifacts and photos of the unsettling period in China during his life time. Lu Xun was also the leading figure in the Modern Woodcut Movement in China, and he used to organise practical workshop in woodcuts, taught by Uchiyama Kakichi, the younger brother of the bookstore owner Kanzo. I love the wood-block prints used on most of his book covers, which can be seen at the museum.

N.B. There is also a famous green post box situated at the supposedly most 'romantic' road in Shanghai, Tian’ai Road ( the Chinese translation is "sweet love"). Every letter sent from this post box will be marked with a special mark, bearing the affection from the letter sender to the recipient, hence it gets filled up weeks before Valentine's day each year!


P1080446 IMG_6282IMG_6248P1080741P1080510P1080301IMG_6498 IMG_6251

Interesting architectural details can be seen everywhere in Shanghai


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Shanghai, Architectural conservation, Colonial architecture and was tagged with Colonial architecture, Shanghai, Architectural conservation