An old postcard showing the now-demolished Shanghai Rowing Club building
Paul French is the author of Carl Crow: A Tough Old China Hand and Through the Looking Glass: China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium War to Mao. He is currently re-investigating the unsolved case of Pamela Werner, a young English girl horrifically murdered in Peking in 1937, to be published as Murder in Peking by Penguin Books. Today, he writes about some historic buildings we lost in 2009 thanks to thoughtless Shanghai development.
2009 saw a flurry of activity across the city from construction projects moving ahead apace to a general ‘tarting up’ of housing and streets prior to the EXPO. Never was so much cream paint slapped on so many walls at such speed. From Hongqiao to the Bund, the nether regions of Yangpu and the heartlands of Hongkou, the men in yellow hats have been feverishly employed. Inevitably, as Shanghai’s grand planners fall before the altar of the supposedly new, some old and valued friends were reduced to rubble this year and will be seen no more:
1. Despite pleas from architectural experts a real estate company demolished the 106-year-old Shanghai Rowing Club building, adjacent to Suzhou Creek. The interior of the club had already been destroyed but the structure was supposedly ‘preserved’. The building was torn down as part of a project entitled the ‘Bund Origin’ (no sense of irony intended by the developer here!!), part of the redevelopment of the Bund area. Chang Qing, an architecture professor at Tongji University, told the Shanghai Daily “It’s not difficult to modify the plan” and save the building, but they just tore it down anyway.
Customers enjoy drinks on the street at the old White Horse Inn
2. The ongoing redevelopment of the Bund has claimed several victims, perhaps notably the National City Bank of New York building that was at the back on Bund 15. National City Bank of New York (now known as Citibank) launched operations in Shanghai in 1915 dealing in local currencies, silver taels and dollars – Shanghai was the bank’s most profitable international operation in the 1930s. Several other buildings around Bund 15 have also quietly slipped off into the good night over the last year.
3. Several former sites in the old Jewish enclave went under this year. One important road to get hammered was the old Chusan Road (now Zhoushan Road), once home to Chusan Road Market where many Jewish refugees shopped in the 1940s – to them it was known as Die Markthalle. The refugees transformed Chusan Road to something approximating a slice of Vienna with groceries, pharmacies, bakeries, tailors, milliners, cobblers – and, of course, coffee-houses, such as the Vienna Café Restaurant, the Delikat at 23, the Barcelona at 21, the International at 81 and Hesky and Gerstl’s tearooms at 252. For those a little short of money but still hungry there was a popular wurstelstand parked in the kerb selling hot dogs.
Earl Whaley and Red Hot Syncopators on stage at Santa Anna’s in 1934
4. Also now sadly gone is the former White Horse Inn, located in one of the nicer buildings along Ward Road (now Changyang Road) in Little Vienna. The White Horse was owned by the Mosberg/Klinger family. There had been plans to preserve the building but road widening was deemed more important. Over the October holiday the bulldozers went in and the White Horse has now gone to the knackers yard of architecture sadly. The waitresses used to dress in Bavarian style – just in case anyone at Paulaner thought they were doing anything original.
5. Last but not least – the last bit of Wujiang Road is now boarded up and ready to go. The street, once sweetly called Love Lane, was home to Margaret Kennedy’s infamous bordello where the girls got Sundays off and the St. Anna Ballroom (Santa Anna’s) where Earl Whaley and his Red Hot Syncopaters, an all-black swing band from Seattle, ruled the dance floor for years – both were in the fine buildings at the eastern end of the street. We’ve lost Santa Anna’s and Madam Kennedy’s and got Krispy Kreme and a Costa Coffee – not what I’d call a fair swap.