Sue Anne Tay has spent the last four years documenting Shanghai’s disappearing neighborhoods and heritage properties including shikumen lilongs, old apartments or villas on her widely-read blog Shanghai Street Stories. Here, she rounds up five shikumen and villa properties that fell under the municipality’s mighty wrecking ball in 2013.
1. Shenyu Lane (慎余里) on 847 Tiantong Lu (天潼路847弄)
Image Credit: 鸳鸯茉莉
Built in the 1930s, the 8,000-square-meter Shenyuli Lane neighborhood along Suzhou Creek was listed as a heritage site under protection in 2004 as it was considered one of the “most complete preservation of typical shikumen architecture” despite being ravaged twice during the Sino-Japanese war. In addition to a nice variety of shikumen design, Shenyu Lane has elaborate mosaic public service posters peppered through the lanes.
Housing around 40 shikumen homes and over 1,000 residents, much of Shenyu Lane has since been demolished between 2012-13 due to a local district plan to build “an eco-friendly corridor for sightseeing and relaxation, with five parks and several yachting sites.” Local officials plann to reconstruct some shikumen buildings with the original materials, and consider this the best way to “save” these heritage architecture. The incomprehensible logic has not escaped local preservationists who have openly criticized the move. Even Ruan Yisan, the director of the National Historic Cities Research Center of Tongji University and responsible for the restoration of the Bund, had declared it “not protection but destruction”.
2. Former Residence of Liang Hongzhi (梁鸿志宅) on 850 Tanggu Lu (塘沽路850号)
Image Credit: Sue Anne Tay
A statuesque and very sturdy two storey U-shaped villa that used to sit on Tanggu Lu (right behind the shopping racket that is Qipu Lu) and adjacent to also-fallen shikumen Changchun “Long Spring” Lane (长春里). The villa was in fact once owned by the Liang Hongzhi, the former Chairman of the Reformed Government of the Republic of China (1939-40) created as a Japanese puppet regime during the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the war, Liang was labeled a traitor, tried for treason and executed in 1946.
The former Liang Residence boasted durable Roman columns, elaborately carved stairwells and traditional patterned flooring. A outside stair case was built to ease traffic for all 12 families and on the second floor corridor housed a painted Mao Zedong portrait.
3. Maggie Lane (麦琪里) on Wulumuqi Lu (乌鲁木齐路) and Wuyuan Lu (五原路路)
Image Credit: Xi Zi / Groupius
Only this fall, American Public Radio’s Marketplace reported about one of the remaining families who had been kidnapped and forcibly removed. Previously, curious passersby could sneak into small openings for a peak, now it’s tightly sealed off with only one or two houses left. Like it or not, the controversial story of Maggie Lane is rapidly coming to an end. Alas, not every body was able to spot the beautiful and traditional Chinese motifs on a less-than-traditional shikumen header.
4. Xingping Lane (星平里) on Shunchang Lu (顺昌路) along Fuxing Lu (复兴路)
Image Credit: Sue Anne Tay
The old neighborhoods around Xintiandi area has always held pockets of historical significance, and shikumen lanes around Shunchang Lu and Jinan Lu are no different. Residents snigger when recounting the urban legend of how Mao Zedong was late for the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party meeting (now Xintiandi) because he got hopelessly lost in the shikumen lanes. Between 1920s to 1930s, politicians, lawyers, mistresses and poets were housed in this and that house, their wealth and elevated societal status denoted by their elaborate shikumen designs. Now, ritzy luxury condominiums occupy north of Fuxing Lu with opulent names like The Baccarat, while south of Fuxing Lu, locals in remaining lilongs still swear by the wet market where you will get the best home-made flat noodles. The majesty of some of the shikumens in Xingping Lane were never revealed as fully as when developers started tearing down the surrounding houses.
5. East Siwen Lane (东斯文里) stretching along Datian Lu (大田路) and Xinzha Lu (新闸路)
Image Credit: Sue Anne Tay
The neighborhood is now a large and eerie ghost town since residents have emptied out in anticipation of mass demolition. First developed by a British-Jewish property developer in 1917 and completed in 1921, Siwen Lane was an ambitious public housing project and remains one of Shanghai’s largest shikumen lilong neighborhood that, at it’s peak occupancy, housed 2,700 families in 700 shikumen homes.
The west part of Siwen Li was demolished a few years ago for the development of the upcoming, fantastically designed Natural History Museum.
The mass departure of residents from East Siwen Lane was splashed across the local news mid-2013, triggering pangs of nostalgia over the loss of another milestone in Shanghai’s public housing history.
Sue Anne Tay is the author and photographer of ShanghaiStreetStories.com, a blog focused on story-telling and documentation of disappearing neighborhoods, social urban dynamics and heritage architecture preservation in Shanghai. Tay’s work on Shanghai has appeared in National Geographic.com, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy and Southern Window, China’s leading current affairs magazine. She is also a contributing author of Still More Shanghai Walks: Shanghailanders & Shanghainese (Old China Hand Press, 2011). She has lectured and exhibited her work regularly in Shanghai and abroad. Tay is also the contributing photographer for ChinainCentralAsia.com, an ongoing research project charting China’s growing influence in the Central Asia region.