#147 Shanghai Architecture Series: Elly Kadoorie's Marble Hall

This article is adapted from the bi-weekly series in Magazeta.

Address: 54 West Yan’an Road // 中国福利会少年宫:延安西路54号

Eleazer Silas ("Elly") Kadoorie (1867–1944), of the Iraqi Jewish heritage, came to Shanghai as a teenager in 1880 to work as an assistant at the Sassoon company. Eventually, he branched out on his own, operating in Shanghai and Hong Kong. His business empire – rubber plantations, hospitality, commercial banking, real estate – put Kadoorie's name into "the big four," alongside Sassoon, Hardoon and Ezra.

In 1918, Elly Kadoorie initiated the construction of a designated building for the Jewish Club, designed by the Spanish architect Abelardo Lafuente and his partner Gerald Owen Wootten. Sitting on the 20-mu piece of land, the club was "nothing ornate of luxurious," but had "good, substantial and artistic furnishings" to meet the needs of the members. The grounds provided ample space for tennis and croquet, accounting also for the interests of the "the members who prefer quiet walks and beautiful flowers." The building had "a large auditorium 80 ft by 50 ft, library, billiard and card rooms," and all other conveniences of a well-equipped country club. In anticipation of the future expansion, the foundations and the supporting walls were made exceptionally strong – "so that the addition of one of two more storeys can be made without the reconstruction of the building" – which proved to be instrumental in the building's subsequent modification.

The original Jewish Club, built in 1918

Soon after the Jewish Club's opening, however, misfortunes began. In February 1919, a fire ravaged Kadoorie's residence, located in the same neighborhood, on Bubbling Well Road, and the fire took the life of his wife Laura (said to the first woman in Shanghai to drive an automobile). In May next year, a fire broke out in the Jewish Club – "incediarism suspected" – and it partially destroyed the top floor in the east wing and the roof. After this, Elly Kadoorie and his sons Horace and Lawrence went to London, leaving the reconstruction of the Jewish Club in the hands of the family friend, the architect A. W. Graham-Brown.

Graham-Brown, a stepson of the English actress Marie Tempest, was partners with George Christopher Wingrove, who had completed the Shanghai Club after the death of its original architect H. Tarrant and who later built an extra wing for the Hotel Plaza. The Jewish Club assignment, however, ruined their partnership, and Graham-Brown later worked on his own, completing the beautiful Brunner and Mond building, on Szechuen Road, in 1923. According to Lawrence Kadoorie's recollections, quoted by Nigel Cameron (1982), Harriet Sergeant (1991) and others, Graham-Brown was a heavy drinker. During the reconstruction of the Jewish Club he gave full reign to his cinematic visions, sending puzzling telegrams to Europe – such as "Want to raise ballroom roof fifteen feet" – when no ballroom had even been planned.

"Exasperated, Elly Kadoorie sent final and, in the circumstances, possibly unwise instructions: 'Do only what is absolutely necessary.' After three years, the Kadoorie family returned to Shanghai. They found enraged contractors, the architect an alcoholic in hospital with DT's, and a ballroom 65 feet high, 80 feet long and 50 feet wide, lit by 3,600 different-colored electric light bulbs. With one flick the Kadoories could turn their ballroom from pink to blue to red or have the whole lot on at once."

Elly Kadoorie deemed the resulting mansion too grand for the needs of the Jewish community, so he made it his residence. It was unveiled in March 1924, when local journalists and the public were invited to inspect it. "It has been built on a lavish scale, yet at the same time it is not ostentatious. There is marble everywhere [...] but without a suggestion of vulgarity. The work has been executed with wonderful good taste, giving a most pleasing effect where it would have been so easy to overdo it." The Kadoorie residence was immediately nicknamed Marble Hall, for the 150 tons of Italian marble used in the creation of the monumental sculptures and decorative cladding by G. Finocchiaro.

"At the entrance are the handsome iron gates with heavy brass balusters and brass enrichments in the architraves. Passing by the main east entrance to the lawns one has a magnificent view of the 300-feet frontage. Raised several feet above the lawns, the building in is a striking example of the free Renaissance style with a suggestion of the Italian influence. It has a wide stone terrace further beautified by handsome bronze lamps, whilst sculptured sets are on their way for erection there, and then the fine glass enclosed interesting electric fittings in the form of shallow bowls of leaded glass, elaborate chains and rams' heads ornamentation, designed and executed by Arts & Crafts."

In the center of the mansion was its main attraction – the grand ballroom – "appealing more to the most people in this dancing city." Executed in the Italian renaissance-style, its vaulted ceiling was richly covered with plaster work by Arts & Crafts. The ballroom was comparable in volume to the Carlton Café, the largest event venue in town, which had recently re-opened. "On the north side is a marble-framed stage large enough for concerts and dramatic entertainments, with fine acoustic properties and some truly wonderful lighting effects installed by Andersen, Meyer & Co.

There were also numerous salons in various English styles – the Adam-style drawing room, the Stewart-style dining room, the Jacobean oak-paneled billiard room, the William and Mary-style library – all fitted with "artistic fireplaces" – as well as numerous private bedrooms, all in suites of three. The flatware and porcelain throughout the house was of the finest Royal Danish porcelain, even the ashtrays; on the grounds, there was "a range of well-appointed stables" and a conservatory, and in the basement there was a gymnasium.

Дворец пионеров на плакате 1973 года (с) Чжан Лэпин 张乐平 .jpg
The facade of the Marble Hall. Image: Library of Congress

Дворец пионеров на плакате 1973 года (с) Чжан Лэпин 张乐平  crop.jpg
Дворец пионеров на плакате 1973 года (с) Чжан Лэпин 张乐平 .jpg
The grand ballroom (above) and the Adam drawing room, in 1924. Images: Rembrandt Photo Studio

Дворец пионеров на плакате 1973 года (с) Чжан Лэпин 张乐平 .jpg
Conference of the Chinese Medical Assoociation in 1932; Elly Kadoorie is standing in the front row, 4th from the right. Image: Shanghai Sunday Times

The palatial mansion not only entered the shortlist of Shanghai's top residences, alongside the late Edward Ezra's Adeodata Hall, H. E. Morris's estate and the residences of Moller and Parker, but was also regarded "the most beautiful of all." Obviously, the Marble Hall was "admirably suited" for public events and gatherings, thanks to its "large and handsome salons, a wonderful verandah 225 feet long, a ballroom only a few square feet less than the Carlton Café, a kitchen capable of attending to the wants of a very large gathering, and outside – the ground for six tennis courts and other lawn games, besides a great flagged court." The core staff of 43 servants could easily be expanded for grand events, when over a thousand guests filled the ballroom. This was the first residential building in Shanghai to be fitted with built-in air-conditioning, previously only used at the factories. Elly Kadoorie made his house available for large-scale public events and society gatherings, placing himself in the center of action.

During the Japanese occupation, the Kadoories were evicted and interned in a camp as allied nationals. In a complete reversal of the fortunes, the son Lawrence worked on a team picking insect larvae out of the cracked wheat. The aged patriarch Elly Kadoorie died in the camp in 1944. When his sons returned home in 1945, the first thing they did was turn on all the electric lights, like in the good old days.

Soon the Marble Hall was the site of city-scale events again. In 1946, the Children's Welfare Institute (中国福利会), headed by Sun Yat-sen's widow Song Qingling, began to hold its annual conferences here, and in 1953, after the Communists' victory, the palace was handed over to this organization (the Kadoories had by then removed their business from mainland China to Hong Kong). To this day, the Marble Hall functions as the "Children's Palace."

Дворец пионеров на плакате 1973 года (с) Чжан Лэпин 张乐平 .jpg
Дворец пионеров на плакате 1973 года (с) Чжан Лэпин 张乐平 .jpg
Zhou Enlai in Shanghai's Children Palace. Illustrations by Mao Yongkun 毛用坤, in 周总理在少年宫

For more images, see the original article (in Russian) at https://magazeta.com/arc-kadoorie/

Top image: Poster with the Children's Palace, by Zhang Leping 张乐平, 1973

At least he was not gambling...

North-China Daily News, 18 August, 1926:
"George Gambling, a Russian coook of 74 Route de Say Zoong, was brought before the Mixed Court yesterday morning on charges of being drunk and disorderly and assaulting a Chinese by striking him about the head with his clenched fists. He was remanded in custody pending the appearance of the complainant who is now in hospital."

USS Estes photo archive

The USS Estes web archive – archaic in itself – has some gorgeous photographs and postcards of Shanghai in hi-res. Take this detailed view of the French Bund, around the year 1937:


Or this fabulous view of Avenue Edward VII (now elevated Yan'an Road), taken from the Great World, it seems (also 1937):


See my other posts about useful photo archives here.

Russian corona humor

"Be gone, oh cursed virus!"

"Everything will be alright: a meteor is on its way to help."

"It has started! In China, the first person to die from coronavirus has come back to life."

"Strange times: when someone smells of alcohol, you trust them more."

Ilya Ehrenburg on old houses in Paris (1926)

"Young architects are unhappy: the capital city is a warren of mole's burrows. It is 1926, after all, and even though the crackling of the fireplace is poetic, the central heating is more comfortable, clean and sustainable. It is time to build a new Paris. But the Parisians are not in a hurry. They treasure these "mole's burrows," and not just because of the memories they harbor. Our generation has adapted to the new rhythm of life but has not fallen in love with it. [...] Modern people treasure their stuffy holes and love their trinkets: this is where they take a break from the paperwork, the flickering of the movie screens and the mechanical gestures and feelings."

"We shall show good pictures, and good pictures only..." (1926)

The Mirage Cinema was yet another resident in the former Columbia Country Club, of which I wrote yesterday. Its proprietor, the Russian entrepreneur A. S. Kevorkoff, opened the cinema in May 1926, while he was still preparing his Cabaret Artistique Chateau des Fleuers for its grand opening.

The press mentioned that "the open-air cinema is protected from the rain." "A new Simplex machine has been obtained, ensuring clear projection, and everything has been done to ensure the reasonable comfort of patrons."

Image: flickr

The screening of the German film Pietro der Korsar (Corsairs) marked the opening of the Mirage Cinema on May 28. This led the North-China Daily News to suggest the new theatre will only show "Continental and European" films: "The idea presents difficulties, for the supply is not really very large, and American films have more or less a monopoly here."

Kevorkoff responded with this emphatic letter:

There is no information, however, about Mirage Cinema screening any movies after June, and Kevorkoff's other establishment – the cabaret Chateau des Fleurs – did not last past August either...

The original Columbia Country Club... and other splendid enterprises

Villa at the NW corner of Route Doumer and Rue Bourgeat (1910s–1940)

1917–1925 – Columbia Country Club
1926 – Russian cabaret Chateau des Fleurs
1927–1937 – Headquarters of the Star Motion Picture Co.

Obscure old houses that no longer stand on Shanghai streets... With the buildings gone, it seems nothing can trigger the memory of their heydays – but maps, photos and newspapers can still tell their stories.

The original Columbia Country Club, the Russian cabaret Chateau des Fleurs and Shanghai's most important film studio Star Motion Picture Co. all took turns occupying this large villa in the French Concession, sited at the northwest corner of today's Changle Road and Fumin Road.

Map: Virtual Shanghai

The out-of-town activity center for Shanghai Americans – the Columbia Country Club – formed in April 1917 in the rented garden house at 50 Route Doumer (later the northern part of this street was renamed Route Courbet). By 1920, the membership was soaring and the old premises seemed too small to accommodate everyone. In 1923, the club acquired land on Great Western Road and commissioned the architect Elliott Hazzard to design the new premises. By 1925 the Columbia Country Club vacated the mansion.

[Continue reading...]


1915 (view west):


In summer 1926, a new enterprise moved into the old Columbia Club – it was called Cabaret Artistique Chateau des Fleurs. Its owner and manager A. S. Kevorkoff was "formerly director of a Russian theatre in Vladivostok." The new cabaret was described as "a place of amusement, entertainment and conviviality altogether different to any of the numerous ones" already existing in Shanghai. The competing venues that summer were the Carlton, Majestic Hotel Ballroom, Plaza, Del Monte and the newly opened Palais Oriental – all of which were staffed with Russian cooks, waiters, musicians and dancers.

"To the innumerable amusement resorts already existing in Shanghai has now been added the Chateau des Fleurs, occupying the site of the old Columbia Country Club on Route Doumer. This photograph of the management and representatives of the French Municipal Council was taken at the opening of the new venture."

Image: China Press Sunday, Aug 1926

Past the main gate at 50 Route Doumer, the "winding lantern-adorned driveway" led to the garden with "many cosy nooks and tables for meals or refreshments here and there." "The entire Country Club property has been utilized. The old club-house offers large private dining rooms, a typical Russian open-air theater has been placed adjacent to it, while across the broad lawn, which is well decorated with colored lanterns, flags and flowers, a sort of cafe chantant has been built where, upon a large stage there will be offered nightly a program of a variety nature essentially Russian."

The restaurant served the French cuisine with the Russian flair, including such dishes as borscht, piroshki and gourievskaya kasha:

The entertainment program was "carried out in the open air, under the cover of an awning," which offered "excellent acoustic properties." The acts began at 10 pm and continued until 2 am; between the numbers there was "general dancing."

The evenings at Chateau des Fleurs were always interesting: "On Thursday night, for instance, patrons were able to obtain an admirably cooked cold supper, and then pay attention to a variety entertainment of a distinctly high class nature. The program has a classical basis and there are able Russian artists to carry it out." Here is the program for one of the nights in August 1926:

Edward Eliroff, listed as the ballet master in the above program, had a long career in Shanghai's cabarets: in the 1940s he was orchestrating the Miss Shanghai beauty pageants at the Arcadia Cabaret (which opened in 1937 in a villa diagonally opposite from the old Chateau des Fleurs).

This photo shows the Bacchanalian dance on the stage of Chateau des Fleurs. "Note the spirit of gay abandon on the faces of the Bacchantes and their partners," says the caption. Dionysian, Bacchanalian and other "pagan" numbers, as well as tableux vivants with "bronze" and "marble" sculptures, were very popular in the mid-1920s, because they allowed to practically undress the performers:

However fun this place was, the "Cabaret Artistique" burned out by the end of the summer. The high running costs were evidently not compensated by the paying audience, and the management failed to return the bank loan.

The next tenant at 50 Route Doumer was Shanghai's first and largest movie production studio – Star Motion Picture Co. 明星影片公司. It stayed in this building from 1927 until the company's forced closure in 1937. During that time the studio produced a large number of movies, including the legendary Street Angel (1937).

Here are some photos of the studio's headquarters (we are looking at two different entrances, one at Route Courbet and one at Rue Bourgeat):

The general manager S. C. Chang (Zhang Shichuan 張石川) in his office:

The studio had another, larger, compound, on the south bank of Zhaojia Creek near Siccawei (Xujiahui):

Image: Harrison Forman, AGSL

The Star Motion Picture Co. was the last tenant of the great French Concession villa. After the stuidio closed and moved out, the site was redeveloped and replaced with the terrace compound 裕华新村, built in 1941.


Map: Virtual Shanghai