This day in history: Retrocession in Shanghai (1943)

This was published in Shanghai Times on August 2, 1943, illustrated by a picture of trams passing the Cathay Hotel (public transport working normally was a big thing).

In a jubilant manner, the millions of Shanghai residents are celebrating the return of the foreign concessions here, and are looking forward to a new era of national prosperity. The city's streets are replete with banners of many hues, while most prominent are the gaily decorated arches which have been erected at important road crossings. One of the impressive arches is seen in the above photo as it stands facing the Bund on Nanking Road.

All the keywords of occupation-era propaganda are present: "prosperity," "looking forward," "jubilant manner." Notice any difference from today's Chinese media English? I don't. The makeshift arch is indeed in the picture, as well as the crowd control barriers, but the celebrating millions appear to be hiding in the pixels. Such arches were erected to celebrate Japanese victories in China and abroad, such as Singapore's fall the year prior.

Event: My RAS Talk on Russian architects in Shanghai

The domes of the Orthodox Cathedral in central Shanghai serve as a tangible reminder of the once-numerous exile community, but there is more to the Russian heritage than the two surviving churches. The image of the Astrid Apartments, designed by a Russian architect, adorns nearly every book about Shanghai architecture. The Russians also created two out of three surviving synagogues, close to half the buildings on Yongfu Road and the city's largest historic complex – the Sino-Soviet Friendship Hall, as well as dozens of public buildings, apartment houses, villas and lane compounds. This talk introduces the Russian architectural legacy in Shanghai and attaches names, faces and stylistic character to a variety of famous buildings and a few mysterious outliers.

HSBC building in Hong Kong (1935–1981)

This photo from 1981 shows the demolition of the HSBC building in Hong Kong, built in 1935.

Image: Gwulo.

This is the interior, when the building was still standing:

Image: HSBC.

The ceiling, created by the Russian Shanghai-based artist Victor Podgoursky, was a sight to behold!

In February 1935, Podgoursky went to Italy to supervise the assembly of the ceiling mosaic for the HSBC building in Hong Kong. The mosaic covering 4,000 square feet depicted 50 life-size figures, as well as "scores of animals, machines, ships and kindred subjects." It was executed in "bright unsoftened colors" without half-tones. The centerpiece in the shape of an inverted half-cylinder evoked the theme of progress, from prehistoric to modern times, "with emphasis on industry and transport, the occidental and oriental contrasted on opposing sectors." (NCDN, Feb 6, 1935) There were also the images of the sun, Greek gods, the signs of the Zodiac, Chinese gods of fortune and Japanese spirits.

Images: Gwulo.

Victor Podgoursky (1893–1969), Shanghai's most accomplished artist and decorator, now has a page on Building Russian Shanghai.

But... damn!
Hong Kong HSBC ceiling interior Podgoursky 1978 demolition Gwulo.png

Another obscure project of Boris Krivoss (1932)

"View of a terrace of small houses, whose exterior facade presents a pleasing demonstration of the Chinese style of architecture. Interiors are carried in the foreign manner. These houses, which have been designed by B. Krivoss, architect, are situated on Nanyang Road." Shanghai Sunday Times, Dec 1932.

From this press photo alone, I could not find this terrace using online street views, though I suspected it would not be too far from Krivoss' other project on this street, the Nesthouse Apartments, at 30 Nanyang Road. And indeed, the faux-Chinese lane compound was finally found right next door, blocked from the street by other residences. The address is Lane 56 Nanyang Road 南阳路56弄.

Exterior, photo by Gropius Xi:

Some interiors, from a rental website:

Map: Virtual Shanghai.

Building Russian Shanghai is expanding!

The Russians score again

Some time ago I wrote about the architect Ilarion Tomashevsky and his projects in Shanghai. Today, I was finally able to verify the location of the mystery villa described in the December 1941 issue of the Shanghai Sunday Times. The beige and black marble fireplace, recessed lighting, the modernist murals by Victor Podgoursky, walnut wood paneling and peach parquet, an English-style reading room with floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases, a spiral staircase in the back... All the chic and comfort of high modernism!

The building stands at 274 Wukang Road 武康路274号, and is known as the residence of the General Zheng Dongguo 郑洞国旧居. The Chinese sources say the hero of the anti-Japanese campaigns lived here in 1950–1952, but a telephone directory confirms he was a resident already in 1947.

Who was the original owner, for whom the residence was built in 1941? I haven't yet found out.

The side windows used to be flush with the corners of the buildings, but evidently were replaced pretty soon after the completion. Too drafty? The balcony above the porch with cool rounded edges has been turned into a "conservatory" (or rather, an abomination).

Image source.

Historic image, very low res:

Almost unrecognizable...

This much-overlooked apartment house sits at the western end of Nanchang Road, near Xiangyang Road. There are, in fact, two of them, one behind another. The original numbers were 561 and 563 Route Vallon. I don't have a historic photo yet, nor do I know their English names, but the Chinese names are Jiabao Gongyu 嘉宝公寓 and Xiuqi Gongyu 秀琦公寓.


Map: Virtual Shanghai.

Originally, Nanchang Road (then Route Vallon) did not end at Xiangyang Road (Route Tenant de la Tour), but ran a little bit into the block. In 1933, two small apartment houses were built here, designed and financed by the prolific Russian architect, developer and realtor Boris Krivoss.

There is now a small commercial building blocking the tail end of Nanchang Road, but a narrow passage still remains. On the map above, the site of the New Ashkenazi Synagogue, built in 1940–1941, is the empty corner lot right above the word 环龙路 (now 102 South Xiangyang Road).

This is a view south from the former synagogue, over the roof of the small commercial building, showing the Jiabao Apartments, and a little bit of the Xiuqi Apartments on the right. Their modern addresses are 625 and 635 Nanchang Road 南昌路625号 南昌路635号:

Street view of the facade of 嘉宝公寓 at 625 Nanchang Road 南昌路625号, seen from Xiangyang Road 襄阳南路:

Interiors of two upper floor apartments at No. 625 嘉宝公寓 that were once for rent – from here:

The Building Russian Shanghai website now lists 66 existing buildings by the Russian architects. Or I should these count as two?

Destroying Shanghai, one street at a time

Next in line for disappearance is South Yunnan Road 云南南路, the popular snack street, which is scheduled for demolition and redevelopment. As long as there is short-term gain to be had (and mass gatherings to fear), the Shanghai municipal government will continue destroying the city.

Corner of Avenue Edouard VII (Yan'an Road) and Rue Palikao (South Yunnan Road):

Image: Arabella Neuhaus.

Montigny Telephone Exchange, which opened in 1931. The building is still standing.

Looking down Yunnan Road in the 1980s:

Image: EditorsCJ flickr

One of the residential lanes off South Yunnan Road in the 1990s:

Image: Guo Bo 郭博.

For modern pictures see this post:

1940s images of Shanghai from the Coca Cola Archive

The Coca Cola Archive has a wonderful collection of images of 1940s Shanghai. Although the product and the brand are in every shot, there is a lot of context there as well, showing some rare street views and curious interiors. Many of these images are already mapped, so you can click on them for the location.

Honolulu Bar and Beer Garden, at 704 Avenue Joffre (now Middle Huaihai Road):

Argentina Ballroom, at 626 Avenue Haig, the site of the first-ever Miss China contest in 1941, now a party cadre school (888 Jiangsu Road)

Dr. Andrew Field, the authority on Shanghai nightlife and entertainment, helped identify this interior as the Paramount Ballroom:

[See more images...]
Huaihai Road, looking toward Xangyang Park:

I already wrote about the Russian stores and restaurants from this collection, but here is the corner that best illustrates the fascinating multilingual density of Shanghai streets. This is the SE corner of Yandang Road and Xing'an Road:

Middle Huaihai Road, near Yandang Road, north side:

NE corner of Huaihai and Shaanxi Roads, where the Parkson mall now stands:

New Zealand Ballroom, on Jiangning Road, the site of the Miss Shanghai-1946 beauty pageant:

Outside the Grand Theatre, West Nanjing Road:

Pah Dah Wong Grocery store, which used to be where Wuyi Road branches out of Yan'an Road:

Although I posted it earlier, how can I resist showing the Normandie Apartments? This is the Wukang Road side:

See the whole collection here.

The Berkin-Simpson wedding – more footage (1928)

Another piece of footage from the same wedding, of which I wrote earlier and which took place on 31 October 1928, shows the finale of the party.

Writing "Just wed" on a beautful rental car from Joffre Garage:

[See the rest of the stills...]
The location is Yu Yuen Road, close to Tifeng Road. The street numbers changed since 1928; the Nash residence used to be No. 63 but on the map below it is 311 (or something like it). By the way, the house next door, with the gate opening to 23 Tifeng Road later became Runo, the Russian and Japanese cuisine restaurant.
Screen Shot 2020-07-17 at 11.05.58 AM.jpg

"For her going away costume the bride wore brown French crepe de Chine, with hat and coat to match." The newlyweds were sprinkled with confetti, boarded the car and went touring Shanghai.

Unidentified lawn:

I have no idea where this is!

Nor this:

This looks like the large east-west alley in the French Park, parallel to the facade of the French Municipal College:

Then the couple boarded the ship bound for Hong Kong:

The rest of the film is damaged, but there is a glimpse from the window, which could be the couple's honeymoon hotel at Repulse Bay – although was it so developed back then? Perhaps this is central Hong Kong: