July 2nd, 2021

C. H. Gonda’s Grand Theatre



From the Wikipedia entry on C. H. Gonda: In February 1928, C. H. Gonda relocated his practice to the Shahmoon Building and announced a partnership with the German architect Emil Busch, under the name Gonda & Busch (Chinese name 鸿宝).[19] The new studio produced the design of the Grand Theatre (大光明电影院), on Bubbling Well Road opposite the Racecourse, which opened in December 1928. The movie house, constructed in the old Carlton Ballroom building, was called “the most luxurious in the Far East.” Besides a 1200-seat auditorium, it had two tearooms decorated in jazz patterns. Gonda & Busch were said to have “achieved a noteworthy effect in combining the beautiful old circular staircases, spacious lounges, and rotunda with the most advanced ideas in theatrical design.”[20] The walls and staircases were treated with filigree flat-oil stain in old gold – the first use of this technique in China – executed by the studio of the Russian artist Jacob Lehonos.[18]

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The China Press, 27 November 1928:

Grand Theater, in Carlton Location, Will Open Shortly

The Grand Theater, latest and the most sumptuous of Shanghai's cinema houses, will open shortly, it was announced yesterday. The Grand occupies the space of the Carlton Café Bubbling Well Road, which has been completely remodeled into a theater which will have a seating capacity of 1,200. Outstanding features of the new play house are the soda fountains, two bars, two waiting rooms and two tea rooms, spacious lobbies and a theater organ. A full orchestra will play. The architects are Messrs. Gonda and Busch.

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Up to now, I’ve not seen any good photos of this Grand Theatre until I came across these scans on Charmaine Zoe’s flickr.

[See the images...]

Lobby and waiting room:




These must be the famous Carlton’s circular staircases, which Gonda kept in place, together with the rotunda.


Stage seen from the balcony:


View from the stage:


For comparison, here is the same angle in 1924, when Carlton Café was the site of regular boxing matches:






What happened to this movie theatre? It had a short life. The Grand Realty Co. commissioned Gonda to design other buildings on this block on Bubbling Well Road, east of Park Road. His proposal included the Grand Hotel, to be the tallest in the Far East, and an office building facing Park Road. But the company lost its financial footing, and the project was cancelled. In February 1931 the lot was sold, and a competing Hungarian architect, L. E. Hudec, ended up designing a new, modernist Grand Theatre in the place of Gonda's transitional one, as well as the skyscraper Park Hotel.