Katya Knyazeva (avezink) wrote,
Katya Knyazeva

The Mandarin Club (1940)

Here is a couple entering the newly opened Mandarin Club in the underground floor of the Bubbling Well Apartments:


I think it is the Russian artist Thaïs Jaspar on the right, while her companion is yet to be identified:

Mandarin Club // Uptown Theatre // Bubbling Well Apartments
喜临门舞厅 // 平安大戏院 // 平安大楼
1193 Bubbling Well Road // 1193 West Nanjing Road // 南京西路1193号

The club's opening was one of the parties that the American photographer and documentary filmmaker A. T. Hull, Jr., attended during his visit to Shanghai in summer 1940. Among several hundred unsorted photographs that he took, this exotic interior was the easiest to pick out and put into one pile (although at first I could not figure out the location).

But after all, not so many large new places were opening in summer 1940: "Announcement has been made that with the formal opening in the near future of the beautiful, exclusive and air-conditioned Mandarin Club the attendance on the opening night will be according to reservations. The Mandarin Club will be unique in that it will be an ultra-modern night club in the genuine old Chinese style with a Moongate entrance, Peking ceiling, thick rugs of unusual beauty, Chinese gong, Chinese menu and dance and dinner music by some of Shanghai's finest musicians. It is reported that really famous Chinese artists will appear at the club from time to time." The China Press, July 14, 1940.

This lustrous photograph of the Russian dancer Larissa Andersen allows us to glimpse the colorful interior:

[Keep reading...]The building where the Mandarin Club was located – Bubbling Well Apartments – was, and still is, at the southwest corner of Bubbling Well (West Nanjing) and Seymour (North Shaanxi) Roads. It is now known as Ping'an Building 平安大楼:

Image: Cities in old days

Owned by the Chinese magnate James H. Lee (厉树雄), it originally had three floors and housed the Spanish Consulate, among others:

After studying architecture in Europe in 1927, the owner had an idea to add four extra floors to the building – which he had realised, in 1929. At the ground floor, there was a shopping arcade, which went in diagonally:

In 1938, the Hungarian architect Charles Henry Gonda inserted a movie palace in the left side of the arcade (Uptown Theatre), with a capacity for 500 spectators:

Outside, to the right of the arcade's entrance was the famous German-owned Café Federal:

...and lots of other stores:

The top floors of the 7-story building offered a splendid view of Bubbling Well Road, as witnessed by Fred Kranich:

But we're heading back downstairs and underground – to the Mandarin Club.

The owner was the American ex-soldier Joseph J. "Jimmy" James (Skaliski), from Jackson, Minnesota, who landed in China in 1922, "with a smile on his face" and 14$ in his pocket. By 1927 he was already called "Rector of the Orient." Much has been written about his culinary empire. Mandarin Club became the penultimate venue in a long string of restaurants and amusement venues in Jimmy's portfolio (most of which he managed, and some of which he owned). There were Broadway Lunch in 1924, Jimmy's on Broadway in 1925, Alcazar in 1926, Jimmy's Kitchen on Nanking Road in 1927, Yellow Jacket in 1931, Luna Park restaurant in 1932, Piccadilly in 1934, Wellcome Café in 1936, St George's (on Route Doumer) and Florida Club in 1937, New Palace in Chefoo also in 1937, Winter Garden and Pavilion near Jessfield Park in 1938... The last was Silver Palace on Avenue Foch, which opened in January 1941.

Jimmy James in October 1940.

At the opening gala of Mandarin Club in the basement floor of the Bubbling Well Apartments, the guests were offered Manchu-style robes and encouraged to pose for photographs:

The Filipino band played:

...acrobats performed:

...and visitors toasted each other:

If not for A. T. Hull, Jr., crashing the opening party, we'd never see so much of the Mandarin Club. Newspapers published very few photographs of it, taken mostly at various weddings. But memoirs confirm that the Mandarin Club was considered a "high-class night-spot." "A very smart and pretty place. Good music, good food." Mariano Ezpeleta called it an "aristocratic" place, "where the elite of the government and financial circles congregated."

Yet, in spite of the silk drapes and ample space, it looks somewhat cheap and shabby. Blame the occupation regime for that. At the end of 1942, as foreigners were being rounded up, Jimmy James, too, was interned and appointed the Chapei Camp's cook – to other prisoners' vast delight. After the war, Mandarin Club reopened under a new management. It was still operating as late as January 1950.

After Jimmy was released from the camp, he regained control of his flagship Jimmy's Kitchen on Nanking Road. George Silk photographed him outside his restaurant in 1946:

Same spot 20 years prior – the opening of Jimmy's Kitchen on Nanking Road in May 1927 (the owner is standing on the right):

Tags: 1940, a t hull, bubbling well road, french, jaspar, mandarin club, nightclub, nightlife, restaurants, russians

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