Katya Knyazeva (avezink) wrote,
Katya Knyazeva
avezink

Oriental Motor-1921: Route Mercier is just not famous enough for the auto show

Found a stack of issues of Oriental Motor on archive.org and enjoyed reading about the first ever car show in China, held in the French Concession in December 1921.

There were pictures of all stages of the show's preparation in Verdun Gardens. The image below looks like the facades of the show pavilions facing Maoming Road. The French Club and its sports grounds were not built yet, and Verdun Gardens had direct access to Route Mercier (Maoming Road):


The chosen site was a public park, called Verdun Parc or Verdun Gardens, that occupied the grounds of the former German Club on Avenue Joffre. On the map from 1918 Route Mercier is not even built yet.


Map from 1918, virtualshanghai.com

This drawing depicts decorative gateways constructed of bamboo and thatch:


The reality was this:


The report published after the show had some pictures of the opening and the exhibits. Here I'll be skipping a lot, since locations interest me more than cars:






The decorative arch on Avenue Joffre was inherited from the German Club that used to be on this spot prior to 1917, before the site became the public park Verdun Gardens:


The summarizing editorial was quite unforgiving to Verdun Gardens as the location (the emphasis below is mine):

The greatest mistake of all, undoubtably, was the selection of Verdun Gardens as the place tor holding the show. This location was ideal in every particular with one vital exception, namely, its inaccessibility. There is no getting away from the fact that Verdun Gardens is a hard place to reach, except by motor car. It is unknown to the ricksha coolies, and the street car service is so roundabout that few, particularly the Chinese, attempted to reach the show by that method.

When the show committiee was debating the question of location, back in August, Manager West urged that the property at the corner of Bubbling Well and Hart Roads, which could have been rented for a thousand taels, be chosen, but this was rejected. Even after a vote, favorable to Verdun Gardens, had been taken, Mr. West twice re-opened the quiestion, and both times was turned down. And in that stand the show committee went a long way toward defeating the main purpose of the show, namely, to attract visitors.

If the show had been held on Bubbling Well Road it would have attracted thousands where it drew only hundreds at Verdun Gardens. Bubbling Well Road, as everybody in Shanghai, Chinese and foreigner, knows, is the city's main street. Everybody knows where Bubbling Well Road is, and while some might never have heard of the Hart Road corner, all would have known that to get there it was only necessary to climb in a ricksha and keep on going west.

On Bubbling Well Road the show would have had the advantage of two months' advertising while the buildings were going up, for it is safe to say that in the course of a  week every motor car in Shanghai passes that location. At Verdun Gardens the show buildings could not be seen, even from Avenue Joffre, because of the trees and shrubbery in the south end of the Gardens. And Route Cardinal Mercier, on which the buildings faced, is probably as little known as any street in Shanghai.

This, then, is the big lesson for next year. Let the committee, or whoever has charge of future show arrangements, bear in mind that in an enterprise of this kind location is everything.


After the auto show the public park did not return to its function (or if it did, it did not last long), for in 1926 the French Club was completed on the site, and the former garden became its sports grounds. The residential lane compounds to the east, built after 1925, bear the memory of the disappeared park in their names: Verdun Terrace and Beverly Gardens.

And here are some pictures of flooded Shanghai streets. And some cars:
Tags: 1920s, article, auto industry, avenue joffre, french concession, investigation, photo, shanghai
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