Nevada Semenza, the journalist of the China Press (1931)

Aside from her duties as the woman's page editor at the China Press, Nevada Semenza wrote interesting articles on Shanghai's city life and culture. Her extravagantly titled "Avenue Joffre, Pulse Of The Russian Community, Informal, Tawdry, Yet Picturesque as a Ship in Full Dress" from July 1931 was, perhaps, the first full-page story covering the growth of the Russian colony in the French Concession. The year it was published Semenza married the city editor at the China Press and became Mrs. Christian Sutton.

A building in Shanghai named after its Russian owner?

Until recently, I only knew of the Krivoss Apartments, named after its owner and architect Boris Krivoss. But here is another – Koffman Apartments 国富门公寓, at 232 Route Ferguson, now 武康路232号. I believe Gabriel Rabinovich built it for Vladimir Mironovich Kofman (Владимир Миронович Кофман), engineer and owner of the car dealership Oriental Motors on Avenue Foch. I think so because Kofman and family lived in the penthouse on the fourth floor ever since the Koffman Apartments was built. It was customary for building owners to move into their properties (and occupy the top floors). The Kingsbury family lived in the Kingsbury Apartments (later renamed Dupleix Apartments) on Route Dupleix 安福路; the owner of Clements Apartments, A. Clements, also lived in his building on Rue Lafayette 复兴中路. The difference between Kofman and Koffman can be ascribed to the westernization of the building's name.

There are two small apartment buildings flanking the Koffman – the Capetown on the left, and the Uptown on the right – whose origins and years of construction are obscure. But according to Rabinovich's drawing, in March 1935 the Capetown was not yet planned, while the Uptown could have been under construction:

Since its construction, the Koffman Apartments has had an extra floor added on top.

On Building Russian Shanghai you can see other works by G. Rabinovich or read about the French Concession's "midget apartments."

Follow Mapping Old Shanghai on Facebook for more history and architecture tidbits.

American Warship Entertains Local Children (1930)

Over 250 local poor children, mostly Russians, were given a treat aboard the USS Barker on Christmas morning. A number of launches were chartered to take the children from the Customs' Jetty and they were met on their arrival on the ship by a real Father Christmas and there was a well-decorated Christmas tree from which every child received a present. The youngsters were taken around the ship by members of the crew and then given a good meal.

Shanghai Sunday Times, Dec 1930

Genova impressions-2

No two apartments in Genova have the same floor plan. The northern wind (tramontana) can be quite chilly even on a balmy February day. When it blows, the narrow alleys (carrugi) are strewn with single socks, swept from the clothlines above. Around sunset, the tops of the buildings are still enjoying the daylight, while the bottoms are steeped in darkness and the lights have gone up. It is completely acceptable to throw paper confetti anywhere in the street.

Who designed the New Asia Hotel?

It is often thought that Poy Gum Lee 李锦沛 designed the New Asia Hotel 新亚酒楼 in Hongkou, but in reality, it was the architectural department of the Republic Land Investment 五和洋行, headed by S. A. Sayer 席拉, that designed the building.

In early August 1932, the North-China Daily News published an article on the new hotel in the making, and the architect Sayer reacted with an irritated letter: "We were certainly surprised to learn that the plans of this building were subject to the approval of Mr. Poy Gum Lee, for we, as architects and civil engineer for the bulding acting under direct instruction from Republic Land Investment, have no knowledge whatsoever of Mr. Poy G. Lee having any connection with this work. The whole of the architectural and civil engineering work was carried out by us..."

The company, evidently, pressured Poy Gum Lee to publicly deny his involvement with the project, and his refutation appeared not only in NCDN, but also in China Press: "Mr. P. G. Lee, who was reported recently as the consulting architect, stated yesterday that while he is acting temporarily in an advisory capacity, he is not the architect of the building, nor will he have any active part in its construction."

The Republic Land Investment project for North Sichuan Road consisted of four buildings: New Asia Hotel & Apartments (south and north buildings, respectively), Bridge House Apartments and Derring Apartments. The latter two buildings opened in January 1935. They were designed by the Russian architect Gabriel Rabinovich, of whom you can read more at Building Russian Shanghai.

Here is the plan of the development, published in 1934, where A & B are the New Asia Hotel & Apartments, C – Derring Apartments, D – Bridge House:

This ad was published in China Press in July 1935:

Pathetically little is known about S. A. Sayer, other than the fact that he was with the Republic Land Investment all through the 1930s and into the 1940s. So this post is also his appearance in the NETA (Nobody Ever Talks About...) column. This column focuses on lesser-known Shanghai architects and has already introduced Bright Fraser, Gabriel Rabinovich, Wladimir Livin-Goldenstaedt, Karsten Hermann Suhr, Ilarion Tomashevsky, Hans Hajek, Boris Krivoss and Isabella Karsnitsky. Future issues will feature Paul Chelazzi, George Edward Koster, Xi Fuquan, B. L. Matrai, Chiulin Shih, Abelardo Lafuente, Hans Berents, Joseph Hammerschmidt and Jones Architects – all different nationalities! – who have left their imprint on Shanghai.

If you like my work, follow Mapping Old Shanghai on Facebook.

Bright Fraser, architect and artist

Our NETA ("Nobody Ever Talks About...") column features lesser-known, but important architects of Shanghai. Today we examine the career of Bright Fraser, whose singular achievement was the Broadway Mansions 上海大厦, on Shanghai's Bund. In spite of the weight of that project – literal and figurative – Fraser was not a one-trick pony. Denison touches on his career in Building Shanghai, and adds more details in Architecture and the Landscape of Modernity. Bright Fraser (1894–1974) graduated from the Liverpool University and "later became a student at London's first atelier of architecture." He "worked for Atkinson & Dallas before joining the Shanghai Land Investment in 1926, where he became chief architect." His biography on the Artefacts website mentions that Fraser left China in 1937 and settled in South Africa, where he continued practicing architecture.

So let's look at some Bright Fraser's projects in Shanghai.

During the year 1926, Shanghai Land Investment accomplished a massive construction scheme on Museum Road, erecting two commercial buildings – Lyceum Godown and Museum Godown. It is likely Fraser was not involved with the Lyceum Godown, because its design was published as early as January 1926, when Fraser might have not been with the company.

Museum Road Godown, however, could be his work; it was completed at the end of 1927. Too bad the building does not survive.

In March 1927, the company reported: "We have carried out considerable re-development on Hanbury Road Estate, Paoshan Estate, Chusan Road Estate and Dixwell Road Estate. No. 31 Peking Road is now being modernized and a new wing to the south side added. We are also building two new foreign houses, both of which are already booked, on a small portion of the Zang Pang Estate which was lying vacant and unproductive." It is most likely, Fraser was involved in all of these. The next year's projects in the northern district were disrupted by the armed hostilities of January 1928, but plans for the redesign of the Ben Building on Avenue Edward VII were approved.

The Pearce Apartments in Hongkew was designed by Fraser in 1928, built during 1929 and inaugurated in 1930. This is one of the few buildings in Shanghai that was painted and drawn more often than photographed. Fraser's penchant for art might be the explanation:

Ad from China Press, April 1930
[See more works by B. Fraser...]

Ad from North-China Sunday News, June 1930

In 1931, Fraser designed a complex of 20 villas with attached garages on Rue Ratard (now Julu Road 巨鹿路), near Route Courbet (now Fumin Road 富民路).

I already showed Fraser's early design of the Broadway Mansions that he created for the Shanghai Land Investment in 1931:

Image: North-China Sunday Times, Dec 1931

And here is a model:

Image: Shanghai Sunday Times, Dec 1931

Before the project went ahead, Fraser redesigned the building to achieve the look we enjoy today:

Image: Shanghai Sunday Times, Dec 1933

Here is a Fraser-designed villa in Columbia Circle, on Amherst Avenue (now Xinhua Road 新华路), built in 1932:

I'm still gathering data on his later projects before his departure in 1937.

Bright Fraser was an accomplished painter (which you can tell from his watercolor painting of the Broadway Mansions above). His works were displayed at local exhibitions, alongside those of other Shanghai architects, artists and sculptors, such as C. H. Gonda, K. H. Suhr, Sapajou and W. W. Wagstaff. Here are some of his paintings exhibited in the Shanghai Art Club, where he was a chairman and vice-president, in the 1930s:

Top image: Denison, Architecture and the Landscape of Modernity...

Previous issues of this column (which only now received its name) introduced Gabriel Rabinovich, Wladimir Livin-Goldenstaedt, Karsten Hermann Suhr, Ilarion Tomashevsky, Hans Hajek, Boris Krivoss and Isabella Karsnitsky. Future issues will introduce Paul Chelazzi, George Edward Koster, B. L. Matrai, Chiulin Shih, Hans Berents and Jones Architects, all of whom left their imprint on Shanghai.

Crime on Increase in the French Concession (1941)

Just how much crime was there in wartime Shanghai? A lot! Read this report from January 1941:

"The report of the French Police for the month of December shows a slight increase in criminal cases, armed robberies being the most prevalent. Police action, intensified in the past several months, has been responsible for the increase of arrests during the month.

There were four murders and two attempts during the month, only one of them having political background, this being the assassination of M. d'Hooghe, who was killed on December 16 at the time he was entering his house. The other three murders had been committed during armed robberies. In the first case, an old woman was killed by a criminal gang, at the instigation of her amah. The house was then robbed by the gang. After a few weeks of Investigations, the amah and the whole gang were arrested and convicted.

In the second case, a bank manager was fatally wounded by a friend, who wanted to rob him, while a shop owner was shot dead in the third case when he attempled to raise an alarm. A Chinese doctor was shot in his home by one of his clients, who was arrested on the spot and later confessed to having killed the man out of revenge.

An attempt was made on the person of Sergeant Roby of the French Police, when he wanted to search a suspicious-looking character in the street. The Chinese fired a shot at the policeman, but failed to hit him. He was wounded and arrested.

Five cases of kidnapping were investigated by the French Police in December. The first occurred on Route Ghisi [today's Yueyang Road], where a young schoolboy was abducted at the time he was cycling to school. Another schoolboy was kidnapped on Route Dufour when he was going to school in a rickshaw. The third victim was a child of five, abducted from an alleyway in Avenue Joffre. The case was reported to the Police after the parents
of the child had paid $800 to the kidnappers
. Three of the gang were later arrested by the French Police.

Two Chinese men, one in foreign employ, the other connected with a rice hong, were kidnapped by gangs, but were released. The French Police received complaints of 44 armed robberies and 14 hold-ups during the month. Ten crimes were solved and 21 persons were arrested, in addition to five pistols and three imitation firearms being seized. Other minor crimes resulted in four arrests."

North-China Herald and Supreme Court Gazette, Jan 22, 1941.

Top image: arrest of a gang in 1936.

Genova impressions-1

Bankruptcy and nativity scenes were invented in Genova. West and east are called ponente and levante; south is mezzogiorno. Pesto cooking competitions count as cultural events. So do catholic masses. In the standard rental checklist the 19th question reads "Is there a sea view?" In our case, the answer was "yes."