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Katya Knyazeva's scrapbook

Shanghai history and architecture

#101 Shanghai Architecture Series: Del Monte Cabaret & Casino

You thought the legendary Del Monte was gone, but it is not! The former cabaret is sitting right in the middle of the Shanghai Theatre Academy's campus on Huashan Road. Now called the Xiong Foxi Building, it is frequently misidentified as the site of the German Garden Club, which was, in fact, located next door. Perhaps, the Theatre Academy does not want anything to do with Shanghai's oldest and most resilient cabaret? Well, its students think differently: Broadway-style musical remains the most sought-after major in this college.

Read about Del Monte in Russian / in English. See it on the map.

Image credit: flickr user 老壶嚼早.

Mowing the grass on the Racecourse
Around 1930:


The Great China Hotel (大中华饭店) has survived; everything else is different.

Sailor's Lament: What Did They Do To Shanghai? (1982)

Found this curious article from 1982, published in The New York Times. The journalist caught the Seamen's Club when it had already left the building of the former Shanghai Club (destined to become a hotel), and moved into the former Soviet Consulate, that was exactly taking a (forced) break from diplomatic business between 1962 and 1986.


Once Shanghai ranked among the world's rowdiest ports of call, with a licentiousness that outstripped even its own reputation.

A sailor on shore leave found no lack of diversion, from gambling casinos like Delmonte's or Farren's to nightclubs and dance halls like Ciro's or Roxy's, which normally closed at 6 A.M. but would stay open later if the patrons requested it.

Sleazier sport was found in the countless dives, opium dens and brothels near the waterfront. Beggars tugged at the jackets of carousers prowling the red-light district off Fuzhou Street and sailors settled quarrels with knives in ''blood alley,'' under the indifferent gaze of hard-eyed young prostitutes.

Muggings were commonplace. And the practice of bashing a tipsy sailor unconscious and sending him out involuntarily on another ship occurred often enough to spawn the expression ''to be shanghaied.''

But Asia's most notorious dens of vice closed down after the Communists took over Shanghai in 1949. Some 30,000 prostitutes were packed off for re-education and several hundred thousand opium addicts were detoxified. The old racecourse was razed to make way for a people's square and park, with only some bleachers left to evoke the thrill of a bet on the right horse.

Communist morality has turned Shanghai into what may well be the world's most prudish major port of call. ''If it was paradise, it was only for adventurers,'' said Gu Yiping, director of the Shanghai International Seamen's Club. ''For other people, it was hell. Our Shanghai people suffered a lot.''

Mr. Gu is responsible for entertaining sailors when they reach China's biggest port after a long voyage. His club, which was founded in 1950 as the seamen's home, works hard to provide wholesome fun.

There are cheap tickets to local operas and acrobatic shows. There are volleyball and basketball games. There are tours of local factories and communes. There are trips to the zoo. The club even hosts get-acquainted parties where arriving sailors can get to know other arriving sailors.

''Recently we sent some chefs to American ships to let them have a taste of Chinese food,'' said Mr. Gu, who explained that it was not easy to ferry Chinese cuisine across the harbor. The chefs, who were used to cooking with gas, were also upset to find the galleys equipped with electric stoves.

''But we solved this difficulty,'' Mr. Gu reported. ''That was a specific demonstration of our friendship with American friends.'' The seamen's club, which is housed in the elegant old Russian Consulate on the waterfront where the fetid Suzhou Creek pours into the muddy Huangpu River, hardly lacks for business, visited by 30,550 Seamen in 1981.

Shanghai now handles 85 million tons of cargo a year. Last year 30,550 seamen from 85 countries sailed in on 1,135 foreign vessels, Mr. Gu said. His club tallied up 90,000 separate visits. It is now expanding by building another 12-story building next door.

Sometimes the seamen get a bit out of hand. In a brawl last August about 20 sailors demolished the ground-floor bar at the respectable Shanghai Mansions Hotel just down the street from the seamen's club. One Shanghai resident described it as a ''Hollywood-style punchup'' with policemen being flung through plate-glass windows when they arrived to restore order.

Municipal authorities reacted by closing down the coffee shops and bars of Shanghai's three major hotels. Now a sailor can get a drink only in the paneled bar of the seamen's club, which opens at 5 P.M. and closes at 11 P.M. The bar serves ice cream sodas and pineapple ice cream along with alcoholic beverages.

The bartenders keep a solicitous watch over their charges. ''We are not capitalists,'' Mr. Gu said. ''We don't try to make them drink too much. We want to preserve their health. We want to love and protect them. The majority of seamen understand our rules.''

Mr. Gu, who was never a sailor himself, has no nostalgia for the bad old days. Today a seaman rarely gets robbed in Shanghai, he said, while ''it was a common scene before liberation.'' He added, ''I saw such rascals myself.'' The ban on prostitution extends even to casual fraternization between foreign seamen and local women.

''After liberation the prostitutes were given medical treatment and were taught special skills to make a living, so they could find jobs and get married,'' Mr. Gu recalled. ''Of course most of these people were innocent. There was nothing for them in the countryside so they came to the city, but there was no work for them here.''

If seamen stay ashore too late to get back to their ships they can sleep in one of the club's 40 tidy beds for about $4.50 a night. Before retiring they can visit the club's reading room, which is stocked with copies of Beijing Review, China Reconstructs, Social Sciences in China, and other publications of an ideologically uplifting nature.

Mr. Gu led a visitor on a tour of the club's facilities, which include a table-tennis table, three billiard tables, a chess room and two small restaurants. The hall displays photographs from the recent 12th Communist Party congress. There is also a shop selling guitars, stuffed animals and local souvenirs, all at prices that Mr. Gu said were cheaper than in the hotels.

''We don't intend to make money deliberately,'' he explained. ''We make just enough to support ourselves.'' The employees outnumbered the seamen in the club, but Mr. Gu explained that it would get busier later that evening. Outside the bedrooms a sailor in dungarees slouched in a chair staring glumly into space. In one restaurant a half-dozen other men lingered over their cups of coffee.

Mr. Gu acknowledged a risk that the seamen might import their own Western decadence into Shanghai. He said that the club ran regular education sessions for its employees to inoculate them against bourgeois contamination.

''We have an open door policy but we can resist their way of life,'' explained Chao Bufa, an earnest young staff member. A large display case in the foyer, lit up like a jeweler's window, offered lost items for sailors to claim when they next reached port. As proof of Shanghai's vaunted new incorruptibility, the display included, along with some umbrellas, sunglasses and dolls, a disposable all point pen.

Top image of the Bund: Harrison Forman, 1973, AGSL Collections at UWM. Second image: The building of the former Soviet Consulate in 1976, uploaded by Editors CJ on flickr.

Over 1,600 historic photos of Shanghai mapped on PastVu

The most recent additions include:

- a bunch of views of the Confucian Temple in the old town;
- several rare images from Brian Beesley's family archive, showing the vicinity of the Normandie apartments: two angles of the arches and one of the building across the road;
- several images of the Nanshi Fire Station and the Watchtower (one of which had to be flipped);
- some bookstores along Henan Road;
- a beautiful pharmacy on Fuzhou Road;
- several images of Meixi Primary School in the old town, including one drawing;
- a whole lot of drawings from the Daily Pictorial 图画日报 (1909) of various sights in the old town;
- many images by Guo Bo, my favorite Shanghai photographer, scanned from his book;
- the construction site of the Juxingcheng Bank in downtown Shanghai – this one took a little bit of effort to identify;
- more views of Nanking Road, the most photographed street in Shanghai of all times;
- little corners like this always make me happy;
- a bunch of photographs from the Cultural Revolution era pulled from the Getty Images;
- and many others...

Link to the map

You can switch between the base maps and use the street grid, Google Scheme, Google Satellite or Yandex Satellite (which is often sharper than Google).

To only see the drawings, and not the photographs, choose the icon with the landscape, to the right of the photocamera:

My interview in Magazeta

To celebrate the 100th issue of the Shanghai Architecture Series in Magazeta, which commenced in summer 2016, here is an interview where I discuss how this project started, how I select the sites for the aricles, where I look for information, what my favorite places are, and how many articles are left to go.

The interview in Magazeta: in Russian / in English via Google Translate.

Three pictures from an art photo book

A crowd parading the portraits of Zhu De, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin. Photo by Sam Tata, 1949. (A correction was made thanks to marenzhi)

A couple dancing expertly on the Bund. Photo by Sebastião Salgado, 1998.

Motrcycle acrobatics in the Great World. Photo by Sebastião Salgado, 1998.

Images from this book.

When in doubt, flip it!
When I tried to map one of the few existing photos of the Watchtower 警钟楼 at the Little East Gate 小南门, I could not make it feel right. Then I flipped the photo and it worked perfectly. Every time this image is reproduced it is flipped incorrectly.



The building on the left is the Fire Station 小南门救火联合会; the row of houses across a wide street is lining Zhonghua Road 中华路. This photo on the map: https://pastvu.com/p/809314.

The watchtower and the fire station have been defunct for so long that a layer of houses has grown all around them. One of the last times I was in the area I climbed into a raised patio of a building behind the fire station and got a shot from almost the same angle:

Photographic studio of The Times newspaper 时报

Source: 民国图片.

"Be there tonight!"
The Gardenia cabaret, at 1389 Yuyuan Road (愚园路1389号), opened in 1937 by Alexandr Vertinsky, is undergoing complete gutting that may be followed by its demolition. The glass terrace of the Hunan restaurant that used to cover up the original facade is gone, and now you can see the resemblance to the only existing photograph of Gardenia:

The cabaret was extremely short-lived – it stayed open for three months in summer 1937 – but its impact was significant. The Gardenia is mentioned in a number of Russian memoirs, and some of the press back in the day also spoked of it favorably. I will repeat the newspaper reviews I quoted earlier:

"A big thrill indeed is a trip on the S.S. Gardenia Gardens, what with delighful breezes, syncopating rhythms, good drinks, and fascinating fellow voyagers. Best of all though is the fact that you'll never get seasick; for the S.S. Gardenia Gardens is "safely anchored" at 1385 Yu Yuen Road, just a stone's throw, or rather, a "stern line's heave" from Jessfield Park. Smartly decorated to give the illusion of a huge ship, the Gardens boasts of a bow, masts, superstructure, life boats, dancing decks and a right jolly crew of waiters, musicians, bar girls and hostesses, all accoutred in the very latest nautical rig. [...]"
(The China Press; July 11, 1937)


“Pleasing to the eye, the ballroom fittings are a distinct contrast to many other places, the quiet air of refinement lending itself to de rigeur dress. One notable feature, indirect lights, recessed into the tables, is distinctive and takes years from the age of patrons. The Gardenia orchestra in picturesque costumes are capable musicians and with muted instruments rendered old favourites to the liking of guests.”

(North-China Daily News, April 10, 1937)

See all my posts on Gardenia here, or just read the main post.

View from the left side; the facade is on the right:

The terrace facing the garden, aka the deck of the ship:

The interior:

Many thanks for these photos to the anonymous detective!


I never realized that the Hong Miao 虹庙/红庙 temple that used to be on Nanking Road in olden times is quietly functioning inside the lane 石潭弄 next No. 496, as this report explains.


Top image: Tuhua Ribao (1909). Not depicting Hongmiao.