Friend of the blog, author Paul French, ruminates on the Metropole Hotel, which the ‘Historical Photographs of China’ knows well. You can catch more of Paul’s discussions of Shanghai and other histories on his China Rhyming blog. Over at ‘Historic Shanghai‘ you can also keep abreast of the fortunes, or otherwise, of the city’s heritage architecture. The photographs came to us from the British Steel Archive.
These pictures of the Metropole Hotel (today the 新城饭店) under construction show the creation of what remains one of the most impressive “circuses” of a major city – the junction of Foochow and Kiangse Roads at the heart of the International Settlement. The hotel remains of course, now at the junction of Fuzhou and Jiangxi Roads.
This crossroads was the administrative heart of the International Settlement with the Central Police Station, which included the offices of Special Branch (formed in 1898 and known as the “Intelligence Office” until 1925) and had first been built on the road in 1854; the headquarters of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps as well as most of the chief departments of the city administration. Close by, the major administration building of the Shanghai Municipal Council occupied a full block at the junction.
The Metropole was built in 1930 and designed by the well known architectural firm of Palmer and Turner and the construction was carried out by Sin Jin Kee Building Contractors. The same team built both Victor Sassoon’s Cathay Hotel and Hamilton House, adjacent to the Metropole.
The Metropole was not a new name to long term Shanghailanders, there had been a hotel of long standing and often dubious reputation on the Bubbling Well Road close to the race course but that was long gone by 1930 and so the name was obviously appropriated with its connotations of modernism suiting the city and structure well. Hamilton House was home to a constantly revolving range of businesses over the years including insurance firms, Shanghai Dairy Farms main offices, radio stations and gramophone companies and the editorial offices of the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle (who preferred to list their address as Hamilton Haus).
Tani and Anatole Maher, in their book Memoirs: From Old Shanghai to the New World, recall the hotel as luxurious when they stayed there shortly after its construction.
It’s worth recalling the construction of this magnificent hotel now as it is about to undergo a “refurbishment”, a word to send chills through the soul of any dedicated Shanghai preservationist. Most at risk appears to be the American Bar, once a gathering spot for many Shanghailanders (the American Club was just round the corner on Foochow Road). The hotel of course maintains that it will retain the features of the bar, yet then says that the space will be converted into a gym …