First of all – a quick art lesson for those not so familiar with the subject. Art Deco, sometimes referred to as Deco, is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that first appeared in France just before World War. I Art Deco influenced the design of buildings, furniture, jewelry, fashion, cars, movie theatres, trains, ocean liners, and everyday objects such as radios and vacuum cleaners. It took its name, short for Arts Décoratifs, from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) held in Paris in 1925. It combined modernist styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials. During its heyday, Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress. Its signature elements included bold geometric forms and bright colors. It featured rare and expensive materials, such as ebony and ivory, and exquisite craftsmanship.
Art Deco has had a major influence in Shanghai starting from the 1930s at the peak of its Concession-era building boom. This city boasts one of the most extensive Art Deco landscapes in the world, and is home to the most number of Art Deco-inspired buildings in Asia. Did you know that according to shanghaiartdeco.net database, there are… 236 Art Deco buildings in Shanghai?!
In this post we will focus on5 Art Deco Apartment buildings in the Former French Concession, with some seriously blood curdling background!
1.The Normandie Apartments / Wukang Mansion
Architect: Laszlo Hudec
Year of construction: 1924
Address: 1850 Huaihai Middle Road
It was originally built for the International Savings Society (founded in Shanghai in 1912 by several French merchants including Jean Beudin, whose residence on Fenyang Road was also designed by Hudec). After the war, the Kuomintang government purchased the International Savings Society’s properties around 1946 and the new owner of Hudec's masterpiece was the daughter of Nationalist Finance Minister H.H. Kung. It became home to a host of Chinese film stars.
In 1953 the Normandie Apartments became known at the Wukang Building.The triangle lot is located at the intersection of five streets and provides an open view. The steep, sharp-headed building suits the peculiar shape of the plot and its appearance symbolizes a flat-iron or powerful warship.It is also known as the first building in Shanghai to have balconies. Although the architectural style is French Renaissance, Hudec’s use of the shape of a cruise ship is pure Art Deco.
During the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-76), this building earned the unfortunate moniker “The Shanghai Diving Pool.” As one of the few high-rise buildings in western Shanghai, a number of people ended their lives by jumping off of it. On the other hand, the communist authorities, due to so many Western Associations, called it ‘Anti – Revisionist Tower’
2. The Petain Apartments
Architect: Alexander Yaron
Year of construction: 1934
Address: 700 Hengshan Road
The deep stucco panels adorning the exterior feature a distinctive Art Deco bubble pattern decoration. More delights await in the interior: a highly geometric – though sadly neglected and dusty – lobby area, with an amazing spiral staircase that spins dramatically upwards. The Petain Apartments are perfectly balanced, with a central tower flanked by a pair of vertical wings and bisected with balconies
They were named for Philippe Petain - the head of Vichy government - France’s wartime Nazi collaborationist government. In fact, today’s Hengshan Road used to be called Avenue Petain. Some considered it faux pas and compared to naming it ‘Hitler Avenue’.
3. The Washington Apartments
Architect: Alexander Yaron
Year of construction: 1928
Address: 301-305 Hengshan Road, crossing Gao’an Road
The Washington apartments were among the smartest and most “fashionable” blocks to live in in the mid-1930s in the French Concession. The building’s signature is the streamlined shape, with ziggurats (stepped pyramid form) and organic floral decorations around the entrances. It features geometric lines of Art Deco, and charming details like roses, which look as if they’ve been sculpted from icing.
This architectural gem was unfortunately a scene of one of the saddest stories of the 30s.On January on Friday January 19th 1934, Mrs Grooch – wife of the Operations Manager for Pacific-American Airways - jumped from the balcony of their eighth floor apartment in the Washington Apartments with her two children – one under each arm. All three were killed instantly on the pavement of Avenue Pétain.
4. Lincoln Apartments
Year of construction: 1930
Address : 1554 – 1568 Huai Hai Zhong Lu
Classic example of art deco building thanks to detailing in exterior and zigzag ironwork staircase railings. As in most of the major apartment buildings in this area, the tenants were mostly foreign, with the Lincoln having more than the usual number of French tenants.
The merit for its fame, though, goes to naughty Zhou Fohai – the mayor of Shanghai in the Japanese puppet government. Mr Zhou infamously kept his mistress – Peking opera actress – Xiao Linghong – in Lincoln apartment love nest.
5. Amyron Apartments
Architect: Alexandre Leonard
Year of construction: 1941
Address: 14 Gao’an Lu
Another Art Deco Apartment building with a love story and a mystery in the background. Amyron was a gift to Leonard’s Russian/Polish wife Anna Ivanovna Nicolaïva Bowshis (who owned a cabaret called the “Bianna” in the Art Deco Hanray building on Avenue Joffre – today’s Huai Hai Road).It is also his last work in Shanghai. The 6 storey building was supposed to be a residence for artists and performers, but the history got in the way.
In 1942 the Vichy Regime was installed in Shanghai and the authorities demanded to strip Leonard of his nationality, name and properties on the grounds of his ‘mixed marriage to Anna (She had lost her Polish nationality in 1939 thanks to the German-Soviet pact, and was now Russian).
On March 1, 1946, just two days after the French government had ceded the French Concession back to China, a note appeared on the door of the Amyron, ordering the eviction of the “Bowshis (Anna’s surname) Spouse” who, they claimed, had been living there as a squatter since 1942.
On March 26. the consul general of France and other officials gathered at the French Consulate for the reading of Alexandre Leonard’s will, however there was no death certificate and no evidence of his death. Till this day, nobody knows what really happened with Leonard and all that is left of him are his initials on the Amyron’s terrazzo.
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