Today’s West Nanjing Road, formerly known as Bubbling Well Road. It was the heart of Shanghai’s glamour and glitz. This part of the street could have been somewhere in Manhattan, New York.
In the beginning, there was only the British Concession – or the British settlement, as it was known in 1842, when, under the auspices of the Treaty of Nanking, Shanghai was established as a Treaty Port. The settlement was built on the banks of the Whangpoo River, where it joins the Suzhou Creek.
In 1844, the Americans came, and established their Concession to the North and East of the Suzhou Creek, along the banks of the Whangpoo River in what is known as the Hongqiao District today.
Finally, in 1849, the French came and established their own Concession, just south of the British, with a narrow strip of waterfront which flanked the Old Chinese Walled City.
In 1863, the British and American concessions merged to form the International Settlement, opening itself up to traders and merchants from all European powers, including the Danes, the Germans and the Swedes. The French, however, remained aloof, and retained their Concession all the way till World War II.
Besides the Shanghai Bund, the second most important thoroughfare in the International Settlement was Nanking Road – the Settlement’s High Street, so to speak; its commercial and shopping street. Everywhere the British went in China, they would establish these High Streets; but none were as famous as Nanking Road.
Today’s Nanjing Road consists of two sections. The first is East Nanjing Road, which was Nanking Road proper in the Concession-era and extended all the way to the Cathay Hotel on the Bund. Today a large stretch of it has become a pedestrianised shopping strip; and on this stretch may still be found many of the colonial-era department store buildings.
The second section, West Nanjing Road, was the former, very famous Bubbling Well Road, home to Shanghai’s glamourous, international social scene. The Shanghai racecourse was here, as well as its most glitzy theatres, and most luxurious hotels and residences. Bubbling Well Road extended west to Jing An Temple, at the edge of the International Settlement.
In this photo-tour, we head east from Jingan Temple through the former Bubbling Well Road, on to the pedestrianised shopping strip that is today’s East Nanjing Road. We take a quick wander around the streets just behind the Bund – these streets are also home to a dizzying array of former bank and merchant house headquarters – before ending off at the Cathay Hotel.
Incidentally, alongside the Cathay Hotel, all of Shanghai’s famous Concession-era hotels, still operating as hotels today, also feature on this walk.
Bubbling Well Road
The eastern end of today’s Nanjing Road takes one through an area that was largely residential in the Concession-era, but today plays host to major malls and commercial offices.
Jing An Temple was first established in 241 A.D. and a temple has stood here ever since. It marks the western end of Bubbling Well Road.
The Hall of Sino-Soviet Friendship was built in 1955 to commemorate the strong friendship between China and the former Soviet Union. Today it is the Shanghai Exhibition Centre.
Eddington House is an art deco apartment complex in the Jingan Temple Area. It was built in 1935 and is famous for housing the apartment of Shanghai’s foremost author, Eileen Chang 張愛玲.
In the vicinity sits an interesting, almost Dickensian villa.
Paramount Theatre, builtin in 1933 by wealthy Chinese businessman Gu Liancheng, marks the start of Shanghai’s centre of glamour and glitz along Bubbling Well Road.
The former Race Club building, established in 1933 (Spence Robinson & Partners), now sits forlorn, at the corner of People’s Square. The Square was formerly Shanghai’s Racecourse.
The Grand Theatre was designed by Ladislav Hudec in an Art Deco style and opened in 1933. Today, it is a cinema.
Just across the street sits the famous Park Hotel, also designed by Ladislav Hudec in an Art Deco style and opened in 1934. It wouldn’t look out of place in Manhattan.
Next door sits the Foreign YMCA, designed by Elliott Hazzard in a Beaux-Arts style and opened in 1926. It houses the Shanghai Sports Club today.
The China United Assurance Apartments was a luxury apartment complex built in 1926, that was then transformed into the Pacific Hotel in 1940. It was also designed by Elliott Hazzard.
As we head further East we reach the former High Street of the International Settlement – Nanking Road. We pay a visit to each of the Four Big Departmental Stores established by Australian Chinese (all of Cantonese origin) in the inter-war years, and take in general views of the pedestrianised street.
The first of the Big Four was Sincere Department Store, opened in 1917 by an Australian Chinese Ma Ying Piew. The building was designed by Lester Johnson & Morris.
The second of the Big Four was Wing On Department Store, opened in 1918 by the Kwok Brothers. Designed by Palmer & Turner.
The third of the Big Four was Sun Sun Department Store, opened in 1923 by Liu Xiji and Li Minzhou. It was designed by CH Gouda.
The last of the Big Four was Sun Company Department Store, opened in 1936.
Hardoon Building, established in 1936.
Many of the other departmental stores from the Concession-era still stand. They come in an array of architectural styles, including this one, probably built in the 1930s due to its Art Deco style.
Almost like an Italian palazzo.
Another of-the-era mall
View of Nanjing Road Pedestrianised Shopping Street, with the Shimao International Plaza in the distance.
Behind the Bund
The Bund itself may have played host to some of the most magnificent bank and commercial buildings in the International Settlement, but these weren’t all. Behind the Bund ran an orderly network of main streets that housed more bank offices, merchant houses, hotels and residences. Many of these still remain today, and this wander through the streets provides a glimpse of some of them.
The China Mutual Life Insurance Company building was designed by Atkinson & Dallas and opened in 1910.
Caldbeck MacGregor House was designed by Palmer & Turner and opened in 1937.
The Mitsubishi Corporation offices were designed by Japanese architect Fukui and opened in 1914.
The American Club was designed by Ladislav Hudec and opened in 1925.
One of three buildings around Municipal Square with similar architecture. This one is the Commercial Bank of China, designed by Davies, Brooke & Gran and opened in 1936.
The second of the buildings is the famous Metropole Hotel, designed by Palmer & Turner and opened in 1934.
The third of the buildings is Hamilton House, designed by Palmer & Turner and opened in 1933.
Nanking Road today ends with a view of Pudong and the Oriental Pearl Tower. to the left is the famous Cathay Hotel; to the right, in the shadow, the equally famous Palace Hotel.