The Cathay Hotel is a dream of a hotel.
An art deco mirage in concrete and cast iron, floating impossibly on the once-swampy banks of the Shanghai Bund – Britain’s city-monument to Imperial Might. The grande dame de jure of Shanghai’s hospitality scene, and where I put up on this stop of the Grand Tour.
It was built in 1932, during Shanghai’s heyday. The Great Depression in America had driven hundreds of wealthy Americans and Europeans, along with their vast reserves of wealth, to this Far Eastern capital, where they transformed Capital into Real Estate – millions of square feet of Art Deco real estate – and grew richer.
Injected with this money, and populated with increasing numbers of Art Deco buildings, Shanghai became a New York City of the East, and became equally fabled for its hedonistic lifestyle, as for its shady underworld of guns and triads.
The Cathay was commissioned by real estate mogul Sir Victor Sassoon, scion to a wealthy family of Baghdadi Jews who were of British nationality. The hotel wasn’t his only major property in Shanghai – he also built Cathay Mansions, Grosvenor House and Cathay Cinema in the French Concession, and Embankment Building by Suzhou Creek, amongst others.
After the Communist takeover, the hotel was re-opened in 1956 as the Peace Hotel, incorporating the former Cathay Hotel as the North Building, and the former Palace hotel, across the street as the South Building. By 1992, it had become one of the world’s most famous hotels.
In 2007, the hotel closed for a major restoration process by the Fairmont Group and re-opened in 2010 in its full glory as the Fairmont Peace Hotel. The Palace Hotel became the Swatch Art Peace Hotel.
This gallery provides a glimpse of the Fairmont Peace Hotel’s splendour.