Shanghai’s stock of fabulous old buildings sometimes seems to dwindle by the day. As the city marches relentlessly toward its prosperous and harmonious future, one of two fates seems to befall our historical gems:
- They are razed to the ground by teams of bulldozers and replaced by office blocks.
- They are ‘restored to their original to condition’ (i.e. the architectural equivalent of a lobotomy is performed – we’re looking at you, Ruijin Intercontinental Hotel!).
There are still a handful of historic Shanghai hotels that, whilst bearing the brutal scars of decades of government management, retain just enough charm for lovers of creaky floorboards and original plasterwork for ‘Old Shanghai’ geeks like Bespoke to enjoy sneaking around. Here are a few of our heritage favorites with a big caveat: do not expect five star service at these joints (The Peninsula is full for a reason, right?). In fact, the lower you set your expectations, the better you’ll fare.
The Astor House Hotel
A hotel with genuine pedigree, the Astor has been in situ since 1858 – far earlier than any of its rivals. The building’s stories are endless: as recently as 1990 its ballroom housed the earliest incarnation of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, for example. With a plum spot at the north end of the Bund, some rooms have balconies and fantastic views and we can’t help but feel that at some point this old dame will face the heavy-handed renovation treatment. If you want to sleep in the very room in which Albert Einstein laid his head (other celebrity boudoirs are available) for less than 1,000 kuai then this is your chance. The Astor House Hotel is at 15 Huangpu Road, Hongkou District.
In one of the quietest corners of the former French Concession, the origins of this 1920s chateaux are not well known but its gardens retain a wonderfully bucolic feel. Notoriety came later: first in the 1940s when it was assigned as the residence of American General George C. Marshall, who attempted to oversee negotiations between the Communists and the KMT, and then during the ’60s as one of the favored Shanghai haunts of Mao Zedong’s famously brutal fourth wife Jiang Qing. A checkered history but a beautiful building. Taiyuan Villa is at 160 Taiyuan Road, Xuihui District.
A charming legend holds that Eric Moller, a Jewish Swede of British citizenship (how very Shanghai!) who made his money on the horses, commissioned this somewhat alarming gothic fairytale villa based on a dream his daughter had. While this myth has been widely debunked, the building’s architecture is certainly unique if not entirely tasteful. But that’s part of the fun. Moller Villa is at 30 Shaanxi South Road, Jing’an District.
No one knows Shanghai’s hotels in as much detail as Bespoke, so why not get in touch for help crafting your visit? Check out our Trip Customization Service and book a trip tailor made to your requirements?