Every building on the Bund has a story to tell but none of them has played the rainbow of important and interesting roles that fell to the former Shanghai Club. The building at No. 2 on the Bund is 101 years old this year, at an age to have witnessed many changes in our city.
Without domes or peaked roofs, the elegant edifice modestly perches on the south end of the riverfront avenue. The facade is carried out in ornamental stone, relieved by six granite columns and plinth. The walls are of steel-reinforced concrete. Men in black now guard the gate of the structure with a giant glass rain roof.
It was a new version of the premier all-male British club when it was completed in 1911.
The old one built in 1864 was a three-story house and wood structure, which had a cozy porch by the river that some nostalgic members had always favored.
The new building was designed by B. H. Tarrant, who won the project in open bidding but died after drafting the plans. M. A. G. Bray carried on the work for the architectural firm of Tarrant and Morris.
The club had provided almost everything that a British gentleman needed to enjoy, including the L-shaped, 100-foot-long bar, longest in the East at one time.
There was also a billiards room with raftered ceiling and leaded windows, a smoking room, a dining salon overlooking the river, a cards room and reading rooms in the "Adams" style, an 18th century neoclassical style practiced by the three Adam brothers from Scotland.
Archive photos show spacious wooden tables in the library, which was even equipped with reading shelves in the center that resembled music stands to make it easier to read big-size books. On the second and third floors were 40 bedrooms, each with a full bathroom.
In books and articles on Shanghai in the 1920s, the Shanghai Club frequently appears and is often vividly described. It was known as "a place where you would probably meet all the taipans of the British community at lunch time."
"However stuffy and 'British' the club, however difficult it was to become a member, no visit to Shanghai was complete without an invitation by a member for a pre-lunch pink gin," so wrote Noel Barber in book "The Fall of Shanghai."
Many things, including the founding of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp, are said to have been discussed over a glass of whisky at the Shanghai Club.
Irene Corbally Kuhn, a foreign correspondent in Shanghai in the 1920s, recounted stories of the renowned long bar in "Shanghai: The Way It Was" in 1986.
"More than 100 feet of dark, polished mahogany, it was said to be the longest bar in the world. A wide bay window in the barroom overlooked the frenzied harbor traffic. Tables there commonly were reserved for that colorful breed, the Yangtze River pilots, the men who negotiated the tricky passage through shoals and sand bars from the estuary to Shanghai and beyond."
In an almost rigid, mysterious protocol, the taipans congregated by custom at the window end of the bar near the pilots while new comers played liar dice in the dark recesses at the far end. After a period of time a member would move up the bar as his importance increased.
As Shanghai's golden 1920s and early 1930s slipped away, the Shanghai Club began to change. It was occupied by the Japanese army in 1941, reopened in 1945, closed again in the summer of 1949 and opened by the Shanghai Department Store Co, according to the Huangpu District Archive Bureau. In 1956 the former Shanghai Club was opened again as a club for international sailors, one of the few places that offered Western food and borscht. Only 15 years later, the building was converted to the famous Dong Feng Restaurant, which was remembered fondly by many locals since dining out during that period was rare. In 1988 in a travesty of architectural destruction KFC received permission to demolish the long bar and renovated it into Shanghai's first KFC restaurant.
"The floor was dirty and slippery. The interior was always crowded, decorated with fake classic arches and carvings," recalls architect Yu Ting from Xian Dai UD Architectural Design Institute, who first entered the building in 1995 to take his ex-girlfriend for a taste of the KFC fried chicken.
"The dark-toned long bar room became the light-colored KFC restaurant. I think it was ironic that the former Shanghai Club famous for its steak-and-kidney pies as luncheon served fried chicken in the 1990s. However the fa?ade in Beaux Arts style was well preserved."
Fortunately when the building celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, it was reopened as the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Hotel, complete with Long Bar.
After careful "surgery" and "make-up," the building was revived and looked almost as it was the new construction described in the English-language newspaper The Far Eastern Review in 1912.
"The interior of the Club is sumptuous. A broad flight of granite steps leads to a magnificent hall 90 feet in length, 39 in breadth and 41 feet 6 inches in height. Rising from a handsomely designed floor of black and white marble are magnificent Ionic columns 17 feet 9 inches high supporting entablatures and arches and surmounted by a heavy dentiled cornice and a barreled ceiling of glass."
Though lacking the original blueprints, builders reproduced the Long Bar based on archival photos. The reproduction looks authentic, though a row of original white tables and white chairs have been replaced with brown coffee tables and leather couches. Even the original black ceiling fans were reproduced.
"Local media had widely reported 'a splendid transition' of Dong Feng Restaurant to Waldorf Hotel," says architect Yu. "But if you know a bit of history, you would say the Shanghai Club finally fills a proper role."
NO. 2 on the bund
Yesterday: Shanghai Club
Present: The Waldorf Astoria Shanghai
Style: Beaux Arts
Architect: B. H. Tarrant & M. A. G. Bray
Address: No. 2 on the Bund
Admission: The hotel is open, but ask whether photos are allowed.
Tips: Having a drink at the long bar is a nice way to soak up some memories; the decor is nostalgic. Note the original elevator and variety of fireplaces with carved mantel pieces.