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No. 24 another jewel among gems on the Bund
By Michelle Qiao

No. 24 on the Bund, completed in 1924, was built as a new jewel on the waterfront.

"Shanghai's crown of jewels is her Bund and the latest, if not the brightest ornament therein, is the Yokohama Specie Bank building into which more than two score of manufacturers have poured their cornucopias of the best in modern building materials to make this structure unique," the English-language Far Eastern Review reported in September 1924.

Again a Palmer & Turner creation, this one was designed by Frank Collard instead of George Wilson, father of the more famous No. 12 and No. 20. The structure is also linked to another genius architect L. E. Hudec, who kicked off his own business in this structure and later earned international recognition for designing the Park Hotel and many other buildings.

"Collard displayed freshness and vigor, adapting Japanese features to the general Neo-Grecian exterior design in a seamless way," says Tongji University professor Qian Zonghao. "The result is East and West in harmonious unity, without those messy lines that commonly crop up in buildings where an attempt is made to graft West upon East or vice versa."

No. 24 was built to house the Japanese Yokohama Specie Bank, the earliest "Shanghailander" among around 10 Japanese banks that had set foot in the city, according to the 2010 book "Banking History of the Bund." Founded in Yokohama in 1880, the bank first opened its doors in Shanghai at 11 Nanjing Rd E. in 1893 and later moved to No. 21 on the Bund.

Following a suspension of Shanghai business caused by hostilities between China and Japan, the bank reopened in 1895. As the growing business required greater space, it purchased the property at No. 31 in 1900 and also the property known as the David Sassoon Building, on the site where the magnificent No. 24 now stands.

The exterior of No. 24 is a delight to the eye. Echoing Palmer & Turner's masterpiece No. 12, No. 24's design also relies on scale, proportion, and a combination of materials for its individuality.

Japanese granite on the exterior forms a fine contrast with the black iron gates, which bear bronze castings depicting the helmet and arms of ancient Japanese warriors. They are fitting guardians for a financial institution.

The plain granite facing is continued throughout the interior of the spacious portico, which serves as the base of the classic Ionic columns that run up to the main entablature.

The effect of Oriental touches is heightened by the keystones of the window arches. The sculptured granite Buddha heads with downcast eyes "mayhap express only the calm resignation of the modern banker," according to the reports at the time.

Inside, a remarkable feature of the main banking hall is the lighting. The building is not only flooded with light from ample windows, but also is illuminated from above by a beautiful glass dome that sheds ample daylight into every corner of the great room.

No. 24 held a grand opening on July 19, 1924, which was attended by many notables in Shanghai's official and business circles. Only half a year later, the building attracted architect Hudec to move in.

Born in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1893, Hudec escaped to Shanghai in 1918 while being transported to a Siberian prison camp during World War I. Without money and suffering a leg injury, he made a fortune from his architectural talents.

He found a job at the American firm R. A. Curry, achieved great success and founded his own firm at No. 24 in January 1925. There he remained for seven years before moving his office to one of his new works, the China Baptist Publication Society Building, or the "True Light" Building on Yuanmingyuan Road.

During this seven years at No. 24, Hudec designed many of his signature buildings including the Moore Memorial Church, the Grand Theater and the Park Hotel.

It is understandable that Hudec had chosen a well-designed, first-class building to suit his taste and growing social status. Another famous foreign architect in China, American Henry Murphy, set up his Shanghai office on the top floor of the Union Insurance Building at No. 3 on the Bund, today's Three on the Bund.

No. 24 was destined to house financial institutions and most of its owners were banks. After World War II ended in 1945 the bank was taken over by the Kuomintang government's Central Bank.

After 1949 The People's Bank of China relocated its eastern China branch here before the city's textile industry bureau moved in. China's largest bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, launched its Shanghai branch at No. 24 in the 1990s.

Today No. 24 looks glistening after a renovation completed in 2000.

Historical details are preserved or revived, including the Buddha-head keystones, the bronze sculptures of Japanese warriors, the wide staircases with handsome balustrade in black marble, and eight huge gray marble columns below a golden glass dome in the banking hall.

Today it's not hard to understand the impression of a newspaper reporter who entered the building almost 90 years ago:

"It is impressive not only in size but in the absence of much of the grill work and ornamental brass that disfigures many modern financial institutions. In the Yokohama Specie Bank most of the business is done over the broad polished hardwood counters and only at the cashier's end is grill work used at all."

Today the banking hall also features a line of open-style broad marble counters on the right side. Lighted by a string of antique lamps that cast a warm lemon light, for some moments the banking hall looks again a newly completed, turn-of-the-century building that had seamlessly put together Eastern and Western features. Upstairs a homesick architect was working hard on his drawings in the remote foreign land. The architecture sprang from his imagination later had left an indelible mark on the city's landscape.

Yesterday: The Yokohama Specie Bank

Present: Industrial and Commercial Bank of China

Address: 24 Zhongshan Rd E1

Completed: In 1924

Architectural style: Neo-Grec with Oriental features

Architect: Frank Collard of Palmer & Turner

Tips: The banking hall is open to the public. Please note the Oriental features in the western building, such as the bronze sculptures of Japanese warriors.

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