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No. 29: A mere 3 stories of French elegance
By Michelle Qiao

Among the 23 heritage buildings on the Bund waterfront, No. 29 is the only one built with French capital. The low-rise, three-story bank in Classic style was built for the French bank, Banque de L'Indo-Chine.

The powerful bank, established in Paris in 1875, financed France's commercial activities in its colonies in Southeast Asia, as well as in China and Japan. It had branches in Shanghai, Tianjin, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and around Southeast Asia.

The site of No. 29 was originally "Lot 13" leased in 1864 by the Bank of Hindustan, China and Japan, according to Tongji University professor Qian Zonghao.

The first French bank in China, Comptoird' Escompte de Paris, later opened a branch on this site. After merging with the French bank in 1896, the Russo-Chinese Bank opened an office at No. 29 but moved to No. 15 six years later. Finally Banque de L'Indo-Chine purchased the lot in 1911 to build the structure that stands today.

Banque de L'Indo-Chine presumably moved from the former French concession to the Bund to join China's "Wall Street," the congregation of international banks and institutions in the former international settlement run by the British and Americans.

The Bund was the city's No. 1 show window for financial services.

The Bund became a financial center in the late 19th century. Historian Xiong Yuezhi's book "Shanghai" describes how the monopoly of British banks in China was broken in the 1890s when foreign banks flocked to Shanghai.

By 1927, a galaxy of 35 foreign banks set up Shanghai branches, mostly around the Bund, including Russia's Russo-Chinese Bank (No. 15), Japan's Yokohama Specie Bank (No. 24) and the Banque de L'Indo-Chine (No. 29).

In addition to helping manage its Southeast Asian colonies, the bank expanded to China by setting up a Guangzhou branch in 1888 and a Shanghai branch in the former French concession in 1899, according to the book "Banking History of the Bund," published by the Huangpu District Government in 2010.

The business ranged from issuing banking notes to selling bonds.

For a period, the bank was influential in trade and finance in southwest China's Yunnan Province, investing in the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway and in tin ore mining.

The bank's Yunnan branch manager Guy Lacam wrote a vivid memoir titled "Un Banquier au Yunnan Dans les Annees 1930," recalling life and work in the remote, exotic province. It was published in Paris in 1994.

The French bank's showpiece on the Bund was designed in a Classic style by a leading firm, Atkinson & Dallas, which had also designed the former Northern Telegraph Co Building at No. 7.

According to research by Tongji University Vice President Wu Jiang, Atkinson & Dallas was one of the first foreign firms in China to experiment Chinese Renaissance style. One of its characteristics was large Chinese-style roofs atop modern architectural bodies.

For No. 29, the firm not only designed but also supervised the construction and selected materials. The facade is gray Suzhou granite, the rear is covered with less expensive artificial stone.

Despite its small scale and relatively obscure location, No. 29 maintains harmony and elegance among its more imposing neighbors.

The building is an art piece featuring numerous Greek-style columns. The centerpiece of the facade contains two granite Ionic columns running from the second to third floor. The main entrance is in Doric style, flanked by two columns of polished granite.

"Just to embellish the windows, the designer used as many as 22 Doric pilasters, big or small, round or square," Tongji University professor Qian adds.

The second floor features a three-sectioned window, with a high, arched central section flanked by two smaller rectangular segments - a classic Palladian window.

The interior of the banking hall is paved with white marble and features six very large Ionic pillars and 12 dark wood French window with pleasing curves. Like other bank buildings on the Bund, this one has a large glass dome over the banking hall; warm light filters through the yellow and opaque white glass.

The French bank ended business in China in 1955 as foreign enterprises retreated from the Chinese market. Renamed the Dongfang Building in 1956, it was used as the Traffic Division of the Shanghai Police Station until 1995.

Mark Twain once said "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." In 1994 the Shanghai government formed a company to move out state-owned enterprises off the bund, to make way for financial institutes and recreate China's Wall Street. No. 29 was the first to embrace its new role; a branch of China's Everbright Bank opened there in July 1995.

By the end of 1999, 34 buildings in the Bund area had new hosts, including 22 Chinese and foreign financial institutions. On the Bund waterfront there are 13 financial institutions.

"The function of the Bund as a financial street is now recovering," wrote the Shanghai City record in 2000.

The former owner of No. 29, Banque de L'Indo-Chine, has been renamed Credit Agricole Corp and Investment Bank and returned to China. It set up a branch near the Bund on Yan'an Road in 1991 and today maintains the old Chinese name "Dong Fang Hui Li."

In 1997 the bank moved to the city's new Wall Street - Lujiazui in Pudong and operates an office in the World Financial Center. That move to the new financial services area is reminiscent of the decision to build an elegant office on the Bund 100 years ago.

Yesterday: Banque de L'Indo-Chine

Today: China Everbright Bank

Address: 29 Zhongshan Rd E1

Built: 1912-1913

Architectural style: Classic

Architect: Atkinson & Dallas

Tips: Note the harmonious proportions of the fa?ade and the artful use of columns.

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