On a spring midday 140 years ago, the newly completed British Consulate was officially opened at the building that today is No. 33 on the Bund.
The Union Jack was raised, the flagpole was gaily decorated, libations of Champagne were poured on the foundation stones and a toast was drunk by all present to the success of the new office.
As the last in line of the 23 waterfront heritage buildings on the Bund, No. 33 is the oldest and dates back to the early formation of the Bund. That's why a development project with No. 33 as the centerpiece is named "Waitanyuan," meaning "origin of the Bund."
According to F. L. Hawks Pott's "A Short History of Shanghai" (1928), the first British Consul to Shanghai, George Balfour, was determined to secure a proper site for an office, despite British rules prohibiting consuls from purchasing land in foreign countries. At that time, they were only allowed to work in rented premises.
In April 1846, Balfour finally purchased the property, which was splendidly situated north of the British Settlement. His successor Rutherford Alcock carried on after Balfour resigned five months later and moved the consular office from the Chinese old town to this Bund site in July 1849.
The architectural history of British Consulate on the Bund was filled with twists and turns.
The first consulate building on the Bund collapsed soon after it was built in 1849.
The second one constructed in 1852 was destroyed by fire on December 23, 1870, and many documents were lost. Two years later, the consul hosted a grand ceremony to lay the foundation of the new British Consulate, the present-day No. 33.
According to the English-language North China Herald, the old foundation stone was laid on February 29, 1852, by Alcock with a plate of coins - a George IV and Victoria shilling, a William IV six-pence, and an East India Company half-cent.
In the 1872 ceremony, this plate was relaid under the foundation stone of the new building. The old coins were replaced, and new ones were added - a Hong Kong dollar, 2-cent piece from 1868 and a Japanese two-dollar gold piece.
A case containing the plate was placed in a cavity, which was covered by mortar. The stone was lowered into its place on top. And then the ceremony was completed with three taps and a declaration, "Well and truly laid."
At cost of around 6,500 pounds, the new consular office designed by Grossman & Boyce was rebuilt basically on the old foundation. The outline of the original building was maintained.
Professor Qian Zonghao at Tongji University defines the style of No. 33 as "neo Renaissance style of the prime Victorian period," featuring an arched loggia as the key element of composition.
The main entrance of the brick-and-timber structure faces south, onto a huge green garden. As with No. 6 on the Bund, the architect created a variety of arched windows, including semi-circular and flat arches.
According to the Huangpu District Archives, the British Consulate retreated from the building during "cultural revolution" (1966-1976). Several state-owned institutions, including China International Travel Service Co Ltd, occupied the building until the Waitanyuan Project kicked off 10 years ago in 2003.
The project is designed to preserve and renovate dozens of heritage buildings in the neighborhood for commercial use.
"No. 33 was in a poor condition 10 years ago, just like a dusty pearl," says Fu Shengyi, general manager of Waitanyuan Project. "The beautiful colonnade had been covered up while the garden was crowded with added buildings. We had demolished 18,000 square meters of added buildings to revive the original big lawn."
The Waitanyuan project covers 229,000 square meters, with its northern end reaching Suzhou Creek. The heritage buildings are mostly sprinkled along Yuanmingyuan Road, Huqiu Road and Beijing Road E. The project was mainly funded by the Huangpu District government and overseas investment.
Fu says Waitanyuan is designed to provide services for the financial street on the Bund. Hotels, clubs, retail outlets and apartments will be built inside or outside the dozens of heritage buildings.
The former British consular office at No. 33 is now a chic venue, which plays a role as a "financiers' club," and renamed "No. 1 Waitanyuan." Both government departments and Shanghai's financiers regularly host conferences and activities inside the "polished pearl."
Philippe Gabbiani, chief architect for renovation of Bund 18, created an open-style foyer in the center of the building. As he did with the UNESCO award-winning Bund 18, he also maintained the original patterned tiles on the floor and cast iron railings of the staircase.
"Compared with No. 18, the design for No. 33 had been done in a very conservative way because it's a 'political' building," says Gabbiani. "However, I've put in a contemporary feeling. We cleaned up and restored the original facades and put it to life. I've tried to soften up and add more warmth to the interior design."
Through an attractive colonnade, the former consular office is linked to a gray structure, which used to be the consular residence and has been renovated as a flagship store for luxury timepiece maker Patek Philippe.
Fu says a huge sum had been paid just to preserve 27 valuable old trees in the garden, including 200-year-old magnolia trees given to the city by Scottish botanist Robert Fortune. The scientist visited Shanghai in 1843, a few days after the city was declared an open port on November 17.
In his 1847 book "Three Years' Wanderings in the Northern Provinces of China," Fortune had called Shanghai "the great gate."
"The large native trade, the convenience of inland transit by means of rivers and canals; the fact that teas and silks can be brought here more readily than to Canton (today's Guangzhou) and, lastly, viewing this place as an immense mart for our cotton manufactures ... there can be no doubt that in a few years it will not only rival Canton, but become a place of far greater importance."
Power and wealth come and go. But sometimes buildings and trees survive. Fortune's trees in front of No. 33 are still green and it seems his ink, writing an accurate forecast of Shanghai, is still wet.
Yesterday: The British Consulate
Today: No. 1 Waitanyuan (a venue for government receptions and a financiers' club)
Address: 33 Zhongshan Rd E1
Built: In 1872
Architectural style: Neo Renaissance style of the prime Victorian period
Architect: Grossman & Boyce
Tips: The former consular office is only open to members of the financiers' club. If you are interested in joining in, call Tina at 1891-8226-610 for a visit. The former consular residence is open to the public as a Patek Philippe flagship store. I would suggest you appreciate the ancient trees and the strategic location of No. 33.