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Of Shanghai’s many colonial-era mansions, the Moller Villa on the northwestern edge of the French Concession stands out with its fantasy of brown-tiled Gothic and Tudor steeples, gables, and spires. It was built by a Swedish shipping magnate, Eric Moller, in 1936. Now it serves as a boutique hotel to bring guests a fairy-tale fantasy castle life.
Dubbed the Villa of Dreams, the architecture marries oriental and western elements and was built as the private home for Moller, a British merchant prince. Legend has it that Eric Moller came to Shanghai in 1919. He ascended in the horse racing and shipping worlds and built this fantasy castle for his daughter, after she had a dream in which she saw a castle like those in the Hans Andersen fairy tales.
In 1927, a Shanghai architectural firm, Allied Architects, delivered the blueprint, and the house was essentially finished in 1936 — a combination of a distinctly Scandinavian style with features of a shipping theme throughout the house. The sharp steeples and eaves look like snow-covered peaks and tableland, strewn at random. The uneven walls form a unique architectural appearance and the well-arranged colorful firebricks put a beautiful dress on the building.
Moller Villa has a garden covering an area of about 2,000 square meters. There is a bronze statue of a racehorse in the middle of the garden, under which Moller’s favorite racehorse was buried. Various kinds of stone lions, dogs and drums may be seen everywhere in the garden. The most precious stuff in the garden is the petrified wood, more than 100 million years old. A becon at the gate symbolized Moller’s shipping business. There is also a greenhouse in the garden, decorated with delicate carved patterns and the floor is paved with colorful ceramic tiles.
Besides its Scandinavian features, there are some Chinese touches. The enclosing walls had Chinese glazed tiles at the top. Two stone lions stood at the front gate. Inside were Chinese designs and patterns and many Chinese antiques.
Moller Villa has been identified as outstanding modern architecture and key national heritage conservation units by European Society of Architects for its elegant and unique style, mysterious and rich history.
Moller left Shanghai in 1950. A few years later on a flight to Singapore, as his daughter Nancy watched and waited for him at Singapore’s Kallang Airport, his Qantas plane crashed on landing, killing Eric Moller and 32 other passengers. Moller’s daughter visited the house twice after China’s opening up. It was said that she wept in her own bedroom on seeing that everything had been preserved as it was.
For more than half a century, the Moller Mansion served as the headquarters of the Communist Youth League Shanghai Branch. In 1989, the villa was listed as one of Shanghai’s protected historical buildings. In 2001, Hengshan Group took it over and restored the original mansion, added several garish imitation buildings in the back, and reopened it as a hotel in May 2002. After three year’s renovation, the hotel reopened to guests in April 2009.