Murder Most Art Deco
“The risk of sudden death was omnipresent in Shanghai….Violence was commonplace. There were more gangsters in Shanghai than Chicago ever saw in the heyday of Capone.” – Ralph Shaw, Sin City. Shaw lived in Shanghai 1937-1949.
And lo and behold, some of these old Shanghai murders (or presumed murders) had Art Deco associations. Here’s our guided tour to Shanghai’s murderous Art Deco past.
Murder at the Amyron?
14 Gao’an Road/Route Cohen
Frenchman Alexandre Leonard was one of Shanghai’s master Art Deco architects. With two partners, Paul Veysseyre and Arthur Kruze, he formed one of Shanghai’s most successful architectural practices.
By the late 1930s, though, Leonard, Veysseyre and Kruze had dissolved, and only Leonard and his wife Anna remained in Shanghai. Anna Ivanovna Nicolaïva Bowshis was a glamorous Russian cabaret girl — Russian by birth and Polish by nationality, she owned a cabaret called the “Bianna” in the Art Deco Hanray building on Avenue Joffre.
In 1937, Leonard designed the beautiful Art Deco Amyron Apartments as a gift to Anna. The six-storey building was meant to be a residence for artists and performers, but history got in the way.
In 1941, just as the Amyron was completed, the Japanese entered Shanghai and the Vichy regime — the government of Nazi-occupied France — was installed in Shanghai. In 1942, the Vichy government ordered that Leonard be stripped of his nationality, his name, and his property. The grounds? His “mixed marriage” to Anna. (She had lost her Polish nationality in 1939 thanks to the German-Soviet pact, and was now Russian.) On March 1 1946, just two days after the French government had ceded the French Concession back to China, a note appeared on the door of the Amyron, ordering the eviction of the “Bowshis [Anna’s surname] Spouse” who, they claimed, had been living there as a squatter since 1942.
Twenty-five days later, the consul general of France and other officials gathered at the French Consulate for the reading of Alexandre Leonard’s will — but there was just one teensy problem: there was no death certificate and no evidence of his death. What really happened to Alexandre Leonard? The mystery remains unsolved.
NEXT: Who killed the French aristocrat … and why?