Shanghai Art Deco Apartments: Five Fun Facts
Five fun facts about some of the most storied Art Deco apartment buildings in the former French Concession. Want to hear more? Join us on our Art Deco Apartment Buildings Walk, June 11 – for event and booking information, click here.
1. When the Normandie was the Anti-Revisionist Tower
The Normandie Apartments (László Hudec, 1924) were a triple threat: built by a foreigner for foreigners (it was originally built for the International Savings Society), it was later owned by the daughter of Nationalist Finance Minister H.H. Kung, and became home to a host of film stars. Its distinctive shape, reminiscent of New York’s Flatiron Building, was said to have been inspired by the World War I era battleship the Normadie. With so many bourgeois as western associations, the building obviously had to be re-named during the Cultural Revolution: thus the Normandie became the Anti-Revisionist Tower.
2. The Apartments Named for a Nazi Collaborationist
The Petain Apartments (Alexander Yaron, 1934) were named for Philippe Petain, or Marshal Petain, a French World War I hero and the head of the Vichy Government – France’s wartime Nazi collaborationist government. Hengshan Lu was also named for him: Avenue Petain. Bit like having a Hitler Avenue …
3. American Apartments in the French Concession
So what’s with all the French Concession Art Deco apartments named for Americans? In a small radius, you’ll find the Washington, named for America’s first president, the Georgia, named for the state, the Lincoln, named for America’s civil war president, and the Pershing, named for the Word War I military hero, for whom a cruise missile is also named. The names were most likely inspired by the proximity of the Shanghai American School, on Hengshan Lu/Avenue Petain, and within walking distance of each of these buildings. No doubt the developers were trying to attract the families whose children attended the school!
4. Love Nest at the Lincoln
Speaking of collaborationists, the oldsters in the neighborhood love to gossip about the time that one of the officials in the wartime Japanese puppet regime kept his mistress in a Lincoln apartment (1931). Zhou Fohai was the “mayor of Shanghai” in the Japanese puppet government, headed by Wang Jingwei and officially known as the “reorganized Nationalist government of China”. Zhou maintained his mistress, actress/singer Xiao Linghong, in a Lincoln apartment love nest. Then the wife found out, Japan lost the war, and it all went to pieces …
5. Into Thin Air: An Art Deco Architect Disappears
Alexandre Leonard (and partners Paul Veysseyre & Arthur Kruze) designed a host of Art Deco buildings in Shanghai – and then Leonard disappeared, without a trace. The Midget, the Willow, the Magy, the Gascogne … and that’s just the apartment houses. The Amyron, his final work in Shanghai, was solo, after Veysseyre & Kruze had left for other opportunities. That same year, the Vichy regime was installed in Shanghai, and Leonard (and his archives!) disappeared. The mystery has never been solved.
To read our post on the Leonard mystery, “Murder Most Art Deco”, click here.