THE SHANGHAI RACE CLUB TOUR The map at the bottom of the page displays seven of the more prominent luxury heritage buildings in Shanghai which were built, owned or simply used by the original Shanghai Race Club members, and are featured in the Shanghai Cup board game. All these buildings are located in the central downtown area of Shanghai and make for an interesting one day tour for people who wish to discover a little more about how the original 1930’s Shanghai Race Club members lived their sensational lives.
|1. The Shanghai Race Club (Now Shanghai Art Museum), 231 Nanjing West Road,|
The perimeter of today’s People’s Square once defined old Shanghai’s race course, where millionaires rode their steeds and their wives would wager fans and sun bonnets because betting money was too, too vulgar. The Shanghai Race Club was their clubhouse and epicenter, a streamlined neoclassical building whose clock tower (“Big Bertie”) still overlooks Nanjing Road.The Shanghai Race Club was one of the main centres of Shanghai social life – firms like Jardines raced Mongolian ponies in the firm’s name, foreign courtesans had their own stands and millionaires like Victor Sassoon popped Champagne and dined on stuffed quail in their own tiffin rooms.There were Turkish baths, bowling lanes and horse heads on the banister – and plenty of entertainment (such as the inebriated socialite who slipped into a gigantic punchbowl one memorable Christmas). But ultimately, it was a democratic institution, thanks to the SRC’s cooperative lottery system, and the heyday of the private owner-trainer-rider. Each autumn, the ponies came in from Mongolia, and at 7pm on the designated day, in the coffee room, each subscriber drew a pony at a cost of £20. The raw material of these “subscription griffins” was never very good, so training often began at 6am the very next day!
|2. Moller Villa No.30 Shaanxi South Road, Jing An District|
Shipping tycoon Eric Moller was one of the richest men in old Shanghai - with all the trappings that went with it: membership in the Shanghai Race Club (where he owned several horses) and a gorgeous, fantasy mansion in the French Concession. A second-generation China hand, Moller was the scion of a wealthy businessman who had made his fortune in shipping and shipbuilding. Local lore has it that little Deirdre, Moller’s daughter, had a dream in which a house with a fairytale jumble of spires, steeples and gables appeared, and she sketched it upon waking for her father, who then had it built. The story has been discredited, but the storybook castle that is Moller Mansion still seems inspired by a dream. Grand soirees were held on the ornate first floor, inspired by the cruise ships that defined the era and the seafaring legacy that made the Moller fortune: two short “cruise ship” flights of stairs, a porthole window and stylized compass, and everywhere the floors, the ceilings, the walls -- is the beautiful Swedish wood that Moller brought over on his own ships.The house rambles magnificently, they say, because a fortune-teller told Moller that disaster would befall him if he ever completed it. And so although the house was essentially done by 1936, he dawdled, finally finishing it in the late 1940s – and soon afterwards, he lost the house to the Communist takeover.In the garden, a copper statue of a horse stands on the spot where Moller buried his favourite Arabian racehorse – a racehorse that won on Race Day, again and again.
|3.Du Mansion (Now Mansion Hotel) No.82 Xinle Road, Xuhui District,|
The 1933 edition of “Who’s Who” called Du Yue Sheng the most influential resident of the French Concession, and there is no doubt that Shanghai’s mafia king was exactly that. Born in a poor Pudong village, he joined the notorious Green Gang, and rose to become its leader. Based in the French Concession, he entered into a partnership with the Concession’s senior police officer, Huang Jinrong and together, they ran old Shanghai. Du had several wives and concubines, and links to the highest level of politics – all the way up to Nationalist leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. He was a pillar of society, the director of several banks and on school boards and the concession’s municipal board, as well. No one had better information than Du.He was a master of the grand gesture, making showstopping entrance with a beauty on each arm; sending coffins to those who had displeased him.One of his many French Concession mansions came to him via just such a grand gesture – a thank you gift from a disciple. Located on Rue Doumer in the French Concession, the mansion consists of a pair of linked five-storey streamlined neoclassical buildings, whose spacious rooms were ideal for entertaining the French Concession elite who Du kept in the pockets of his Chinese silk gowns.
|4. Cercle Sportif Francais (Now Garden Hotel), No.58 Maoming South Road,|
The French Club was the most cosmopolitan club in a city that was perhaps the most cosmopolitan in the world. In a radical move, they accepted both women and Chinese members (only the wealthy and powerful, of course), making it the most popular foreign club of its time. Built in 1926, the sweeping neoclassical clubhouse, with its colonnaded second floor and baroque flourishes, featured an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, billiards, and 20 lawn tennis courts. Open-air dances were held on the rooftop, flanked by a pair of symmetrical domed pavilions (one can still be found in the heart of the garden).Guests entered an opulent Art Deco lobby, with glittering gold mosaics and polished white marble columns, which is still intact. Climbing the brass staircase -- imported from Paris, with newel posts featuring a Deco version of the Greek horn of plenty, and topped with a “frozen fountain”, a favorite Art Deco motif – leads to a spacious second floor lobby, with dramatic columns topped with nude Grecian-like friezes.The heart of the old club was on this floor, in the billiards, cards, smoking and entertainment rooms. Also here: the legendary ballroom, with its gorgeous elliptical stained glass ceiling window and theatrical Art Deco balconies, from which Club VIPs looked out upon the dance floor. The floor has been thickly carpeted, but the original sunken, sprung wood dance floor that made Shanghai’s young ladies feel as if they were dancing on air is still underneath.
|5. Shanghai Club (Now Astoria Hotel), 2 The Bund|
The old boys’ club that controlled Shanghai ran it from the leather-and-whiskey soaked confines of the Shanghai Club on the Bund, where membership was restricted to white males of a certain class. Even the famous 34-metre Long Bar on the second floor was subject to a strict hierarchy: the prime Bund-facing end of the L-shaped mahogany bar was the territory of the taipans and bank manager, with the social scale falling as one moved down the length of the bar.The grand, neoclassical white marble building opened its doors in 1910 to reveal what would ultimately be Shanghai’smost luxurious, most exclusive club. A massive Italianate Grand Hall, with ceilings over 12 feet high, supported by enormous Ionic columns. The hall ended in a curving marble staircase, where twin elevators whisked members to the upper floors. Here, there were all the requisites of a proper gentleman’s club: a smoking room and a library – reported to hold more volumes than the Shanghai Public Library – a billiards room, a dining room for long, boozy lunches and guest rooms on top two floors for resident members.
|6. Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (Now Pudong Bank), 12 The Bund|
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, built in 1920, was a place both prestigious and safe enough to deposit the great fortunes that were made in old Shanghai. Chief Manager A.G. Stephens instructed his architects to “dominate the Bund” and “spare no expense,” and they did both magnificently. A pair of bronze lions -- “Prudence” and “Security” -- guard the entrance, and a beautifully crafted revolving door leads to the octagonal entrance lobby. Here, a spectaclar domed mosaic ceiling features the sun god Apollo, the symbol of the British Empire upon which “the sun never sets”. Eight ceiling panels depict the cities in which the bank had branches in 1923, and the eight words of the Bank’s motto:“within the Four Seas all men are brothers.” The 12 signs of the zodiac ring the dome, and the panels on the wall illustrate, in Latin, 16 lofty qualities including prudence, truth and temperance. Beyond the lobby, four magnificent seven-ton marble columns, (there are only six of this size in the world) hewn from a single piece of marble, support the 2,000 square meter-banking hall. In the southwest corner of the bank stood a separate bank for Chinese customers, painted in reds and golds, with its own entrance.And under the domed rooftop, on the fourth floor, was the Royal Air Force Club of Shanghai, where the flyboys played.
|7. Sassoon House (Now Fairmont Peace Hotel), 20 Nanjing Road East Shanghai|
Sir Victor Sassoon came from money – he was the fourth generation of a Sephardic Jewish family from Baghdad who had begun trading opium in Shanghai in 1845 – and he grew that fortune to epic proportions in Shanghai. Sir Victor arrived in Shanghai in 1923, and immediately set about changing the city landscape. He opened more than 30 companies in Shanghai, but his legacy was the real estate he left behind: the magnificent art deco Cathay Hotel, on the Bund, Grosvenor House and Cathay Mansions, Cathay Cinema, all in the French Concession, Hamilton Building and Metropole Hotel in the International Settlement, and the Embankment Building on North Suzhou Road. Sir Victor had a passion for the good life, and was a fixture at the Shanghai Race Club (where his chef prepared sumptuous meals in the Sassoon tiffin room), the Canidrome – the greyhound race track – and was famous for his flamboyant costume parties and penchant for chorus girls.He had a penthouse apartment atop the Cathay Hotel, but preferred to entertain on the weekends at his country estate on Hungjao Road. The two-bedroom house (Sir Victor reportedly did not want to host overnight guests) features a drawing room in the style of a medieval castle’s great hall,complete with beamed ceiling, a musician’s gallery and an enormous fireplace. The half-timbered faux Tudor manor, is set in lush grounds, with trees imported from Europe, a lake and Chinese pavilion and, of course, the stables.
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