Astor House Hotel – the first western hotel that witnesses Shanghai’s development
Astor House Hotel was once named Richard’s Hotel, built in 1846 (26th year of Daoguang period, Qing Dynasty). That was when, after the first Opium War, Shanghai became an open port and colonies were established. An English businessman called Astor of Richard established a modern hotel near the Bund, in Gongguan road (now East Jinling Road); it was called Astor House Hotel, named after him. Eleven years later, in 1858, Richard moved his hotel to where it stands now: east to the Garden Bridge. In 1907 (33rd year of Guangxu Period, Qing Dynasty), the hotel was expanded into a Baroque building with Neoclassical Victorian architectural style, and could be divided into five sections: Huangpu Road Building, Jinshan Road Building, Daming Road Building, Central Building, and Peacock Building. All five sections were structurally connected, and retained its previous architectural style. It was then the most luxurious western hotel, as well as the most prestigious one in China and in Far East.
Surveying its history of more than 160 years, one notices that in 1897 (23rd year of Guangxu Period), to celebrate the 60th birthday of Empress Dowager Cixi, a ballroom dancing party of unprecedented scale was held in the Peacock Hall in Richard Hotel, which was regarded as the place where Chinese social dancing party originates.
This was also the entrance of western civilization being admitted into China. On 26 July 1882, the first lamp in China was turned on here; in 1883, English running water company began its service for the colony, and Richard Hotel was the first beneficiary; China’s first telephone was connected here in 1901; 9 June 1908 Richard’s Hotel saw the screening of first outdoor semi-talkie. After the founding of PRC, the first stock market – Shanghai stock market was set up on 19 December 1990 in the Peacock Hall in Astor House Hotel.
Evoking memories of the past while treasuring the present, we shall plunge into the currents of sound and images, tracing the progress of this historic hotel, marvelling at the grace of Astor House Hotel in the new century, and looking forward to its beautiful future.
- In the 23rd year of Guangxu Emperor of Qing Dynasty, the then Shanghai governor Cai Jun threw a grand ball in Astor House for the 60th birthday of Empress Dowager Cixi. It was the first large ball ever held in Shanghai. Then at the beginning of the 20th century, Astor House again held the first “Ballroom dancing” party on a weekend and the evening of that Saturday. The ball did not end until it was well past the midnight. From then on, ballroom dancing became more and more popular in Shanghai. (The picture shows Empress Dowager Cixi)
- Chiang Kai-shek（Oct. 31st, 1887—Apr. 5th,1975）, whose first name was Zhongzheng and also Jieshi, was from the city of Fenghua, Zhejia Province. He was a most important party and army leader when the Nationalist Party was in power. On Dec. 1st, 1927, he was married to Song Meiling in Shanghai. (The picture shows the couple)
- In 1857, Astor of Richard set his heart on a wasted piece of land near Huangpu River on the northern bank of the Suzhou Creek, which was only used as a place for drying fishing nets by a few fishermen. He bought the land at an exceptionally low price and planned to set out to build a hotel. (The land deed for Astor House Hotel in 1857 during the reign of Daoguang Emperor of Qing Dynasty)
- In 1907 Astor House Hotel expanded into a piece of new-classical Victorian architecture in a baroque style, which consisted of Huangpu Road building, Jinshan Road Building, Daming Road Building, Middle Building and Peacock Hall. (The cross-sectional view of Astor House Hotel)
- Huangpu Road was built by the Municipal Council of Shanghai Concession in the middle of the 19th century, and was so named for its location at the northern bank of Huangpu River. Alongside the road were situated different consulates general. Before World War One, the American Consulate General was also on Huangpu Road. (The Huangpu Road gate to Astor House Hotel at the beginning of 20th century)
- We endeavor to preserve the historical ambience of the hotel. Pujiang Hotel as it is today does not look a radical departure from what it was in the old days. We strive to convey history to people through the hotel. (Pujiang Hotel in the early days of post-liberation Shanghai)
- In Feb 1907, the then hotel manager was Mr. Walter from Switzerland. Back then Astor House was described as “a sober-looking top-class hotel in Shanghai”.（MR.WALTER BRAUEN, general manager of Astor House in 1907）
- On Jul. 26th, 1882, Shanghai Electric Corporation began to supply electricity. It started by installing 35 electric arc lights.for the three main roads: the Bund, Nanjing Road and Broadway Road (now Daming Rd.), about which people of Shanghai were both curious and enthusiastic. (The picture shows the first electric light in China that shone in front of Astor House on Jul. 26th, 1882.)
- Astor House Hotel introduced novel inventions: gas, arc lamp, telephone. Guests could even rent the horse carriages of the hotel. The first-class facilities and impeccable services attracted a huge number of guests. (Waibaidu Bridge and Astor House Hotel at the beginning of the 20th century)
- The dining hall in Astor House was extremely luxurious and spectacular and could accommodate a banquet of 500 persons. It was also versatile as a dancing room and social venue. (The picture shows the dining hall in Astor House)
- The lobby of Astor House Hotel in the 20th century was characterized with a vault, which made it stand out amongst hotels. There were also solid mahogany tables and chairs in the lobby for guests to take a rest. The overall design looked at once luxurious and personalized. (The lobby of Astor House Hotel in the 20th century)
- The Peacock Hall was the most famous dancing hall in the whole Far East in the 19th century. It was improbably sumptuous at that time, with refined carvings scattered everywhere on its white-marble columns and balustrades for boxes upstairs. As sunlight shone through the glass roof into the hall, the color was so beautiful that it was just like a peacock spreading its wings.
- the staff of Richard’s Hotel in the 19th century
- Astor House in the 19th century had its fair share of guests, which was attributable not only to such a wide range of facilities as marble room, dancing floor, poker room, rest room and reading room, but to its spacious American bar as well. (The bar at Astor House in the 19th century)
- Astor House Hotel in the 19th century owned a rather spacious American bar, whose roominess, elegance and top-notch services combined to make it a place of tremendous interest to guests and visitors. (The picture shows the bar in Astor House Hotel in the 19th century)
- On Nov. 17th, 1843, Shanghai was opened up for trade. Western ways of life and recreation poured into Shanghai together with incoming westerners, which made Shanghai such an exotic city as no other mainland cities could ever be. Marble was just one of those exotic things. The marble room in Astor House was the best-equipped one in the Far East, and was therefore also the most frequented one. (The picture shows the well-equipped marble room in Astor House.)
- Astor House was equipped with such recreation amenities as a marble room, dancing floor, poker room, rest room, reading room and pub. With a luxurious-looking piano firmly planted and elaborate curtains of a color pattern that alternated between brown and beige, the exquisite spacious rest room was more than finely decorated. On entering the room, people had no other feeling but that of peace, elegance and comfort. (The picture shows the rest room in Astor House)
- There were also small partitioned rooms in the dining hall, the atmosphere of which was agreeable for Europeans who were living a foreign country and needed high-level enjoyments.
- From the middle of the 19th century to the beginning of 20th century, the owners of Astor House were all captains before. We can now still detect the traces of a cabin-styled restaurant in Pujiang Hotel, for instance, the cabin structure of the middle hall on the third floor. (The picture shows the middle hall on the third floor of Pujiang Hotel.)
- Around the middle halls on the third and fourth floor there are seven Astor House Hotel Celebrity rooms, whose historical ambience has been as well preserved as is possible. (Today’s Celebrity room)
- The guest room in the 1930s
- The suites in Astor House Hotel are spacious, bright, with a decoration style that looks cozy and personalized, which makes them the best choice for guests. (The picture shows a suite in Astor House Hotel.)
- The menu of Richard’s Hotel in the 19th century.
- No doubt, everything about Astor House Hotel seemed novel and progressive at that time. The luxury hotel-- Astor House Hotel --soon hit the headlines of newspaper and magazines. Snow in his Red Star Over China heaped praise upon Astor: “the most historically important hotel”. (Books and publications which include descriptions of Astor House Hotel at that time)
- The opening of Astor House Hotel impelled the development of Shanghai’s hotel business in the concessions. The then Astor House Hotel was already well equipped with all kinds of facilities, such as bar and marble room. (The picture shows the bar counter in Astor House Hotel in the 19th century)
- Marbles referred mainly to round balls. In old Shanghai marbles were grouped into “big marbles” and “small marbles”. The former is what we nowadays call bowl, while the latter is snooker. (The picture shows the marble room in Astor House)
- In the old days, marble rooms are only facilities available in upmarket hotels or clubs, such as Palace Hotel, Astor House, Oriental Hotel. They were for hotel patrons, but they also received non-patrons. (The picture shows the marble room in Astor House)
- Astor House was the first modern hotel in Shanghai. Aside from bedrooms, it was equipped with such facilities as marble room, bar, dancing floor and poker room. To enrich guests’ stay there, it always arranged musical and theatrical performances, which became a major attraction for guests and hence resulted in booming hotel occupancy. (The reading room in Astor House at 20th century)
- Thomas Franklin Fairfax Millard so described his residence at Pujiang Hotel: “in Astor House there was a long corridor that connected the three-floored or four-floored brick buildings lying around. In the middle was a courtyard where a band would play at night. ” (The corridor in Astor House in the 19th century)
- In the mezzanine of a deserted top-floor warehouse of the hotel, decoration workers found, among dusty clutters, seven pieces of white marble sphinx, a hundred-year-old American horse lamp, a Britain-made electricity meter, an America-made four-wooden-winged fan, and 37 white marble candlesticks, which were set up on the pilasters of the Peacock Hall, where a grand ball was held in celebration of the 60th birthday of Empress Dowager Cixi. (A fan that was once used in a bedroom)
- Telephones were set up in Astor House Hotel in as early as the year of 1901. The phone number was 200. Astor House Hotel was amongst the earliest telephone users in Shanghai. (The first telephone)
- There were 200 bedrooms in Astor House. Guests could get direct to their bedrooms by lift. Every bedroom was equipped with sanitary facilities. Hot water was in supply in the morning and in the evening. (The picture shows the bathroom of a bedroom in Astor House at the beginning of the century.)
- During the one year after the opening of SSE, veterans had a monopoly upon the stock market and stocks were in short supply. Overseeing the whole stock market at that time, the People’s Bank of China came up with the idea of stock certificates, the procurement of which only gave people access to the lottery system of stock purchasing. On Jan. 10th, 1992, China’s stock certificates came into existence. (The picture shows the panic buying of stock certificates in 1992 by citizens queuing all night)
- On Dec. 19th, the Shanghai Stock Exchange was founded. The following eight paper stocks were listed in SSE: Yanzhong Group, Zhenkong Electronics, Feile Acoustic Facilities, Aishi Electronics, Shenhua Electric Engineering, Feile Corporation, Yu Garden Mall and Zhejiang Phoenix Chemistry. They are commonly referred to as “the Old Eight Stocks”. (The picture shows SSE on its opening day.)
- The Shanghai Stock Exchange opened for business on Dec. 12th, 1990. Wei Wenyuan, who was urgently put in the charge of setting up SSE, recalled that Pujiang Hotel served to evoke fantasies about the exotic prosperity of old Shanghai. Hence, to have placed SSE in Pujiang Hotel symbolized the revival of Shanghai’s traditional status as a financial centre. (The picture shows SSE on its opening day in 1990)
- Having been repaired several times, Peacock Hall is faring well at preserving historical marks. It is the symbol of Pujiang Hotel. People love it for its grand ambience and also its elegant look.(The picture shows today’s Peacock hall.)
- The early part of April, 2011 witnessed the addition of an eye-catching sight to the central hall of Pujiang Hotel. It was an artwork of a cello meticulously deigned by Zhu Rongyi, designer from Shanghai Exhibition Center, who was also engaged in the project of Shanghai World Expo Performing Arts Center last year. (Today’s central hall of Pujiang Hotel)
- At the end of September, 2011, a new round of renovation was completed for the meeting room on fourth floor in Pujiang Hotel. The room, newly designated as Victorian Multi-function Hall, is eight meters high and in possession of a distinctively refined style. (The improbably beautiful Victorian Multi-function Hall)
- Astor House Hotel now boasts six characteristic suites on its second and third floor. The picture shows the reception area of a vista suite.
- In the Astor House dining hall, you can see courteous waiters, look at old photos hung from the surrounding walls, taste local delicacies, and experience the historical ambience. It has preserved intact the spring-loaded wooden floor which is shaped like a cello. (The picture shows today’s Astor House dining hall.)
Scotsman William Logan Gerrard was the manager of the Astor House Hotel when its fine new building facing today’s Huangpu Road opened on January 16th 1911. At that time, together with older buildings to the rear, the hotel covered an entire city block and was the finest hotel in Asia advertising itself as ‘The Waldron Astoria of the Orient’. One of Gerrard’s greatest innovations was to introduce the afternoon tea dance to China at the Astor House Ballroom in November 1914.
W. L. Logan (top, second left) with wife Gertrude to his right and members of her family in Shanghai around 1913. Mrs. Logan was a member of the renowned Heard family that had control of one of the largest American trading companies in China in the mid-19th century.
Mr. Logan (left) with Mr. Marsh, Maitre D’Hotel (right) and Mr. Pace of the Hotel bureau (centre) on the steps of Palm Court, the hotel’s courtyard garden, in 1912.
W. L. Logan employed Miss Dorothy Smoller, an American modern dance exponent, to give demonstrations of the latest versions of the Tango, the Maxixe, the Hesitation and the One-Step at the tea dances.
The famed Astor House Tea dances were held between 5.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. to the musical accompaniment of Prof. Inokay’s Astor House Orchestra.
Guests leaving the hotel for an afternoon’s sightseeing, 1914.
Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Peter Gerrard, W. L. Gerrard’s grandson, facilitated by Peter Hibbard MBE - others from the latter’s collection.
New Yorker Dewitt Clinton Jansen purchased the Astor House Hotel in 1874 and rebuilt it as the most modern hotel in China. He also served as Curator of the Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai Museum in the early 1880s and as a member of the Shanghai Municipal Council, where he promoted the cause of public education for Chinese, in the early 1890s.
Mr. Jansen added a new block of 24 rooms and a host of new facilities to the hotel a year before his death in 1894.
Soon after his arrival in Beijing in 1860 Mr. Jansen met his wife-to-be Ellen McGrath.
Following her husband’s death Dublin-born Ellen Jansen successfully managed the Astor House Hotel until she decided to sell the business in 1900. Here she is with her children in 1896.
The Astor House Hotel at the turn of the 20th century with the 1893 building, which is still in use as part of the hotel today, to the rear.
Photos courtesy of Nick Hide, D. C. Jansen’s great grandson, facilitated by Peter Hibbard MBE.
The past, present and future of the Astor House Hotel
Looking back on Astor House Hotel last century, we witness the economic, cultural, and political role she played in Shanghai’s history. She was the favourite residence of distinguished persons when they arrived in Shanghai from all over the planet. She received the former president of United States, Ulysses Grant, English philosopher, Bertrand Russell, the renowned scientist, Albert Einstein, the master of comedy Charlie Chaplin, and the first premier of PRC, Zhou Enlai, and his wife Deng Yinchao.
After three centuries, Astor House Hotel retains its architectural elegance and bears the marks of historical changes. She, resembling a monument, reflects the transformation of Shanghai. After the founding of new China, especially after the transform and opening-up, the venerable hotel was reinvigorated with the richness of the new age, radiant with the city’s spirit of generosity and striving for excellence.
What we are safeguarding today is her grace, and what we try to develop is the glory of a vintage hotel that is most distinguished in the history of Shanghai or even China.