An Architecture Tour of the Shanghai Bund: Astor House Hotel

When you walk from the Bund to Garden Bridge, at the moment you step onto the bridge, you will be struck by a beautiful sight: Behind you is the Bund loaded with traces of the exploits of the last century, while in front of you is the grand modern picture of the curving embankment of Lujiazui, Pudong. Passing through Garden Bridge, the huge gray structure on your right is Astor House Hotel.

Astor House Hotel, Shanghai

The predecessor of Astor House Hotel is Richard’s Hotel, which was built in 1846 by a captain named Richard. In the eyes of Shanghai residents, Richard’s Hotel was associated with almost anything “modern”, “novel” and “fashionable”. In 1882 when Shanghai had the first trial lighting of electricity lamps, 7 of the 15 lamps were lit up here. In the same year the earliest performances of the Circuses were shown here. In 1901, it as among the first places to have a through call placed…Separate bathrooms, 24-hour hot water supply and tour guidebooks provided by the hotel, etc, all made Richard’s Hotel at the beginning of last century meet standards of today’s hotels. Many celebrities had stayed here, such as Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Bertrand Russell, and former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, etc.

Astor House Hotel (Shanghai) - lobby

The name “Richard’s Hotel” was changed to “Astor House Hotel” in 1949. The overall façade basically belongs to the neoclassic style. Upon your view of the hotel, you may notice the erect triangular gables of Greek temple style like a pair of ears, the ornamental effect of which is remarkably strong. Such typical Greek gables are rare in Shanghai now.

Being extremely spacious, the Peacock Hall has a semi-transparent dome spreading like the peacock’s fan-like tail, through which soft sunshine pours down. Twelve well-preserved white marble Roman columns stand high around the hall, supporting the dome. The space below railings of the balconies on the second floor is decorated with shapes of golden-edged peacock feathers. There are also peacock feather patterns in relief over the lintel, with sharp and bright colors.

Astor House Hotel (Shanghai) - Peacock Hall

Different from common floors with the wooden parquet tiles laid in horizontally, the spring floors of the Peacock Hall had tiles laid vertically piece by piece, hence making the floor more resilient, able to support long-time dancing on it. In those days, the Peacock Hall was the most famous ballroom in the Far East, bearing the old dreams of Shanghai. People of that time all regarded it a great honor to have opportunities to dance here.

In contrast to the magnificent Peacock hall, the Middle Hall on the third floor is quite tranquil. With the space extending sideways like the two sides of a ship, this hall connecting the third and the fourth floor looks quiet similar to a ship. Since the founder and several former managers of this hotel had experiences on board, it is easy to find traces of ship cabins in the hotel. Sunshine penetrating through the transparent dome leaves shadows in grids on the red-brick walls. Although it is not very large, the hall does feel spacious.

Astor House Hotel (Shanghai) - Middle Hall

The Middle Hall is now used as the display room of Astor House Hotel. Besides photos of the celebrities, an oil painting is hung on the wall. In the painting, against the background of dark blue sky, crowds of people were gathering to watch the electric lamps being lit up in the garden. It was the actual scene when Shanghai for the first time had the electric lamps lit in 1882.

Travel Tips:

Astor House Hotel is close to Shanghai Broadway Mansion and Garden Bridge, a nice destination for a walk in the dawn or dusk. It is also within a 20-minute walk to Huangpu Park.

When you walk out of Astor House Hotel at dinnertime, the sign of “Shanghai Morning” restaurant is beckoning. The local Shanghai flavors there enjoy a great reputation with the authentic specialties such as smoked fish, sweet and sour pork ribs, and stir-fried shrimps. The restaurant still sells the “old Shanghai ice cream”, which can seldom be found now. Even the menu of the restaurant is designed like an old Shanghai pictorial.

Astor House Hotel (Shanghai) - “Shanghai Morning” Restaurant

Walking along Huangpu Road eastward, you will reach Hyatt on the Bund. VEU Bar is on the 32nd and 33rd floors of the west wing where you may get the best view of two banks of Huangpu River. The open seats on the corridor are especially popular.

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