Shanghai Architecture Tour: the Little Red House

The Little Red House, hidden in the green trees, really lives up to its name. It is so small that a giant tree can cover it totally. However, it is really amazing to know that this very small foreign building witnessed almost the entire development history of China’s pop songs from 1920 to this day.

Little Red House, Shanghai

In 1908, the French EMI rented a property near Nanyang Bridge (today’s South Xizang Road) and established Eastern EMI, China’s first foreign records-producing company. The trade mark of the company is a crowing rooster. In 1921, Eastern France EMI bought land for a new plant, No. 1434 Xujiahui Road (today’s No. 811 Hengshan Road) and established EMI Record Company. The building has been called “Little Red House” for its red wall bricks. It was used as recording studio and for a long period of time it remained the best and largest studio in China.

In those days, China has no so-called “popular songs”. Records made by EMI were generally western music and Chinese dramas. This remained unchanged until the end of 1920s when a love tune “Drizzles” spread across the city. It was the kind of music which had never been heard in Shanghai and even in China and it was EMI which initiated the recording of pop songs in a real sense. When it came to the 1930s, a slogan of EMI was: “Contemporary popular songs all from EMI; movie stars all belonging to one”. This power and confidence were not from nowhere: the most famous singers of the day such as Zhou Xuan, Bai Hong and Li Xianglan were all affiliated with EMI, while the most popular movie stars such as Hu Die and Ruan Lingyu also used to be singers singed up with EMI. Their singing almost represented the fashion of that era. Among the songs, “Night Shanghai” and “Evening Primrose” became the background music of 1930s Shanghai. Another remarkable event is that “Marching Song of the Volunteers”, which later became the National Anthem of PRC, was also born at that time in the Little Red House.

In 2000, the Record Company in it was moved, leaving the building – the Little Red House, without its Record Company. However, a frame with “Regulations for Recording” is still hung on the wall. The Little Red House is more like a suburban villa than a studio of a Record Company. Exquisite and graceful, it is an ideal place for afternoon tea and sunbathing.

The classic style building is unsymmetrical fake three-leveled, with red-brick walls and white cement decoration. The dark brown roof has two parts, the upper part steep and the lower part gradual. The cornice part is deep and the rain eaves are supported by bull-leg-shaped brackets. Under the cornice is a line of carved red block decorations, presenting a beauty of harmony.

Little Red House in Shanghai

Observing from the front side, you will be greatly impressed by the shell-shaped rain shelter, above which is a narrow rectangle window stretching over two stores to the top. Through the decorations of iron grids on the window, you can see the stairs sloping upward.

Little Red House - Shanghai

Between the arched window of the second floor and the roof window is a cement sculpture, in the shape of a lily. The petals support the sill of the roof window. This sculpture seems to break the rain eaves which are supposed to be continuous, rendering the slightly rigid design suddenly lively.

Compared with the warm and lively red-brick exterior, the interior decoration looks much more sedate. It mainly features square shapes, especially the wooden staircase in the northern part which directly leads to the top floor. The enchasing of the staircase is dignified yet delicate and the square stick-like Wang pillars (a kind of pillar carved with dragon and phoenix patterns) are used at the corners. The banisters are like stretched vases. Viewed from below, they seem a little bit like the traditional Chinese patterns on Zaojing. (Zaojing is a kind of decoration on the ceiling in traditional Chinese architecture, usually in the form of square, polygon or round concave, with kinds of patterns carved or pictures painted on it.)

Interior of the Little Red House Shanghai

Travel Tips:

The Little Red House now houses a Spanish restaurant named “Restaurant Martin by Martin Berasategui”, with Spanish Ham and Seafood Rice as its brand dishes.

Outside the park is Hengshan Road which appears as a green corridor with the phoenix trees on both sides. Hengshan Road is also called “Bar Street”, the most charming part of Hengshan Road. Many kinds of bars are scattered along the phoenix-tree-sheltered road.

This is also one of the areas with the largest and broadest concentration of Garden Villas in Shanghai. A lot of classic apartment buildings are located on this road, such as West Lake Apartment (No. 307, Hengshan Road), Jiya Apartment (No. 311-331, Hengshan Road), Hengshan Hotel (No. 534, Hengshan Road), and Hengshan Apartment (No. 704, Hengshan Road), all of which are the representatives of Shanghai’s classic apartment buildings.

Cavendish Court built in 1933 is located at No. 525, Hengshan Road, which is of Art Deco style. It is said to be the former residence of a Russian princess in Shanghai, and is now transformed into a boutique hotel. The 39 rooms in it are luxurious and comfortable. With western antique telephones and sofas in its rooms, the hotel presents a style of 1930s. Coming out of the hotel, you will not miss Keven Café on the ground floor, a good place to enjoy a rich meal.

Keven Café (No. 525, Hengshan Road, Shanghai)

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