Queen Anne-style building on Nanjing Road gets careful facelift

A building bearing the legacy of historic Shanghai developer Silas Hardoon will be restored with attention to its cultural past.
Zhang Xuefei / SHINE

The five-story, L-shaped Ci'anli Building was erected in 1906 with a combination of shops, offices and rental flats. 

The century-old Ci’anli Building on downtown Shanghai's Nanjing Road E. is undergoing renovation to improve the living conditions of its residents while preserving the elegance of its Queen Anne-style architecture and interior features.

“This famous commercial building was changed to residential use decades ago,” says Chen Zhongwei, chief architect of the restoration. “Though the building is somewhat dusty and crowded, it has beautiful architraves and a cast-iron staircase, which will be carefully preserved. We will also eliminate any fire hazards.”

The 969-square-meter, five-story L-shaped building was erected in 1906, with shops, banks and storage areas on the first two floors, large offices on the second and third floors, and rental flats on the top.

Tongji University Professor Chang Qing says the neo-classical Queen Anne style was in vogue when the building was constructed.

“After the Second Opium War (1856-60), Western expatriates grew more confident about their future in China, so they began construction on a larger scale,” says the professor, who authored the book “Origins of a Metropolis: A Study on the Bund Section of Nanjing Road in Shanghai.”

“From the 1870s to the 1920s, an earlier colonial style was gradually replaced by more authentic Western architectural styles,” Chang says. “With the spread of external brick walls, facades with colonial verandas fell out of fashion, replaced by arcades, pediments and brick-carved patterns showed the influence of the Queen Anne style.”

Architect Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912) popularized the Queen Anne style of British architecture, beginning in the industrial age of the 1870s. It was characterized by external brick walls, white tiles or architraves and elaborate motifs reminiscent of Baroque ornamentation.

“Almost at the same time, buildings of this style began appearing in Shanghai,” Chang says. “The window pockets of the Ci’anli Building were decorated with red brick frames or white arcades. Dormer windows jutted out from below a pitched roof, so that the architecture was sometimes classified as eclectic.”

The professor says there are still several examples of this style remaining in the Nanjing Road neighborhood, including the recently restored Carlowitz & Co Building on Jiangxi Road M. and the building on 199 Dianchi Road.

The Ci’anli Building was part of grand-scale Nanjing Road development initiated by Jewish tycoon Silas Aaron Hardoon. He was born in Baghdad and educated at a charity school in Mumbai after his family moved to India.

In 1868, Hardoon arrived penniless in Shanghai, where he was employed by David Sassoon & Co as a rent collector and watchman. His genius for commercial property acquisition led him to become the largest single owner of real estate in the city’s international settlement.

“While working for the Sassoon company, he decided to focus on investment along Nanjing Road after carefully analyzing the development of Shanghai real estate,” says Wang Jian, director of the Institute of History at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

At the time, jetties were built along the Bund south of Guangdong Road, shops and traditional Chinese money houses were sprinkled on Baoshan Road, and restaurants and recreation sites were congregated on Fuzhou Road and the southern end of Henan Road.

“The region north of Fuzhou Road had few inhabitants, and thus the land price was cheap,” Wang says. “Hardoon believed that Nanjing Road would be the most prosperous place in Shanghai due to its location as a hub in the middle of the Hongkou and Nanshi (now Huangpu) districts.” 

Zhang Xuefei / SHINE

The building now houses 159 families in small units, most without private bathrooms.

Hardoon purchased numerous properties along Nanjing Road for the Sassoon family and for himself, using his savings and rents he collected.

“The value of these properties soared as Nanjing Road grew ever more prosperous, just as he had foreseen,” Wang adds.

Hardoon subsequently founded his own company and made huge profits from investments on Nanjing Road, which came to be called “Shanghai’s Fifth Avenue.” He served on the municipal councils of both the French concession and the international settlement.

According to Tongji University scholar Liu Min, the layout of the Ci’anli Building, which bears neither a grand vestibule nor an eye-catching entrance, was designed purely for functionality. That exemplified Hardoon’s approach to maximizing profits from his real estate investment.

When Hardoon died in 1931, his estate included 8,430 hectares of land and 1,387 buildings, Wang says, accounting for about 44 percent of the total properties on Nanjing Road. 

After his death, Hardoon’s company was managed by his adopted son George. Many of his holdings were occupied by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

In1939, Mao Liying, a Communist Party member and chairwoman of the Shanghai Professional Women’s Club, was assassinated at the gateway of the Ci’anli Building. A stone plaque on the fa?ade today commemorates her murder.

“For historical reasons, the spacious rooms of the former commercial building were partitioned into small sections to house 159 families,” says Lu Bo from Huangpu District Property Co, which owns and manages the building today.

“Each family of up to 15 people squeezed into barely more than 10 square meters of living space,” he says. “Nowadays, young people have moved out, leaving families of two or three people, mostly the elderly or residents from out of town.” 

The renovation project will be comprehensive, Lu says.

“The Huangpu District government will restore historic parts, such as the steep roof, and will install a private toilet for every family as the structure permits,” he says. “We reckon that nearly one-third of the 159 families will soon have a private toilet.”


Zhang Xuefei / SHINE

A stunning cast-iron staircase rises among the dusty floors of the old building.


Info box

Yesterday: Ci’anli Building

Today: Ci’anli Building

Address: 114 Nanjing Rd E.

Built in:1906

Architect: Algar & Co

Architectural style: Queen Anne

Tips: The building is under renovation, so those seeking to view a structure of similar architecture are directed to the  Carlowitz & Co Building a few minutes‘ walk away at 255 Jiangxi Road M.


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