Historic Jing'an compound to get a facelift

Discussion with residents are underway ahead of an urban renewal project which aims to preserve historic buildings. 
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

An entrance to Zhangyuan, a well-preserved shikumen compound, on Wujiang Road.

Zhangyuan, a well-preserved shikumen compound in downtown Jing’an, is to have a makeover, according to the district government.

The compound, nearly the size of eight soccer fields — east to Shimen Road No. 1, west to Maoming Road N., south to Weihai Road and north to Wujiang Road — is to be part of an urban renewal project.

Officials are consulting residents over relocation and compensation. Relocation will start only if house owners agree to move, the government has insisted.

Details of the project have not yet been released.   

The compound is part of the historical protection zone of Nanjing Road W. Officials began to catalogue historic sites in Zhangyuan last year, and the work is still ongoing. Information such as the age and style of each building will be registered so that buildings aren’t torn down during urban renewal projects.

Last July, the city’s housing authority announced that buildings deemed to have historic value should be protected. But in some cases, residents can be relocated so historic structures can be better protected.

Zhangyuan boasts buildings of different styles. It is a “living” lilong museum, according to Shi Yunlun, an executive with Jing’an Real Estate Group that will be responsible for the facelift. 

“The change of Zhangyuan represents cultural and social vicissitudes,” according to Shi’s report on Zhangyuan released last year. “Also, it is a mixture of different architectures, from shikumen building to garden villa. Western elements like Art Deco-style lines and traditional Chinese interior layout can be seen in one house.”

Zhangyuan dates back to 1872 when a British merchant bought a plot of farmland and built garden villas. In 1882, it fell into the hands of Chinese entrepreneur Zhang Shuhe, who expanded it and made it a modern public gathering spot. 

It boasts Chinese pavilions and Western buildings like the grand Arcadia Hall, then the tallest structure in Shanghai. It was where Shanghai’s first electric light bulb shone and Shanghai’s earliest entertainment park opened, offering Chinese opera, magic shows, gambling and dining.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A view of a lane in Zhangyuan, a historic neighborhood in Jing’an District.

But later it began to lose its popularity as competition from newer indoor entertainment complexes such as cinemas sprang up. In 1919, the property was turned into private residences, replaced by lines of shikumen buildings.

One unit was partitioned into smaller flats occupied by several families, which led to shabby living conditions. Now, most of the dwellers are senior citizens and out-of-towners.

Meanwhile, relocation of residents at Dongsiwenli, another significant shikumen compound in Jing’an, is near its end. The government confirmed that the compound will be preserved as a whole neighborhood to maintain its old flavor, though detailed plans have not been revealed.

Fengshengli, another project on Nanjing Road W., and just a street away from the Zhangyuan compound which is to have a makeover, has been turned into a commercial complex, offering historical and cultural themes similar to the popular Xintiandi area.

It comprises one renovated old building and nine replicas, which now houses global dining chains like Hard Rock Cafe and Goose Island Brewhouse.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE
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