Plan to preserve Jing'an neighborhood

Professors urge protection for area around city's "old north station" in plan to preserve traditional buildings.
Plan to preserve Jing'an neighborhood
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The former residence of artist Wu Changshuo at the “old north station” area.

A cluster of buildings surrounding a former railway station in Jing’an District will be preserved to maintain its old flavor, according to a district protection plan that is being reviewed by the city’s urban planning authority.

The former Shanghai North Railway Station, known locally as the “old north station,” opened in 1909 but closed in 1987 due to lack of capacity. 

Shanghai Railway Museum now occupies the site at 200 Tianmu Road E., built in the style as it was about a century ago, featuring a British-style red-brick building. 

Due to its convenient traffic network, the area soon boomed, highlighted by rows of the city’s traditional shikumen houses. 

Under a makeover plan by the district government, some of the old rundown houses in the compound, without protected status, have been pulled down, and residents have been relocated over the past few years. 

Li Qinlan moved from Yuqingli on Wujin Road, an old shikumen neighborhood built in 1890, about a month ago. 

“I lived there for more than 65 years,” said Li, who lived in shabby conditions with her children and grandchildren. “Trying to get the rats out was my daily routine.”

Her family moved to a new apartment in Hongkou District. 

“It’s hard to bid farewell but I understand we have to leave so that the buildings can be better protected,” she said.

The “old north station” area is a museum of shikumen architecture, according to a report by Chen Fei and Zhou Jian, professors at Tongji University.

To protect the remaining buildings and retain the area’s history, the district’s cultural authority has come up with a protection plan for the area, based on the professors’ report. Their report was used as reference by the district government while drafting the plan. The plan has been submitted to Shanghai Urban Planning and Land Resources Bureau for review and approval.

Plan to preserve Jing'an neighborhood
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The shikumen neighborhood of Junyili

According to the report, the area has shikumen buildings of different eras and in different styles, and most of them have been well preserved as a neighborhood. They include one of the city’s earliest shikumen neighborhoods Laianli and xinshi lilong (new-style lane house) neighborhood Baoshengli. 

The area also has Spanish-style townhouses inside the Junyili neighborhood, garden villas featuring both Western and Eastern characteristics, traditional siheyuan courtyards and veranda colonial style buildings, among other architecture styles.

The area also incorporates the former residences of influential Shanghai tycoon Yu Qiaqing, renowned artist Wu Changshuo, and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) politician Li Hongzhang’s son Li Jingfang. 

In the report, the professors suggest categorizing old buildings and making different plans for protection.

Old buildings with protected status should be retained as a whole. Those with high historical value but not on the protected list should have their facades renovated and repaired, and those with some historical value can be rebuilt with some original materials. For the rest, some original design and parts can be retained, according to the report.

“It is the last piece where people can have a glimpse of the old railway station and goings-on around it,” said Ruan Yisan, another professor from Tongji University. “Many famous figures left their marks and the architecture style here is quite diverse.”

Ruan said protecting historic buildings does not mean saving one or two for people to visit and demolishing the rest. 

“Some of the shanty towns in the areas should be demolished,” said Ruan. “But we should do our best to present an authentic historical area.”

While detailed plans have not been revealed, it is thought some commercial activity will be injected to revive the old community. However, Zhang Zhong, deputy director of Jing’an Cultural Bureau, said the area wouldn’t be the next Xintiandi, implying diverse functions for the area.

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