Jewel of the Bund

(Shanghai Star) | Jan 19, 2015


The grand old building was the first high-rise in China, and it has hosted Shanghai's grandest parties and celebrations for generations. Wang Ying pays a visit to the Fairmont Peace Hotel.

Situated along the Bund, the Fairmont Peace Hotel (和平饭店) is more of a participant than a witness of Shanghai's changes during the past 86 years.

The hotel first opened it's doors on Aug 1, 1929, and was originally named the Cathay Hotel by its owner, Sir Victor Sassoon, a businessman and hotelier from the Sassoon banking family, a famous and prosperous British-Iraqi Jewish family in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. The Sassoon family once owned many assets including the HSBC.

Hailed as the world's most beautiful hotel, the 11 story Cathay Hotel was the first high-rise building in China. Its construction required the installation of 1,600 redwood and concrete piles to support the huge steel and concrete structure on the mud flats of the Bund.

The construction of the impressive building kicked off in the spring of 1926. Sassoon invested $5 million into the project, and in 1928, he redesigned the upper part of the building into a luxury hotel.

The building has an art deco facade is designed in the Gothic style of the Chicago school. Palmer & Turner Architects & Engineers Ltd was the company that designed the building.

The building was much like a modern commercial complex: the ground floor featured a luxury shopping arcade under a glass rotunda, the next three floors were used as office space and could be reached via a black marble staircase or electric cage lift.

The building's eighth and ninth floor are dining rooms.

During the 1930s, Sir Victor lived in the penthouse on the 10th floor (now the Sassoon Presidential Suite), a suite of spacious and luxuriously appointed rooms with sweeping vistas of the Bund and Huangpu River - a view Sassoon referred to as "his muse."

The hotel is in a shape of the Chinese character feng (丰), which means lavish. Clearly, the hotel was expected to be prosperous by both the designer and the owner.

Ever since it opened, the hotel has held the city's best parties, balls, events, and celebrations. Famous guests have included British playwright Noel Coward, Irish playwright and Nobel Prize laureate George Bernard Shaw, and English comic actor and filmaker Charlie Chaplin. But the Japanese occupation between 1941 and 1945 put an end to the hotel's era of glamour.

In 1952, the Shanghai government turned the hotel into an office, where the city's first mayor Chen Yi worked. "All the major decisions for the city of Shanghai probably evolved here in this hotel," says George Wee, general manager with Fairmont Peace Hotel.

Four years later in 1956, the hotel acquired its current name, Peace Hotel.


The entrance of the Fairmont Peace Hotel has changed little since it first opened. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

The name Cathay was chosen by Sassoon, which is a European word for China. The name Peace was to commemorate the first international symposium successfully held by the new Chinese government. The symposium had the theme of world peace. "(They) wanted to name their favorite hotel Peace Hotel," says Wee.

Since 1956, the hotel has accommodated lots of foreigners, but it remains a mysterious place to the general public.

The hotel was closed in 2007 for a meticulous restoration, and was re-opened in 2010 as the Fairmont Peace Hotel.

Its grand renovation is thanks to the excellent work of designers, architects, historians and management experts, as well as cooperation between its owner Jinjiang International Group and operator Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.

Entering the hotel through one of four vintage revolving doors, guests immediately feel a sense of the style and sophistication the hotel boasted in the 1930s, including the stunning octagonal stained glass.

On the ground floor, an original antique elevator cage is no longer in operation, but remains a feature hinting at the hotel's heritage.

All 270 guest rooms and suites are designed in the style of the 1930s, but have been equipped with contemporary comforts and cutting-edge technology.

Although positioned as a unique heritage and luxury hotel, Wee says the Peace Hotel aims to be accessible so everyone can enjoy it's truly unique and memorable legacy.

"All the money in the world cannot replicate something like this anymore...how do you go back in time to have the same rich history", says Wee.

If you go

Add: 20 East Nanjing Road 南京东路20号

Tel: 021-6138-6888


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