If Shanghai was Laszlo Hudec’s lucky city, People’s Square was his lucky place. It’s where the architect designed two masterpieces, the Park Hotel and the Grand Theatre.
The Park Hotel pushed Shanghai to a new height and dominated the city’s skyline for nearly half a century. The Grand Theatre was such a refined design that it was later added to the collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Two other designs around the square are also noteworthy. The red-brick Moore Memorial Church has been a landmark while the preservation of Chekiang Cinema drew wide attention in 2014, thanks to Hudec’s soaring fame.
On the temporary ending of the Nanjing Road column around People’s Square, let’s revisit four architectural gems designed by this European architect who arrived in our city 100 years ago. Later this autumn, we will continue to travel west through the long, legendary Nanjing Road.
Hudec’s most famous work is undoubtedly the Park Hotel, a 22-story building designed for the Joint Savings Society. At a height of 83.8 meters, the then tallest building in the Far East dominated the city’s skyline for nearly half a century. It’s located in what is referred to as the “Zero Point of Shanghai.”
On this project he made a technological breakthrough in building a colossal building on the alluvial soil of mud and sand, a problem that had puzzled architects in Shanghai for many years. The hotel sits on a reinforced concrete raft base of 400 33-meter-long piles of Oregon pine, which is topped by light-weight alloy with great strength.
The ground floor used to be the banking hall of the Joint Savings Society. The entrance hall was on the corner of roads which were different from today. The restaurant facing south on the second floor featured large, protruding French windows that offered a great view of the race course.
The facade is adorned with vertical stripes which shrink layer upon layer until the top, a typical American modern art deco style. The hotel was the first choice for international VIPs on their Shanghai trips in Hudec’s era.
Yesterday: Park Hotel;
Today: Park Hotel
Built in: 1934
Architectural style: Art Deco
Address: 170 Nanjing Rd W.
Tips: The public area of the hotel is open to the public. Historical pictures are exhibited on the corridor of the mezzanine.
Moore Memorial Church
The Moore Memorial Church was one of the two surviving local churches designed by Hudec.
On the corner of Hankou and Yunnan roads, the church was originally built in 1887 by American missionary C. F. Reid of the Southern Methodist Church. It was renamed the Moore Memorial Church after American follower J. M. Moore donated to the church in 1890 in memory of his daughter.
By 1925, the number of its followers had increased to more than 1,200 — far too many for the church to handle. With more donations and fundraising activities, the construction of a new church kicked off on the corner of Xizang and Hankou roads in 1929 on the former site of the McTyeire School for Girls, where the famous Soong sisters had studied.
The Moore Memorial Church was a complicated task for Hudec involving various requirements: A hall with a capacity of 3,000 people was required for ceremonies, as well as a small ambulatory area and an open-air pavilion for concerts and other events.
The layout was innovative rather than the traditional Latin-Cross form for Western churches. It is essentially composed of five parts, including a nave that could house 1,200 people in the center, and four other sections that dealt with issues related to society, education, management and entertainment on the four corners. The main entrance was on Xizang Road facing the former race course. There were two inner courts inside the church.
The facade showed a Collegiate Gothic style with Romanesque manners in some parts. The external walls were adorned with scarlet bricks in a textured pattern.
Yesterday: Moore Memorial Church
Today: Moore Memorial Church
Built in: 1929 to 1931
Architectural style: Collegiate Gothic-style with Romanesque manners
Tips: Open on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Grand Theatre was the most difficult job for Hudec among his major achievements in Shanghai.
It opened its doors to the public on June 14, 1933, showing the Hollywood movie “Hell Below.” It went on to screen movies produced by 20th Century Fox or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and staged concerts of the Municipal Council. It was the first cinema to offer simultaneous translation during the screening of foreign films.
The Grand Theatre was a complex work of cinema, dance hall, cafe and billiard rooms. The cinema perched on a long, narrow and irregular base, almost on the cracks of the surrounding old buildings. Hudec’s talent in utilizing space was fully showcased.
The auditorium was shaped like a big bell. It could seat 1,961 people on two floors — the largest capacity of any Chinese movie hall. The interior was illuminated by cove lightings and cooled by a jet-refrigerator air supply scheme.
Graced by fancy illuminated fountains, the lobbies on the first and second floors were shaped like cashews to fit well with the base. Two grand, stylish staircases led audiences from the entrance straight up to the second floor.
The Grand Theatre was renamed Grand Cinema after 1949 and has gone through numerous renovations since then.
On January 19, 2009, the cinema reopened after 80 years and the Grand Theatre was once again one of the city’s top movie theaters.
Yesterday: Grand Theatre
Today: Grand Theatre
Built in: 1933
Architecture style: Art Deco
Address: 216 Nanjing Rd W.
Tips: Aspects of the 1928 cinema by Hudec have been preserved, including the brick columns on the second floor and the staircase on the western side. Open from 10am to 11pm. Tickets are required to enter.
Covering an area of 667 square meters, Zhejiang Cinema is a four-story steel-and-concrete structure. The red-brick facade is graced by curved windows and a long balcony.
The cinema opened in 1930 as “the newest of Shanghai’s picture palaces.” In addition to the latest automatic sprinklers for safety, exits had been so planned and placed that the 1,000-seat house could be evacuated in three minutes.
Winter comfort was provided by an installation capable of renewing the theater atmosphere every 15 minutes. In winter the air supply would be filtered and warmed before delivery to “the lofty and perfectly-decorated auditorium.”
In summer the air-conditioning took a different form. All atmospheres had been introduced after filtration with a minimum of humidity.
The cinema’s original facade and partial interior space are preserved, thanks to Hudec’s soaring fame since 2008. It is one of the four cinemas Hudec designed in Shanghai.
Today the cozy cinema maintains a historical ambience which attracts young people eager for a nostalgic movie experience. The steel railings of the staircase display Hudec’s signature patterns that are seen in many of his works.
Address: 123 Zhejiang Rd M.
Yesterday: Chekiang Cinema
Today: Zhejiang Cinema
Built in: 1930
Architectural style: Modern style
Tips: It’s open to the public from 10am to 11pm. Tickets are required to enter.