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November 24, 2020

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Home » District » Hongkou

A landmark’s return to former glory

The 85-year-old Embankment Building, once known as the “No. 1 Apartment Building in the Far East,” will undergo a major renovation to restore its historical look while eliminating safety risks for residents.

The city’s earliest river-view residence along Suzhou Creek was built in 1935, financed by real estate tycoon Victor Sassoon. Its horizontal “S” design is consistent with the creek’s curves and represents the “S” in Sassoon.

The building’s architectural and historical value qualified it for the second batch of city-level protected buildings.

The Embankment structure deteriorated over the years, posing safety risks. Shared kitchens and toilets built by residents to expand their limited living spaces are in disrepair as well. Many residents have had to endure sewage pipeline jams and leakage.

To house more residents, the eight-story building had three additional floors added in 1978, which diminished its original style and splendor.

The Hongkou District House Management Bureau assessed the building’s condition in early 2020 during a citywide campaign to create a continuous public waterfront along the creek.

A protective renovation plan has been completed to restore the Embankment’s “historic elements” and renovate the once glorious residence with modern facilities, bureau officials said.

The building’s outside walls will be repaired, as will its shared kitchens and bathrooms, water pipes and elevators.

“The project is expected to bring back its former glory, eliminate safety risks and restore the building’s original design,” a bureau official said.

In the 1920s and 1930s, local real estate firms began introducing apartment buildings to replace urban alleys such as shikumen, or stone-gate neighborhoods, as the city’s population continued to grow.

Sassoon demolished the alley community on Beisuzhou Road that was financed by his company in 1887, and replaced it with an eight-story apartment building — The Embankment — the largest in the city at the time.

One of the few fancy buildings with a view of the creek, it was equipped with eight entrances, seven staircases, nine elevators, a heating system, a swimming pool and more than 700 rooms, most rented to foreigners.

The lobby’s geometric patterns and detailed carvings are representative of the Art Deco style that was popular at the time.

In 1938, many Jewish people fleeing Europe settled in Shanghai. Since most of the expats moved out of the building after the Songhu Battle broke out in 1937, Sassoon, who was Jewish, used the vacated building to house refugees until they resettled in Hongkou’s Tilanqiao neighborhood a year later.

The Embankment was also the army of the Kuomintang Party’s last major fortress in Shanghai during the Liberation War (1946-49).

After 1949, the apartments were redistributed, mostly to teachers, researchers and government employees.

Many popular movies and TV series were filmed in the building. The apartment building recently attracted public attention when the popular television drama “Nothing But 30” was filmed there.

Many descendants of the building’s original residents still live there.

Fan Yanhua, one of the original residents, recalled how famous actors and actresses once visited her apartment in their spare time. Some of them, such as the famous Chinese actress Siqin Gaowa, became close with her family.

According to the renovation blueprint, the façade of the Embankment’s original eight stories will be restored based on historical design charts and old photos.

For the additional three floors on top of the building, the style will be consistent with the lower floors but with subtle differences to reflect its changes over the years.

Strip lights and lasers will illuminate it at night.

Hongkou has launched a series of renovation campaigns since 2015 to improve the living standards of residents, while restoring the ambience of its historical buildings.

The housing bureau plans to renovate a million square meters of old residential buildings in the North Bund area by the end of 2020.

Officials say the North Bund will be a new engine for the city’s growth, a new landmark to lead development and a new model for the city’s latest round of reform.

The new-look North Bund will include a central business district with high-density office buildings and commercial facilities. The riverside region, covering about 4 square kilometers, will meet the same high standards established for the Lingang Special Area and the Pudong New Area.

The new round of planning on the North Bund is the city’s largest-scale project since the development of Pudong’s Lujiazui financial hub in 1990.


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