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March 30, 2010

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Dusting off Putuo industrial gems along Suzhou Creek

SHANGHAI'S industrial heritage lies along the banks of Suzhou Creek in Putuo District, once a busy shipping center.

The district attracted capitalists from China and abroad who opened factories along the river artery that has witnessed the city's ups and downs for centuries.

The big-name factories include the Shanghai Mint (still producing 1-yuan coins), Chunghwa Book Co's printing house, Foh Sing Flour Mill No. 3, Kiangsu Chemical Works and Tianli Nitrogen Products.

Textile-weaving, sugar-making, brewing and match-making factories were also located there.

During the third national survey of cultural heritage, 17 additional sites were newly identified in Putuo District. Many are run-down and weather-beaten, situated in small lanes and overshadowed by tall buildings. Quite a few have been renovated and turned into museums, art and design space and private clubs.

"These industrial sites are precious to Putuo District," says Zhong Jingwei, a researcher with the Putuo District Cultural Bureau. "They reflect the district's historic importance to Shanghai."

Huangpu District is famed for its old banks built in the 1930s; Luwan and Jing'an districts have numerous old shikumen (stone-gated) buildings; Xuhui District has lots of garden villas.

"But Putuo District is left with many industrial heritage buildings that are unique," says Zhong.

Located at 17 Guangfu Road W., the Shanghai Mint was built in 1922 in the neo-classical style of the Philadelphia Mint in the United States. It features giant Ionic columns and ornate carving.

Covering more than 4,450 square meters, the mint retains the old factory, warehouses, entry and water tower.

It is one of China's few mints turning out 1-yuan coins. It also produced the medals for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Shanghai Glucose Factory was set up in 1943 by Song Wusheng, a chemist who obtained his PhD in France. It combines Chinese and Western architectural styles, with a strong baroque touch, Chinese flower carvings and red-and-gray brick walls.

In 1963 it was turned into the Nanlin Normal School.

Today, to make room for modern development, the building is being moved 80 meters toward Suzhou Creek.

It will become part of the greenbelt along the river and the building will be turned into a public facility, says researcher Zhong.

The Foh Sing Flour Mill on the southern bank of the creek was once the biggest flour factory in China.

The 346-square-meter factory was identified in 1999 as one of the city's "excellent" historical buildings and in 2009 became one of Putuo District's "immovable cultural heritage" pieces.

"The flour factory is standing idle, waiting for a new round of development," Zhong says.

Some of the old sites have been renovated, acquiring new life and purpose.

The famous art hub M50 at 50 Moganshan Road was the old New China Textile Co Ltd, which was built in the 1930s by an Anhui Province businessman.

The Union Brewery Ltd designed by famed architect L.E. Hudec is a U-shaped building completed in 1935. Today it has been transformed into an environmentally friendly theme park and its bottling tower has become an exhibition hall displaying the history of Suzhou River.


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