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Waldorf treatment for old Bund classic

THE three-story, neo-classical building at No. 2 on the Bund was designed, constructed and operated from the start to be the epitome of the exclusive, upper class British gentleman's club.

Purpose built three separate times in 1861, 1905 and 1910 as the Shanghai Club, it is reputed to have been the most exclusive joint during the heyday of the 1920s and 1930s.

A membership fee of US$125 a year and monthly dues of US$9 ensured entry to an enclosed, controlled world where men could rub shoulders with the rich and famous, such as US President Ulysses S. Grant in 1879, and contemporary movers and shakers of commerce, industry and politics in old Shanghai.

But that was then and events intervened during the 20th century that saw heydays consigned to history and No. 2's members disperse, the grand building taken over by occupying forces or turned to other purposes such as the Dongfeng Hotel and, perhaps ignominiously, a KFC restaurant in the fading twilight of the 1900s.

It has since hosted the ghosts of its era like other neighbors on the Bund that have been locked down and disused for decades. However, that is now about to change as it undergoes a major makeover to emerge under a new shingle as the Waldorf Astoria on The Bund Shanghai.

The rejuvenation is in the hands of history preservationists and hospitality designers Hirsch Bedner and Associates (HBA) who have been appointed by the Waldorf's managing corporation Hilton Hotels to bring No. 2 up to scratch for connection via a courtyard to a modern luxury hotel tower behind it, bordered by Sichuan Road, for an opening at the latest in 2011.

HBA is dealing with the legacy of a building that, with a whitewashed facade adorned with Palladium columns, intricate gables and a pair of sculpted rooftop cupolas, remains one of the architectural gems along the promenade.

The interior, which included original Sicilian marble columns and stained glass imported from the United Kingdom, once boasted a mahogany L-shaped long bar reputed to be the world's longest in the era, bowling alleys, billiards rooms, a library and two wine cellars.

Piloting the restoration is HBA's Ian Carr who is also overseeing the transformation of the Peace Hotel down the road which is due to open under the Fairmont brand sometime next year.

Carr, an Englishman based in Singapore, and his team started work on the Peace Hotel project about four years ago and successfully won a competition run by the Jin Jiang Hotels group last year to design the Waldorf.

"The Raffles Group was part of the assessment team but things fell apart with Raffles and Waldorf were brought in very quickly, in October last year," Carr said on Friday.

"The Waldorf project is hugely complex from many aspects, with one old building and a brand new building. Also there's no language for a new Waldorf, as this is the first purpose built one, so they're trying to work out the DNA of what a new Waldorf should be."

The heritage building at No. 2 will be the hotel's luxury section, with bespoke accommodation of only 22 rooms that will all be large suites. The tower behind it will have 266 rooms.

The Carr team has found that the Bund building is better preserved than the Peace Hotel. "The floors, walls and ceiling are intact but the Peace is long gone in that area," Carr said. "Whoever was in No. 2 - KFC, the film crews - over the years left the original fixtures and fittings, mouldings and panelings underneath so it hasn't really changed," he said.

"Half of the long bar is on the upstairs floor, cut up by the Japanese (invaders) and shifted around. But it gives us a template to use.

"One of the anecdotes we learned is that the more senior you were in the club, the closer you could stand at the bar near the window facing the Bund. New arrivals would progress down the long bar in seniority."

Carr said it is an intensive project being built as it is being drawn. "There's huge restoration which can't be done overnight and the skills are hard to find," he said. "Research is an ongoing process through the public records, the library and we get what we can on what was there before to tie it back into the bigger story."

Carr is inspired by the opportunities and the work his team is doing in Shanghai. "We have two very exciting projects in Shanghai and I'm trying for a third, the old British ambassador's residence near Suzhou Creek," he said. "I think once you get a taste for this kind of project, the majesty and legend, the new builds become less rewarding."


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