The story appears on

Page B2

January 5, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

A Mediterranean villa with Chinese touches

Buildings are often connected. Li' Garden at 63 Gao'an Road was originally not an option for this column. The original subject was another Mediterranean villa at 390 Wukang Road, the former mansion of the first Italian consul general in Shanghai.

I visited Li's Garden near the Italian's mansion months ago to compare their similar architecture.

But the Italian consulate in Shanghai has kept me waiting for more archival material on their first consul general and the mansion. During the waiting period, an expert told me about Li and advised that his garden was worth writing about.

Li's Garden has an eye-catching entrance - an arch that is beautifully designed and built with red bricks, very artistic. It often attracts passersby who stop and admire it.

I visited the building three times but was only able to enter it on my last visit.

Covering 2,909 square meters, the mansion was designed by French architect Paul Veysseyre in 1930 as the mansion for Ningbo tycoon Li Shuxiong, also known as James Hsioung Lee.

I heard of Lee's name while I was writing about tycoon Victor Sassoon's property, the Rubicon Garden (2310 Hongqiao Road, Shanghai Daily, August 18, 2010). Lee bought another famous Sassoon property at 2409 Hongqiao Road in 1948 and his family still owns the fancy British country villa near the Shanghai Cypress Hotel.

Passing through a short corridor adjacent to the arch, I saw the mansion's north facade, featuring a porch with four strange white columns. At first glance the cylindrical columns appear to be ordinary Doric order works, but their upper parts are cuboids, with four sides.

On top of these unusual columns, I even found tiny green wooden decorations that somewhat resemble simplified dougong. A significant feature of Chinese architecture, dougong is a system of interlocking brackets between the top of a column and a cross-beam. Mini dougongs adorn a Mediterranean villa. That's interesting.

The south facade is beautiful but not as surprising as the northern porch with unusual columns. The facade is white with red tiles. The centerpiece is a porch of three continuous arches with a balcony on the top.

"Tycoon Lee was nicknamed the 'Electric King of Ningbo' who made a fortune by managing power stations," says architectural history expert Qian Zonghao from Shanghai Tongji University.

He had a good relationship with many senior Kuomintang officials including T.V. Song, a prominent financier and the brother of the famous Soong Sisters. Lee also represented China in the Chicago World's Fair 1933-34, Qian says.

Guided by an amiable gate keeper, Mr Zhang, I entered the building on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon. However, the inside was a bit disappointing because renovation several years ago had removed most of the original décor.

After 1949 the two-story building was taken over by the government and used by several official organizations. Since 1994 it has been serving as an activity center for retired officials from the city's Urban Construction and Communication Commission.

Mr Zhang showed me a stunningly beautiful red sandalwood arch on the first floor. The exquisitely carved arch is cleverly designed with mini shelves on it for exhibits. It is original and well preserved. And the yesteryear's luxury of the mansion can be imagined from this elegant piece.

The two floors have an identical layout, each with a grand hall and two rooms. I especially enjoyed the balcony on the second floor, which provided a perfect view of the garden. Railings of the balcony bear a fish-scale pattern, another indication of Chinese influence on this Mediterranean villa.

Born in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province, in 1891, tycoon Lee lived a very long life of 96 years. He bought the Sassoon villa after Sassoon began transferring his wealth and business to Hong Kong after World War II broke out. Lee renovated the Hongqiao Road villa as a high-end club for senior Kuomintang officials, bankers and social elites.

Later Lee also moved to Hong Kong and became a philanthropist. His charity programs include the Science Building in Hong Kong University and the Medical Education Award in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, in south China.

In 1960 Lee published an English-language autobiography titled "A Half Century of Memories" to recall his legendary life that began in Ningbo, reached its prime in Shanghai and came to an end in Hong Kong.

That half century was also the most eventful half century in modern Chinese history which witnessed war, conflicts, social change and upheaval.

So, sometimes waiting is not a bad thing and much can be explored during a waiting period, such as the tranquil garden villa and a century of Lee's legendary life.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend