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Hotel where L.E. Hudec spent last Shanghai years

Famed architect L.E. Hudec designed more than 60 significant buildings in Shanghai and spent his final decade at the Da Hua Hotel that he designed. Michelle Qiao checks in.

The World Expo 2010 has finally come to an end, so has my role as a Shanghai trip adviser for my Expo-visiting friends from around China.

When my Nanjing architect friend Simon found it hard to book six rooms for his team, another friend settled him at the Da Hua Hotel on Yan'an Road W.

Although the hotel is old and a bit noisy, I found it a perfect place for Simon who aims to become a great architect. This hotel, nicknamed the "Little Park Hotel," was designed by famous architect L.E. Hudec who designed the real Park Hotel and lived in the white Da Hua Hotel for around 10 years. It was his last home in Shanghai.

The architect who escaped to Shanghai in 1918 from a Russian war camp in Siberia designed more than 60 gorgeous buildings in Shanghai's golden period for real estate development in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Da Hua Hotel was formerly known as Hubertus Court and designed in a modern style.

"The gate of the building in Art Deco style was gorgeous but unfortunately it was changed," says architectural history expert Hua Xiahong from Shanghai Tongji University.

On a clear October morning, I visited this 10-story butter-hued hotel covering 3,000 square meters.

It was built in 1937 as an apartment building with leased flats. More than 70 years later, this building with simple horizontal lines is not old-fashioned at all. The body features a modern compact layout and a simple facade of milky stucco. It has cantilevered balconies with curved corners and large glass windows. I can imagine how "modern" it looked in the 1930s.

According to the book "Hudec's Architecture in Shanghai," the building "illustrated the beauty of modern architecture by emphasizing the functional requirement, discarding fastidious decoration and making full use of simple volumes, color and texture of materials."

There were 90 ensuite apartments. It's a pity the interior has been redecorated.

I climbed the stairs to the top floor but could not find any traces of the past, only an old black-and-white photo on each floor to recall its history.

Hudec had moved to the building in 1937 and lived here until he left Shanghai for Switzerland in 1947.

According to expert Hua's archive photos, the Hudec apartment had hardwood floors, patterned sofas, exquisite cabinets, antique hanging lamps and artwork, just like his previous city homes.

In 1929 Hudec designed a Spanish-style villa on Columbia Road (now Panyu Road) for his family, which was later sold to Sun Ke, son of Dr Sun Yat-sen.

He then built a smaller Tudor-style villa on the other side of the road where his family stayed from 1931 to 1936. Although they like the place, they moved to Hubertus Court because of the drainage problems which made the villa humid and unhealthy.

Hudec's reputation has grown over the years and reached at high point when both Hungry and the Slovak Republic asserted that he was born in their territory. The controversy arose because Hudec's birthplace of Besztercebanya, a city that used to belong to Austro-Hungarian Empire, now is within Slovak borders.

The Hungarian Consulate General in Shanghai had hosted the "Year of Hudec" in 2008. But Hudec's life story and a giant photo of the Park Hotel was part of the Slovak Republic exhibition at the Shanghai Expo.

A Slovak film titled "The Man Who Changed Shanghai" was screened for the first time at the Grand Theater on Nanjing Road W. (another Hudec materpiece) and announced his Slovak identity.

No matter which country was his homeland, Shanghai is the place where he developed his talent to the fullest.

After 1949 the butter-hued Hubertus Court was renamed the Da Hua Hotel. And I hope that after living for three days in a building that Hudec designed and where he lived, my friend Simon will draw inspiration from the great architect who had changed Shanghai and whose life had also been changed by the city.


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