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December 8, 2010

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Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Old apartment building hides a cozy courtyard

Sometimes the easiest thing to miss is the one right in front of you. Having worked at the Shanghai Daily office on Weihai Road for 10 years, it was only recently that I finally entered Sun Court, and the old apartment building well exceeded my expectations.

Sun Court's main facade faces north and is always stuck in a shadow. The chocolate-colored bricks make the building look a bit hard and bigger than its six floors. Perhaps that's why I have passed by the structure so many times without noticing it.

I visited Sun Court at 651 Weihai Road on a sunny afternoon. It features a spacious courtyard, which is rare these days. Compared with the dark, cold facade on Weihai Road, this inner part looks like another world.

Covering an area of around 1,600 square meters, this structure was built by Chinese property tycoon Sun Chunsheng in 1928 as an apartment building. It was designed by Calatroni & Hsieh Co.

Born in 1899 in Zhejiang Province, Sun started his career at the age of 16 as an intern at a British real estate company after being recommended by his uncle, who was a comprador. Sun was soon promoted to senior manager. He started his own company in 1925 and later became a real estate tycoon.

Sun always used one of the characters in his name when choosing a name for his properties, such as the two alleyway projects Tong Chun Fang and Chun Yang Li. Both contained his given name Chun.

Sun Court takes its name from his surname. In Chinese, the building is widely known today as Taiyang Gongyu, or The Sun Apartments.

The designer had painted walls around the yard in a creamy color, which gives a soft tone in the afternoon sunlight and contrasts with the facade on Weihai Road.

The courtyard features some very tall palms, maple trees and even yellow pumpkin flowers.

A green parrot was in a cage by a window.

When the building was just built, most residents were expatriates who moved before the Japanese invaded and took control of the city. As if history is repeating, some apartments today are rented to expatriates.

The building originally had only four stories, but two additional floors were later added, making it more like a castle in the heart of Shanghai.

The "castle" was very quiet and peaceful. I couldn't see anybody but could hear some people talking quietly somewhere in this gigantic building.

I sat on an marble stool to feel the tranquility for a while. It's incredible that this place is just meters from busy Weihai Road, which I know so well.

I ended the secret garden exploration by passing under an arch on the east side. When I walked to the south facade, I found dozens of towel gourds hanging over my head.

These tiny green gourds, which Chinese traditionally dried to use as cleaning brushes, were swinging in the breeze. They cast vivid dancing shadows on the walls of the building.

I still can't believe I have walked by this building so many times during the past 10 years and didn't know all these pumpkin flowers and green gourds were just a few steps away.


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