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March 27, 2010

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Home » Metro » Entertainment and Culture

Brothers dig in over demolition

THE tragedy of a century-old building being pulled down to make way for a real estate project is being enacted in the city once more.

This time, two brothers surnamed Zhang, who still live inside, are trying to save the 1860s building by arousing the attention of architecture fans and experts.

The 150-year-old House of Shen, former residence of Shanghai marine merchant Shen Yisheng, has already been half demolished after the area was auctioned off for a real estate project.

But the unique architecture was highlighted after some photography fans from both home and aboard spotted its magnificence in the debris and posted pictures on online forums.

Demolition has been halted.

Ding Liangcai, director of Huangpu District Relics Protection Office, said yesterday that the district government had received reports about the historic buildings and "demolition on the house has been ceased for further discussion."

However, Zhang Xuanlin, the elder brother, said: "Once we move out, the house will be demolished immediately."

Zhang said the only reason for the relocation team to stop the demolition was that he, his brother and other people still lived in the building.

"There are still six households living in the building including me and my brother," Zhang told Shanghai Daily yesterday. "We all love the house and want to keep it.

"The architecture is unique in this district, even in this city. You can't find a second one."

The House of Shen, on the corner of Huayi Road and Wangjiamatou Road in Huangpu District, occupies a 2,000-square-meter piece of land and incorporates both oriental and western architectural designs and elements.

The east part of the house is like a combination of a traditional Chinese house and shikumen -- Shanghai-style housing blending features of east and west. All the roof beams are delicately painted and carved with Chinese traditional patterns.

The west part of the house contains more western features.

The house faces east, unlike most traditional Chinese houses which face south.

Shen sold the house in 1920 to Yan Tongchun, another seaborne trade magnate in the city. Yan then renovated the house with modern facilities such as flushing toilets.

The Yans left Shanghai before 1949 and the house was later distributed to 30 households.

"The house is of excellent quality, even better than most of the new apartments nowadays," Zhang said. "The wooden floor was so firmly built that even if a cup of water was spilled, it wouldn't penetrate downstairs."

But the House of Shen has not been officially tagged as historic or as a cultural relic, so whether it would be demolished or not was up to the developer.

"It's ironic that the house survived the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the Chinese Civil War but is going to be destroyed in the era of peace," Zhang said.

He is writing a letter to the mayor and Xinhua News Agency and would go to Beijing if necessary to stop the demolition.

"The architecture is worth preserving," said Xue Liyong, a former researcher at the Shanghai History Museum.

"The building lies in the former Nanshi District, the historical core of Shanghai."

Xue said that though the preservation near the Bund area may cause losses for the developers and the city government, the exquisite buildings would be helpful in the research of local history and architecture.

"The awareness to protect historical buildings was very weak in the past," Xue said. "Many similar precious historical buildings were discovered in urban development.

"Urban development left the city too few such historic buildings and memories."

Xue and other historians are calling on the local government to protect the historical memory of the city and carry out thorough investigations into existing buildings before demolition in old neighborhoods.


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