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December 26, 2017

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Historic Astor hotel to shut for facelift

SHANGHAI’S historic Astor House Hotel near the Bund is set to get a makeover.

Besides renovation and refurbishing, the century-old hotel that once housed big names like physicist Albert Einstein, actor Charlie Chaplin and writer Edgar Snow, may be converted into a stock exchange museum though the exact details about its future remain unclear.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange came into existence at the hotel in 1990.

Both the exchange and the hotel said the future plans had not yet been worked out, but the hotel confirmed that it would stop receiving guests and visitors from next Monday.

The exchange said yesterday it may be restored, either partly or fully, into a museum — the first in the city — or may house both the museum and the hotel.

Astor House has a unique place in Shanghai’s history — when it opened in 1846 it was the first Western hotel in China.

Nielsen Wen, director of sales and marketing of the hotel, told Shanghai Daily that the hotel’s famous banquet hall, cafe bar and all the 116 rooms will be closed from January 1.

A room reservation hotline also confirmed that the hotel was to undergo renovations and that rooms were available only till the end of this month.

Astor House, which was previously known as Richard’s Hotel, was founded by the Richard family in 1846 along the Bund near Jinling Road E. It later moved to its current location on Huangpu Road near the Waibaidu Bridge in 1857.

Rebuilt in 1912 in a neo-classical Baroque style, the Astor House was one of the most lavish hotels in the city — and in the Far East — in the early 20th century. It was listed by the city government as a heritage architecture in 1999.

Celebrities rooms well preserved

The hotel hosted Einstein, who stayed in Room 304 in 1922, former US President Ulysses S. Grant in Room 410 in 1897, Chaplin in Room 404 in 1931 and 1936, and Snow, the author of “Red Star over China,” in Room 303 in 1931.

The rooms have been well-preserved and still welcoming guests. Room 304 in which Einstein stayed costs around 2,000 yuan (US$305.9) per night now. All the original furnishings of nearly a century ago in the room remain intact.

As news of its closure spread, locals flocked to the site.

“It’s really a pity that such a historic hotel is going to close. It will become a museum, and we may not be able to stay there anymore,” an accountant surnamed Xie said. Xie went to the hotel to take some “final photos” after hearing about its planned closure.

“I feel so lucky to be among the last batch of customers living in the hotel,” said Bryan from New Zealand, who was staying in the hotel.

“The hotel itself has a charm — very old British charm with the feeling of a gentlemen’s club.”

The hotel’s claim to fame includes the city’s first electric lamp, telephone and ballroom. Cai Jun, the then head of Shanghai, threw the first grand party in the city at the Astor House in 1897 to celebrate the 60th birthday of Empress Dowager Cixi of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

It was also at this very hotel where the founder of Shanghai’s first taxi company Xiangsheng, now known as Qiangsheng, started his business. Zhou Xiangsheng (1895-1974), known as the “King of Taxi,” served as a bellboy at the hotel.

Legend has it that Zhou helped two local rickshaw pullers to equally split the Russian rubles they had found on the street. In appreciation for his efforts, they gave him a share of the money. Zhou used the money to buy an old car and launch his taxi business.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange came into existence at the hotel in December 1990. The trading center at the Peacock Hall, the main banquet hall, kick started China’s foray into the capital market. The first gong of China’s stock exchange is still in the hotel, albeit as an exhibit.

The exchange moved to its current site in the Pudong New Area in 1997.


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