Legendary Astor House Hotel

By Lu Chang, Shanghai Star. 2002-05-30
The interior of the Pujiang Hotel, formerly the Astor House Hotel, has been partly renovated in the original English style.

SITUATED in an inconspicuous corner near the Bund, the Pujiang Hotel, formerly the Astor House Hotel, seems to have lost its bygone glory.

The low-rise building has been eroded to be dated in colour, which was submerged among the eminent architecture of the Bund.

Few members of the city's younger generation are even aware that the hotel exists, let alone that it is considered the father of the city's luxury hotels.

The hotel was opened in 1846. In 1861 the two-story hotel was sold to Henry Smith who renamed it the Astor House Hotel. The building we see today was completed in 1910. In 1959, the hotel name was changed to Pujiang Hotel.

It was once the most renowned and luxurious foreign-owned hotel in the Far East.

The Victorian-style design was the work of an Englishman, which can be detected from the grand columns standing in the halls and arched gates.

The hotel has witnessed many breakthrough events in Chinese history. The first lamp bulb in the country was lit here, the first telephone in the country was switched on here, and the first sound film from the West was projected here.

Plus, China's first ball was held in the hotel, helping to bring to a close the tradition that women should not attend social activities.

It is said that Chiang Kai-shek had his last dinner here before withdrawing to the island of Taiwan.

A bellboy picked up a wallet belonging to a Russian at the main entrance to the hotel, and used one third of it to buy a car, serving as the first taxi in the country. He was the founder of Johnson, now Qiang Sheng Taxis.

Today, when you walk on the creaking wooden floor and see the simple furniture, you cannot imagine the brilliant days of the hotel. It is only a two-star hotel now.

Some of the 116 guestrooms, in which international celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein once stayed, are taken as historic spots with photos hanging on the wall to show guests.

The suites have been redecorated in their original style (except for modern electric appliances), and some of the furniture has been modelled with guidance from old photos.

The hotel still keeps its hulking and slow manual-operating elevators, which work from 7:00am to 11:00pm.

Close to an international wharf, the hotel changed some guestrooms for young travellers, known as the youth hostel. Here there are several beds in one room.

It's the first of its kind in Shanghai, and has been applauded by young student tourists.

Copyright by Shanghai Star.