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Laszlo Hudec

Architect of some of Shanghai's most enduring landmarks

sunny 90 °F

I wish I could put pins in the map to show exactly where I've been in the last couple of months, but let's just say that it's between the northeastern corner of the map and the southwestern corner.

I was riding the bus to church one Sunday in June and happened to notice a building along the route that had a large rectangle of letters placed as ventilation over the staircase. Since it wasn't very far from my apartment, I resolved to walk there the next day and get some pictures of the place. I also tried doing a search online of the words showing on the building to find out who the designer was. Initially, I had no luck finding the name of the architect, but later stumbled across it in a happy coincidence. Across the street from the "letters building" was a rundown house marked with a plaque stating that it was designed by architect Laszlo Hudec. It was clearly Art Deco in style (you may remember me telling you from a previous post: art deco? not my favorite style) and pretty much unlike anything else around it, so I took some pictures of that house as well. When I got home, I tried finding out everything I could about Laszlo Hudec.

I doubt that his name is familiar to most people, but Hudec was a very prolific architect in Shanghai during the first half of the 20th century. I won't go too deeply into his biography here, but I will give you a link to a website that I've been checking out, www.hudec.cn, if you want to know more than I'm about to tell you. And don't worry, the website is in English.

Hudec was born in Slovakia in 1893 when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. After graduating from college, he joined the Austro-Hungarian army during WWI. He was captured by the Russians and sent to a prison camp near the border with China. After a couple of years in Russia, he escaped and made his way to Shanghai. Hudec found work as a draftsman in an American architectural firm and was promoted a few times there before opening his own firm seven years later. He was in Shanghai until 1947, a total of 29 years in the city. Hudec and his family left in 1947 due to the political instability in China, planning to return when things improved, however they never did return. He died in Berkeley, California in 1958.

So that's his mini-biography. Now on to what I've been doing in July (and June, too) for my touristy thing. As I've already stated, Hudec was responsible for designing several of Shanghai's most famous buildings at the time. I don't know an exact number, but the website I've already referenced above gives details for about 28 of them. Unfortunately, not all of them have survived to the present time, but there are still plenty left to see. I'm including pictures of many of them, mostly of the ones closest to my apartment (since I live downtown, all but a few of the ones I'm posting here are within walking distance).

The first building I told you about, the Avenue Apartments, built in 1932 (information which should be fairly obvious if you look closely at the pictures).
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The house of D.V. Woo. This house was completed in 1938 and has more than 20,000 ft2! Even though the plaque on the wall outside the house proudly declares it to be part of Shanghai's "Heritage Architecture," I think the house just looks sad. It must have been striking when it was new, (it was apparently the first house in Shanghai to have both an elevator and air-conditioning) but it sure has fallen on hard times.
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This house appears to have two names: "The Mansion" and "Terrace House." It must have been one of Hudec's first projects, since it was completed in 1920.
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2IMG_0022.jpg This outdoor table and chairs is in the center of the huge lawn in front of "The Mansion." It's enough green space to make all of the neighbors (including me) jealous!

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I remember seeing the Normandie my first time in China (1998) and really liking it. It has several retail shops on the first floor but all of the other floors have apartments. There are at least five apartments for rent there currently, ranging in price from $470 US to more than $3000 US per month! The low end of the range is actually a good price here in Shanghai (more than $100 US less than I pay for my apartment); the high end of this range is pretty cheap for those ex-pats whose companies pay for their housing. I knew a family here in 1998 whose company paid $20,000 US a month for a four bedroom house! I think it's better now, as foreigners can buy houses and apartments, but in 1998, foreign individuals definitely couldn't buy and perhaps foreign companies also had the same limitations (thus owners could get away with charging a modest US salary for just one month of rent). As you can see from the first picture in this set, the Normandie was constructed in 1924. Coincidentally, the Normadie is also just across the street from Song Qing Ling's house (see April's blog entry).
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This is the Park Hotel, perhaps Hudec's most well-known structure. It was finished at the end of 1934 and was the tallest building in Shanghai until the 1980s. It was also the tallest building in Asia when it was built and held that record for a few decades. I've read several glowing comments about it on the internet, but to be honest, I've always thought it looked like a building that had barely survived a fire. The dark bricks certainly make it stand out among its lighter colored, more graceful neighbors.
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The Grand Theater is just two buildings up the street from the Park Hotel. It was completed in 1933. Shanghai actually has a few really cool looking theaters (all probably from the same general time period), but apparently not designed by Hudec. Maybe I'll get around to some of them next month and post them for you all then.
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Here you can see just how close the Grand Theater and Park Hotel are.
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This is the Moore Memorial Church, now known as the "Mu En Church" (沐恩堂). It fronts People's Square which was the horse racing track in the days when the foreign concessions ran Shanghai. It was really hard to get some good pictures of just the church: the gates were closed, so I couldn't get inside and as for the outside, it was basically impossible to crop out the trees in front and the tall buildings surrounding. That's my disclaimer if you don't like what you see.
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It's starting to seem like every time I see a building or house and wonder, "who did this belong to?" or "who lived here?" or "who designed it?" there's some sort of connection to Hudec. Point in case: there's a large lawn with a house hidden by trees very close to the apartment of one of my friends. I had asked her a couple of years ago whose house it was and she said she didn't know. She also said that she didn't even know where the entrance to the place was and wondered how people could get inside. Well, when doing my research on Hudec's buildings, I found out the answers to my earlier questions about that house. It was originally designed and built by Hudec for himself and his family. He designed it in 1929 and construction was finished in 1931. I'm not sure how long his family lived there, since the website I mentioned earlier doesn't specify. But it does say that Hudec sold the house to Sun Ke (孙科), one of the sons of Sun Yat-Sen (Sun Yat-Sen is known as the "Father of Modern China" and was husband of Song Qing Ling, mentioned above. Some people say that compared to Beijing and some other ancient cities in China, Shanghai doesn't have any history but I'd say it's positively dripping with history!) As I said, the house is basically hidden from view now while everything is in bloom (I'll go back in winter and take another look), so the few pictures I have of the house here show just a glimpse of a corner here and there. But what I can see looks really pretty!
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These last few Hudec buildings are of various styles and from various projects, but they're all on the same side of a street about a five minute walk from each other. This street is Xinhua Lu (新华路), which happens to be my favorite street in Shanghai. It was around 7:00 pm when I took these pictures, which seems a bit late but there was plenty of light still in the sky. However, one of the reasons I love Xinhua Lu is because the street itself is covered by a canopy of trees that basically runs the entire length of the road. Therefore, these pictures are pretty dark, so I apologize if you have problems seeing a lot of details here.
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IMG_0293.jpg You can just see a tiny bit of blue sky if you look up through the trees

These last two pictures have nothing to do with Laszlo Hudec. When I lived in Tianjin eight years ago, there were a couple of girls, Bryanne and Sarah, from the same organization working in a city further south. We saw each other a couple of times in the year - once during our retreat in Beijing and then again during the semester break/Chinese New Year's. We travelled together for about a month during that time and got to see several different cities in China, but we haven't seen each other since early 2005. Amazingly, Bryanne and her husband were in China for a few weeks in July on vacation and had a long layover in Shanghai (6-7 hours), so I got the day off work and went to the airport to see them. Sometimes when you haven't seen a friend in a long time, there can be moments of awkwardness while you struggle to catch up and get that old closeness back. I'm happy to say there was none of that on this day - even though we've both experienced some changes in the last seven years, we had no trouble falling back into the rhythm we had that other year in China.
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Take note, those of you reading this who may be travelling through Shanghai in the near future. As long as you give me a month of notice, I can probably come to the airport to see you on a long layover!

Posted by feiheli 08:54 Archived in China

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Comments

Those were fun times!! Backpacking and training around China was so much fun. I remember rotating my shirts... the inner layer would move out each day because we didn't have access to laundry all the time. Don't publish this comment. It's more of a message for you. Happy I made it into one of your blogs! Will let you know if we make it to Shanghai too. Would love to, but traveling with a 1.5 yr old is hard work! Hope you're doing well. Glad you are having fun traveling. Oh, btw, we relocated to Perth, Australia. If you ever want to come visit, let me know!

by Sarah

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