1846: a hotel was established in 1846 (during Qing Dynasty Daoguang period) by the Richard's family, called Richard Hotel. It is the very first western hotel property all over China since Shanghai became a trading port.
In 1857, the Astor House is opened, (business has been shifted to a new location by the Richard's family).
The hotel is on the north end of Baidu Bridge formerly "Weiersi Bridge", the new hotel is named Astor House Hotel (Qing Dynasty, Xianfeng period,7 years).
To make it the most deluxe western hotel in the city and one of the best in China and in the Far East alike, the hotel was restored in 1907 (Qing Dynasty, Guangxu period,33years) to a neo-classic Baroque structure.
The Astor House Hotel has been located on the North Bund of Shanghai, near the northern end of the Waibaidu Bridge (Chinese: 外白渡; pinyin: Wàibáidù Qiáo) (the Garden Bridge in English), since its relocation in 1858 from near Jinling East Road, in the Shanghai French Concession on the southern end of The Bund.
Today the Astor House Hotel is located on a 4,580 square metre site and has a total building area of 16,563 square metres with 134 rooms and suites.
It is near the confluence of the Huangpu River and the Suzhou Creek, near "the point where the Soochow Creek poured its silt into the river's clouded yellow waters." It is sited at the intersection of Huangpu Lu (formerly Astor Road), Daming Lu (Broadway), Changzi Dong Lu (Seward Road), Suzhou Bei Lu (Soochow Road), and Zhongshan Dong Yi (The Bund) roads. Its mailing address is 15 Huangpu Road. For many years, the Hotel was the best known landmark in the Hongkou District and the centre of foreign social life before the opening of the Cathay Hotel
The Hotel occupies an entire block, and is across the road from the Russian Consulate, and previously the embassies of Germany, the United States and Japan. The Hotel is located near Huangpu Park (simplified Chinese: 黄浦公园; traditional Chinese: 黃浦公園; pinyin: Huángpú Gongyuán), which opened in 1886 as Public Garden; across the road from the Broadway Mansions since
its construction in 1935; the Hongkou market, "Shanghai's biggest market, where farmers brought their fowl and produce to sell every day" and Little Tokyo, the Japanese part of Shanghai.
The story of the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai provides a revealing insight into the history of China itself. According to Rob Gifford, "The Astor House Hotel has witnessed the whole sweep of China's emergence into the modern world, from English opium running in the 1840s through the tea dances of polite society in the 1920s and to the excesses of Maoist China in the 1960s."Richards' Hotel and Restaurant (1846-1859)
Main article: History of the Astor House Hotel (Shanghai) 1844 to 1858
On 29 August 1842 the Treaty of Nanjing declared Shanghai to be one of five open treaty ports in China, the others being Canton, Amoy, Foochow, and Ningpo. On 17 November 1843 Shanghai was declared open to foreign traders, and soon after the British concession in Shanghai was established and the boundaries gradually defined. The resident foreign population of the British concession increased gradually: "In 1844 it was 50, in the following year 90, and after five years it had grown to 175. In addition there was a floating population, consisting of the men on shore from the ships in harbour."Peter Felix Richards (1846-1859)
Among the very first foreign residents of Shanghai was a Scottish merchant, Peter Felix Richards (born 6 April 1808 in Edinburgh, Scotland; died 14 November 1868 in Shanghai, China) who had been doing business in China from about 1840. During 1844 Richards established P.F. Richards & Co. (Shanghai and Fuchowfoo), which operated a general store, ship chandler, and commission agent business, on 4th Avenue (四马路) (now Fuzhou Road; 福州路) about a "block and a half to the west" of Sichuan Road. P.F. Richards & Co. imported and sold staples of English diets.
In 1846, Richards opened one of the first western restaurants in Shanghai and the first western hotel in China, south of the Yangkingpang (Yangjingbang) creek on the river front on The Bund facing the Huangpu River near Jinling Road East, in the Huangpu District of Shanghai, in what became in 1849 the French Concession. Named after its founder, Richards' Hotel and Restaurant (礼查饭店; "Licha"; Lee-zo), was "a single and ordinary building", in the Baroque style. that targeted initially the seafaring clientele that made up the bulk of travelers to 19th century Shanghai. One contemporary account describes corridors and floors whose color and design echoed those on ships.
Almost a century later, John B. Powell recounted the origins of the Hotel: "The Astor House Hotel ... had grown from a boarding house established originally by the skipper of some early American clipper,
who left his ship at Shanghai. A string of sea captains followed the original as managers of the hotel.
The very first public meeting of the British settlement was in the newly opened Richards' Hotel on 22 December 1846.
By 1848 Richards had married Rebecca MacKenzie (born 6 May 1826 in Brechin, Forfarshire, Scotland), and they had their first child, Rebecca A. Richards (born about 1848 in Shanghai). Other children included: Adelaide (born about 1851 in Shanghai), Amelia (born about 1852 in Shanghai), Helen Mary (born about 1853 in Shanghai; died 10 February 1861 in Shanghai), Peter Felix MacKenzie Richards (born about 1863 in Shanghai; died 18 December 1920 in Colchester, Essex, England), and Frederick Edward Richards (born about 1864 in Shanghai).
In August 1850 Richards advertised that a reading room for shipmasters had been established in his hotel.
By 1854 Richards was the owner of the Pekin, a lugger-rigged vessel, that successfully eluded a fleet of Chinese pirate junks, on a voyage originating in Shanghai on 10 June, with Richards on board. After an auction in Shanghai on 27 March 1855, Richards purchased the ship Margaret Mitchell, which had run aground off Woosung on 1 February 1855 and required extensive repairs to make it seaworthy, from its master, Thomas Jameson for $20,000, (then worth nearly £7,000), which was paid on 16 April 1855. Additionally, repairs were estimated initially to cost at least $40,000, but increased due to further damage after a collision with the dry dock gate at Shanghai on 4 April 1855.
Richards had to mortgage the ship and other assets to finance the purchase, repairs and subsequent return voyage to England at an interest rate of 24%. On 26 March 1855 John Dewsnap, an American engineer who had constructed the dry dock at Hongkou in 1852, defended successfully a lawsuit brought by Jameson in the United States Consular Court of Shanghai for $20,000 for his part in causing the damage in the collision with the dry dock's gate. After 15 September 1855, the Margaret Mitchell left Shanghai under the control of ship master Captain Dewey Stiles, and after stops at Canton; Whampoa, where a mortgage of £1,336 was obtained from Anthon & Co. to finance insurance of the freight and the ship; Batavia; and Amsterdam, arrived in London on 23 May 1856, by which time Richards had discharged the mortgage obtained in Hong Kong. Two of Rebecca's brothers, James Mackenzie (born about 1830) and David Mackenzie (born about 1834), assisted in the operation of Richards' business until their termination in September 1857.
After 1 March 1856, Richards announced that his company would be renamed "Richards & Co.", and that during his upcoming absence from Shanghai that James McKenzie would manage his operations in Shanghai, while George D. Symonds would manage his interests in Fuchowfoo, and that both were authorised to sign by procuration. On 15 May 1856, while in New York, Richards' company was declared insolvent by decree of the British Consular Court in Shanghai, and all of his assets (including the Margaret Mitchell and the Richards' Hotel) were assigned provisionally to his creditors, Britons William Herbert Vacher and Charles Wills (died 8 September 1857), acting on behalf of Gilman, Bowman and Jardine, Mathieson respectively. Vacher and Wills authorised James McKenzie to continue to manage the store and ship chandlery "under inspection". By early June 1856 Richards planned to leave New York to return to England in order to sell the Margaret Mitchell to ameliorate his financial situation. However, Richards' ownership of the Margaret Mitchell was disputed by Thomas Mitchell of Glasgow, the original owner, and by another group who had purchased it from Stiles, the ship's master, upon its return to England.
William Herbert Vacher (born ca.1826 in London; died 1899 in Hastings, England), a leading freemason, was a member of the Shanghai Municipal Council from 1855–1856, and represented Gilman and Bowman, a British hong established as a tea trader in 1840, and was by 1859 chairman of the influential Shanghai British Chamber of Commerce. In 1859 Vacher is listed as resident in Ningpo. Vacher retired as a partner in Gilman & Bowman in 1865, and returned to England, where he became the first manager of the London office of the newly established The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation later that year. In 1873 Vacher was forced to resign when it was discovered that he "had made disastrous speculations in South American railways, and had lost both on his own and the bank's account" £81,000.
Charles Wills (died 9 September 1857), a British trader who had been resident in Shanghai since before 1850, and freemason, was a representative of Jardine, Matheson & Co.. In 1856 the Soochow Creek Bridge Company, a consortium of foreign merchants that was headed by Wills, built a wooden draw bridge crossing Suzhou creek, that linked the British Settlement in the south and the unofficial American Settlement in the north.Solvency
On 16 August 1857, Daniel Brooke (D.B.) Robertson (born 1810; died 27 March 1881 at Piccadilly), the British Consul of Shanghai announced that Richards' insolvency was superseded with the approval of his creditors. The following day, Richards announced that he was personally resuming control and management of his business in China. In August 1858 the Privy Council determined that the Margaret Mitchell had been sold legally to Richards and was now the property of his insolvency assignees.
According to Shanghai historian Peter Hibbard, the completion of the Wills Bridge made a good profit for the consortium members and allowed the expansion of the over-crowded Settlement, and also "bestowed civilising influences on a lawless area often compared to America's Wild West, which was renowned for the rough antics of its 'floating' drunken seafarer population." Wills, who owned land on the northern side of Suzhou Creek, benefited from increased property values. During 1857 Wills leased a lot that was slightly larger than 22 mu (about 3.6 acres), in a section of reclaimed mud flats in Hongkew east of Broadway (now Daming Lu) on the northern banks of the Soochow Creek, that was adjacent to the new Wills Bridge, and faced the Suzhou Creek near its confluence with the Huangpu River, "at a huge profit for the building of the Astor House Hotel." While returning to England, Wills died of dysentery on 9 September 1857 on board the P & O steamer SS Bengal between India and Suez. At the time of his death, Wills had extensive holdings of land north of the Soochow Creek, which became known as the Wills' Estate. The executors and trustees of the Wills' Estate were George Wills and Samuel Wills, both of Bristol, England, and Howell Wills by 1884.
On 24 September 1857 the Shanghai Literary and Scientific Society, which in 1858 became the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, had its first meeting at the Hotel, and continued meeting there until 1871, when it relocated to its own premises on Museum Road (now Huqiu Lu).The Astor House Hotel (1859-1959)
Main article: History of the Astor House Hotel (Shanghai) 1858-1900Peter Felix Richards (1858-1861)
In February 1858 Richards' store and the Richards Hotel and Restaurant were relocated to the site leased from Charles Wills on the northern banks of the Suzhou Creek, near its confluence with the Huangpu River in the Hongkou District of Shanghai. Probably 'because of an unbeatable combination of lower priced land and convenient access caused by the construction of Wills' Bridge." The new Hotel was a two-story East India style building. On 5 February 1858 Richards announced that:
"We beg to give notice that we have removed from our Establishment to the Premises expressly built for us, immediately after crossing the New Bridge between the British and American Consulates. The Premises command a beautiful view of the whole front settlement and of the surrounding country and down towards Woosung as far as the eye can reach. They have also a commanding and central river position remarkably well adapted for Shipping Business; we Have spared no expense to make the Store convenient and safe for Goods."
By 1859 the hotel was renamed (in English) the Astor House Hotel, while retaining the original Chinese name until 1959. According to actress Grace Hawthorne, who stayed at the Astor House in 1894: "The man who named it, some thirty years ago or so, had been to New-York and found in the Astor House a model of elegance and hotel excellence. He returned to Shanghai, and forthwith named his hotel the Astor House. According to John B. Powell, "He christened his establishment in honor of the then most famous hotel in the United States, the Astor House in New York; however, he was compelled to add the designation "hotel," as the fame of the New York hostelry had not yet reached the China coast. Aside from the name, the two establishments had little in common."
Even after the sale of the Astor House Hotel to Englishman Henry W. Smith on 1 January 1861, Richards and his wife were still residents of the Astor House at the time that their seven year old daughter, Helen Mary Richards, died on 10 February 1861. By 17 March 1861, Richards had relocated to Tientsin, where he had established himself as an "Agent ... to carry on business generally with the Chinese in Imports and Exports, having had twenty one years experience in business in China and being acquainted with the language sufficiently to transact business without the assistance of Compradors." In March 1862 Richards was described as "an enterprising speculator". By 1863 Richards was back in Shanghai, when his son Peter Felix MacKenzie Richards (died 18 December 1920 in Colchester, Essex, England) was born. Another son, Frederick Edward was also born in China by 1865. Richards died on 14 November 1868 in Shanghai, and left an estate valued at less than £2. Subsequently Rebecca and their five surviving children relocated to Britain.Henry W. Smith (1861-1868)
On 1 January 1861 the Astor House Hotel was sold to Englishman Henry W. Smith, In 1862 Smith advertised the Hotel as a "first-class FAMILY HOTEL, ... [that] is unsurpassed, comprising every comfort and convenience, particularly for Gentleman and Families travelling." Under Smith's ownership, there was increased foreign patronage due to his innovations such as a twelve table billiard room, and a public bar, and dances and plays held at the Hotel. Urban myth suggests that "in the nineteenth century, you could order opium from room service at the Astor House." However, despite being one of the better hotels in Shanghai, the lack of internal plumbing was known to cause death to some guests, including members of the Japanese ship Senzai maru who stayed at the Astor House Hotel for ten weeks in 1862: "Three crew members died, at least one from dysentery contracted as a result of inadvertently imbibing the filthy waters of the Wusong River in which everything they consumed had been washed. On 17 September 1862 "a fatal case of cholera occurred in the house", causing the illness of "the wife of the proprietor of the hotel ... [who] was seized with the same disease" and of the seventeen military officers of the 31st Regiment who were billeted at the Astor House Hotel, "nine of them were attacked with sickness, and three of the number invalided." During 1863 the swamps and "enormous pools of filthy and stagnant water which... stretched for a considerable distance behind the Astor House" were filled, thus ameliorating the situation.
From 20 June 1863 Smith advertised that the Astor House was for sale. Smith indicated in the North-China Herald:
"The business of the Hotel la good; and the only reason the proprietor wishes to dispose of it, is in consequence of ill health, which necessitates his departure from Shanghai."On 21 September 1863, the American Concession, which was centred on Hongkou, merged with the British concession to form the International Settlement, thus bringing the Astor House under that jurisdiction. By November 1863 the Hotel was managed by John Mahon. By 1865 a gasworks was established on North Tibet Road by the British-owned Shanghai Gas Co., Ltd, which had been formed in 1862. On 1 November 1865 coal gas was first used to artificially illuminate the streets of Shanghai, earning the city the nickname "the city without nights." The gas that lit the street lamps was known as "earth fire" (dihuo). In 1867 the Astor House Hotel was the earliest in Shanghai to use coal gas to provide lighting. Ludovic (1846-1929), the Marquis de Beauvoir, who formed a negative view of Shanghai itself while staying at the Astor House in March 1867 described it as "the least horrible hotel in this place". About that time the Astor House Hotel received a more favourable evaluation: "Several hotels or taverns exist in the different settlements, but the only establishment of high pretensions is the Astor House, situated in the Hong-kew Settlement, close by the bridge crossing the Soochow Creek. Good apartments and tolerable accommodation can be found here by strangers. Charges, about $3 per diem. Despite Smith's best efforts, the Astor House remained unsold by August 1867.
When Charles Carleton Coffin (1823-1918), a journalist at The Boston Journal, stayed at the Astor House in early 1868, he described the Hotel as "a building not quite so imposing as its namesake of New York, but clean and comfortable, with good fare, a courteous landlord and excellent landlady from Old England, who do their best to make our stay agreeable."George Baker (1868-1873)
By October 1868 George Baker was the proprietor of the Astor House.DeWitt Clinton Jansen (1873-1894)
By August 1873 the Astor House Hotel was purchased by DeWitt Clinton Jansen (born at Shawangunk, New York on 8 November 1840; died 6 November 1894 in Shanghai), "a Hudson River Dutchman", a former merchant sailor, and colporteur in China's interior, and by 1871 Tide-Surveyor in the Imperial Maritime Customs Service in Shanghai. Jansen and his wife, Ellen McGrath (died 12 November 1918 in Shanghai) and their seven children, had been residents of Shanghai since 1871. Jansen was a polyglot, fluent in a number of Chinese dialects, and assisted in the preparation of an 1871 Pekinese-English dictionary. Due to their familiarity with Shanghai and other parts of China, Jansen offered an information and travel service. Jansen was a member of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society from 1877 to his death in 1894, and the Honorary Curator of the Shanghai Museum from 1881 to 1883. Jansen was first elected a member of the Shanghai Municipal Council on 16 January 1890.
Egerton Laird indicated in 1875: "I am stopping at the Astor House, which seems clean and comfortable." Another traveller opined: "We took up our abode at the Astor House, which is very comfortable, with a tolerable table d'hote, and not as expensive as we expected an Eastern hotel to be." On 15 November 1875 the Shanghai Municipal Council decided to re-name the part of Hongkew road north and east from Whangpoo road, "Astor road" (later Jin Shan Lu).Enlargement (1876)
In 1876 the Astor House Hotel was enlarged, with fifty new rooms added that were often used to accommodate newly arrived families who were awaiting the completion of their own residences. At the time of the US presidential election on 6 November 1876, there were 85 American adult male citizens resident at the Astor House, making it also a center of celebrations of the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1876. The Hotel was illuminated by both Chinese lanterns and colored fires manufactured by C.S. Churton & Co." After the 1876 expansion the hotel was "four large neo-Renaissance brick buildings linked together by stone passageways." American travel writer Thomas Wallace Knox (1835-1896) recorded this description of the Astor House Hotel after his stay in 1879. He found it
a less imposing fare than the Astor House of New York, though it occupied more ground, and had an evident determination to spread itself. A large space of greensward was enclosed by a quadrangle of one-story buildings, which formed the hotel, and consequently it required a great deal of walking to get from one part of the house to the opposite side.Some rooms were entered from a veranda on the side of the court-yard.On the other side there was a balcony…As this balcony was well provided with chairs and lounges, it was a pleasant resort on a warm afternoon. The house was kept by an American, but all his staff of servants was Chinese.
In January 1877 plans were announced to construct a Turkish Bath on the Seward Road frontage as part of the expansion of the Astor House. In 1881 Jansen renewed his lease of the Astor House Hotel with the trustees of the Wills' Estate for a period of thirty years.
In its desire to be the premier hotel in Shanghai, "the Astor House was
eager to be the first in Shanghai with the latest mod cons." On 26 July 1882, "the revolution of electric lighting was introduced to Shanghai" by the American-owned Shanghai Electric Co. which had been founded earlier in 1882. The first public display of electric lights was made in Shanghai on 26 July 1882.
When Shanghai lit its first fifteen electric street lamps, seven were installed in the Astor House Hotel, making it the first building in China to be lit by electricity. In 1883 Shanghai became the first city in China to provide piped water to its residents. In 1880 The Shanghai Waterworks Co., Ltd., was incorporated in England, with operations commencing in Shanghai in 1883, and running water supplied from 1 August 1883. The water was pumped from the Whangpoo River, filtered to a level of 99.99 per cent purity. The Astor House Hotel was the first building in Shanghai to install running water. About this time accommodation was $3 a day.
In 1882 the Astor House hosted the first Western circus in China. Benjamin David Benjamin, a Sephardic Jew, and colleague of Elias David Sassoon, in his efforts to acculturate to the prevailing British society in Shanghai, frequently entertained his friends at the Astor House from 1879 to 1883, "running up bills of as much as $70-90 for the evening". By the end of 1887, the Astor House was described by Simon Adler Stern as "the principal American hotel in Shanghai" The Astor House Hotel was "a landmark of the white man in the Far East, like Raffles Hotel in Singapore."
During 1889, The Shanghai Land Investment Company Limited (SLIC), which was formed in December 1888, purchased the "extensive estate known as the Wills' Estate, which includes the site of the Astor House Hotel, and possesses one of the best business situations in Hongkew" for 390,000 taels.
By the end of November 1889 Jansen agreed with the Shanghai Land Investment Company to transfer the Astor House Hotel and its land to the proposed Shanghai Hotel Company (SHC).
The purchase, which have been funded by the issue of shares to the public and with a loan from the SLIC, would have included the purchase of Jansen's lease, which had 21 years to run, the goodwill of his business, and all of the furniture and trading stock, in exchange for half in SHC shares, and the balance in annual payments of 5,000 taels.
To allow for the expansion of the Astor House and the construction of a new one-hundred bedroom hotel and large assembly hall, the SHC would also purchase the land at the back of the Hotel, so that the property would extend from Whangpoo (Huangpu) Road to Broadway, and from Astor Road to Seward Road.
Until the necessary land was purchased, Jansen would continue to operate the Hotel for SHC until it was necessary to clear way for the new building. However, in March 1890 the North-China Herald reported: "We are requested to state that the applications for shares not having been sufficiently numerous, the formation of the proposed Shanghai Hotel. Company, Limited, is to be abandoned for the present.
By 1890, "For foreigners the Astor House was the center of social activity... .At the Astor House bar tradespeople gathered every morning for an eleven-o'clock drink. It was at the Astor House that the important foreign balls were always held, in the banquet hall, but the Chinese at that time did not join in these revels. Renovations to the Astor Hall were completed in time for the annual St. Andrew's Ball on Wednesday, 30 November 1892.
It was described as "a very handsome room with a height of some 30 feet, with a pretty stage at one end, the dancing floor being 100 by 43 feet. . . It was fairly well lighted with gas, and the only possible improvement in the Hall itself would have been the substitution of electric lighting. At that time Mr Arthur was the manager, By 1892 and Frederick J. Buenzle, an American sailor, rescued from assault by Jansen, was the night manager at the Ascot House until "the sudden and untimely death" of Jansen. Buenzle left Shanghai on the steamship Empress of India bound for Philadelphia in July 1895.
Frenchman Monsieur U. Videau, who had been a partner in L'Hôtel des Colonies at Rue du Consulat (Jinling Dong Lu) et Rue Montauban (Sichuan Nan Lu) in the French Concession until 1891, also assisted in managing the hotel by 1894. In 1894 the Astor House was described as a "first class hotel in all these words imply" and was listed in Moses King's "Where to Stop.": A Guide to the Best Hotels of the World.
On 6 November 1894, during an installation meeting of the Masonic lodge, where he was the first District Deputy Grand Master, Jansen "suddenly fell back in his chair, gave one or two gasps for breath" and died. Jansen Road (now Fulu Street) in the Yangtszepoo District was named in his honour.Ellen McGrath Jansen (1894-1900)
After her husband's death, Ellen Jansen decided to stay in Shanghai and to operate the Astor House. Ellen purchased a home at 2 Jessfield Road (now Wanhangdu Lu), Shanghai, where her children lived with her. The Astor House remained in Ellen's control until 1 November 1900. By 1896 the Hotel was managed by Lewis M. Johnson (born Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada), who was responsible for booking the first motion pictures to be shown in Shanghai (and probably in China) on Saturday 22 May 1897, in Astor Hall in the Astor House Hotel. The Animatoscope, then considered "Edison's greatest invention", was presented by Harry Welby Cook, and accompanied by pianist Albert Linton.
On 5 November 1897, China's first prom was hosted at the Astor House, which celebrated the 60th birthday of Cixi, the Emperor Dowager, thus "ending the social stricture that women should not attend social events"; In 1899, Methodist Bishop Cyrus Foss described the Astor House as "the best hotel in Shanghai, and quite good. All the servants are sleek, neatly dressed Chinamen." Captain Sydney Jackson (1863-1928) who stayed at the Hotel on Easter Sunday 2 April, 1899, indicated it was "delightfully situated near the Public Gardens and much patronized by the Americans whose custom is chiefly catered for, this hotel is very comfortable and is undoubtedly the 'smartest' in the place, but the artificially heated rooms and hermetically closed doors and windows are rather trying to lovers of fresh air. We were charged sixteen dollars a day for the two." An 1899 travel guide described the Astor House: "This Hotel, entirely newly built and furnished, contains forty two front-facing Bed-rooms, Billiard and Dining-rooms." One traveller indicated in 1900, "the Astor-House Hotel at Shanghai, it might be called European with a few Chinese characteristics. We of course had Chinese to wait on us here". In August 1900 the manager was Mr. Loureiro.
On 1 November 1900 Mrs Ellen Jansen sold the Astor House Hotel for 175,000 taels (about US$130.000) to Frenchman Monsieur Auguste Vernon (born 1851 in France; died 3 July 1918 at Kamakura, Japan), whoowned another hotel in Hankow, who had previously managed the Hotel Bella Vista in Macau from its opening on 1 July 1890 until he left due to serious illness. Vernon retained all of the principal staff. At that time of the change of ownership, the Hotel was considered the first first-class hotel in Shanghai, and "the best hotel in all the Orient", but Vernon introduced several improvements, including a series of "Elite Dinners" accompanied by the Shanghai Municipal Symphony. Vernon added a suite of eighteen bedrooms and saloons to the Hotel. In 1901 the first telephones were installed in Shanghai, with the Astor House having the first telephone used. In the first Yellow Pages telephone directory published in Shanghai, its number was "200". The North-China Herald praised the Astor House Hotel in January 1902: "it is a great thing that we have at last in Shanghai a hotel which is a credit to the place, and whose vast improvement has stimulated its rivals to renewed efforts to satisfy the travelling and homeless public". However, later
In the first six months of 1901 the Astor Astor House Hotel had generated $90,000.61 profit, while its sister hotel in Hankow made just over $10,000.
The Astor House Hotel Company (1901-1915)
Main article: History of the Astor House Hotel (Shanghai) 1900-1922
Auguste Vernon (1901-1902)
In July 1901 Vernon floated privately the Astor House Hotel Co. Ltd. with a capital of $450,000. 4,500 shares were issued for $100 each, and were fully subscribed with Vernon or his nominees taking 4,494 shares, with the remaining shares purchased by six separate individuals. The shares were soon trading for up to $300 each. The Astor House Hotel Ltd. was "incorporated under the Company Ordinances of Hong Kong", with Vernon becoming the managing director.
As a response to the severe shortage of accommodation in the rapidly growing International Settlement, later in July 1901 Vernon was able to convince the company to negotiate the extension of the current nine year lease of the hotel and its property it had with the Land Investment Company for an additional twenty-one years, of the entire block, which included all the Chinese shops at the rear of the hotel, thus greatly expanding its holding but also increasing substantially the company's debt. Vernon intended to demolish the Chinese shops to allow the construction of a new three-storied wing containing 250 rooms, thus increasing its capacity to 300 rooms, with the ground floor of the new wing to provide first class accommodation for retail stores. Debentures with a return of 6% were issued in July 1901 to finance the expansion of the hotel, with the expectation that the increased number of rooms would generate a surplus of income to repay the dentures expeditiously.
In 1902, after less than two years of leadership, Vernon retired because of ill-health, and left owing the company "a considerable sum of money". By 1904 Vernon was living in Tangku (Tanggu), and was the owner of the steamship George, which was seized that year off Liaotishan as a prize of war by the Empire of Japan, after transferring goods to Russia during the Russo-Japanese War. Subsequently Vernon was manager of the Hotel de France and from 1916 the Keihin Hotel in Kamakura, Japan.
As Vernon had planned, the Chinese shops that occupied the newly leased property at the rear of the existing hotel were demolished, however the new northern section of the hotel contained only 120 rooms, less than half of the number that Vernon had envisaged. An outbreak of cholera in the city resulted in few guests when the northern wing was opened in November 1903. It was managed originally by "an eccentric American" octaroon, Louis Ladow (died in China on November 20, 1928), who had been imprisoned in Folsom Prison, who subsequently built the Grand Carleton Hotel in Shanghai in 1920. Under Ladow's supervision, his bartenders served "the finest cocktails in the Far East", a reputation it maintained through the 1930s.
In 1904 the Hotel was considered "by far the best hotel in the whole of the East, including Japan." At this time Mr A. Haller was the manager. About this time the Hotel's managers wrote letters "complaining to the foreign-run Shanghai Municipal Council about "natives," "coolies" and "rickshaws" making too much noise for patrons to bear."
Captain Frederick W. Davies (1906-1907)
By July 1906 retired British naval officer Captain Frederick W. Davies (born about 1850; died 16 January 1935 in Shanghai), who had previously been a sea captain on the NYK European Service, and associate manager of the Grand Hotel in Yokohama, had become manager of the Astor House, and "a more genial and hospitable gentleman never carried out the duties of that position." Room rates were between $7 and $10 per day (Mexican). The hotel employed 254 people, with each hotel department "under special European supervision". The 1904 announcement of the rebuilding of the Central Hotel (reopened in 1909 as the Palace Hotel) as a luxury hotel on the Bund, and the demolition of the nearby Garden Bridge, and construction of the current Waibaidu Bridge in 1907, which involved the resumption of part of the Astor House Hotel's property, forced the owners of the Astor House Hotel to begin extensive renovations.
Walter Brauen (1907-1910)
From February 1907 the hotel's manager was Swiss citizen Mr. Walter Brauen, a skilled linguist who had been recruited from Europe. The existing hotel was described as "the leading hotel of Shanghai"., but has an unpretentious appearance." The company decided to embark on a completely new hotel, "fitting of Shanghai's growth and importance" and "better than any in the Far East." In 1908, before any reconstruction or renovations, the Astor House was described in glowing terms:
Leading straight from the entrance to the main residential portion of the house is a long glass arcade. Upon one side of this are the offices, where the clerks and commissioners will attend promptly and courteously to every want; upon the other is a luxuriously furnished lounge, and, adjoining this, the reading, smoking, and drawing rooms.
The dining room has accommodations for five hundred persons. It is lighted with hundreds of small electric lamps, whose rays are reflected by the large mirrors arranged around the walls, and when dinner is in progress, and the band is playing in the gallery,the scene is both bright and animated. There are some two hundred bedrooms, each with a bathroom adjoining, all of which look outward, facing either the city or the Whangpoo River. Easy access is gained to the various floors upon which they are situated by electric elevators. The hotel... generates its own electricity and has its own refrigerating plant."
Architects and civil engineers Davies & Thomas (established in 1896 by Gilbert Davies and C.W, Thomas), were responsible for the re-building of the three principal wings of the Astor House Hotel. The Astor House Hotel was to be restored to a neo-classical Baroque structure, making it once again "the finest hotel in the Far East". The new addition (the Annex) was based on plans drawn by "Shanghai's leading architects of the time", British architects and civil engineers, Brenan Atkinson and Arthur Dallas (born 9 January 1860 in Shanghai; died 6 August 1924 in London), established as Atkinson & Dallas in 1898. After the death of principal architect Brenan Atkinson in 1907, he was replaced by his brother, G.B. Atkinson. The intention was to rebuild the hotel "on modern lines", using reinforced concrete as the primary building material. Included in the plans were: "the dining room, facing the Soochow Creek, is to be extended along the whole front of the building. Winter gardens are being constructed, the writing and smoking rooms, and the private bar and billiard room will be enlarged and the kitchen placed upon the roof. A new reinforced concrete wharf measuring 1,180 feet long and 200 feet wide was also constructed.
William Howard Taft
Helen Herron Taft
Prior to the new construction, future US President William Howard Taft, then US Secretary of War, and his wife, Helen Herron Taft, were honoured at a banquet organised by the American Association of China in the large dining room at the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai on 8 October 1907, with over 280 in attendance, at that time "the largest affair of the kind ever given in China." During the dinner, Taft made a significant speech on the relationship between the United States and China, and supporting the Open Door foreign policy previously advocated by John Hay. Organized Sunday School work in China was born at Shanghai on 4 May 1907. "This beginning of Sunday-school history in China took place in Room 128 of the Astor House, Shanghai, occupied at that time by Mr. [Frank A.] Smith."
The opening of a tram line in March 1908 over the new Garden bridge along Broadway (now Daming Lu) past the Astor House Hotel by the Shanghai British Trolley Company, greatly increased both access and business. Also in this period, the first western movies shown in China were shown at the Astor House Hotel. On 9 June 1908, a motion picture with some sound was first shown in China in the open air in the hotel's garden.
Construction finally commenced in November 1908, and was scheduled to be completed by July 1909. However, delays postponed completion until November 1910.
In September 1910, days after the annual meeting of the Astor House Hotel Co., Brauen "ran off with a huge chunk of hotel funds just three months before the hotel opened, six months behind schedule, in January 1911." A total of $957 had been embezzled by Brauen. A warrant for his arrest was issued by the Mixed Court of Shanghai, but Brauen had already left Shangha on a Japanese steamship. Brauen was spotted in Nagasaki on Thursday, 14 September 1910, but evaded capture. At the annual meeting of Astor Hotel Co. in September 1911, Mr. F. Airscough, the chairman, reported that Brauen had been "a thoroughly capable hotel Manager" but who had "left our employment under most regrettable circumstances".
Costing $360,000, the restoration was completed in December 1910, and the official opening was on Monday, 16 January 1911. The North-China Herald reported:
The enduring impression of a city is largely given by the buildings that first catch the eye. The new Astor House Extension will greatly assist in bearing in upon the visitor that he is approaching no mean city. Favoured by its site, it stands out boldly and inspires a belief in the future of a city that can support such a huge caravanserai, in addition to others. The Shanghai resident regards it with equal admiration and also with a sense of personal pride. That gigantic edifice stands where, in the memory of many still living, the swamp-birds called defiantly to the struggling settlement that was finding its feet on the other side of the creek. It personifies to the resident the verification of the brightest dreams that in the old days the most daring dared to dream. A huge, but stately seal has in a sense been set upon the city's aspirations, and it stands at once as an emblem of accomplishment and an example for emulation.
Advertising itself as the Waldorf Astoria of the Orient', its new 211-room building, with a 500-seat dining room. Another advertisement described the Astor House Hotel in even more glowing terms: "Largest, Best and Most Modern Hotel in the Far East. Main Dining Room Seats 500 Guests, and is Electrically Cooled. Two hundred Bedrooms with Hot and Cold Baths Attached to Each Room. Cuisine Unexcelled; Service and Attention Perfect; Lounge, Smoking and Reading Rooms; Barber and Photographer on the Premises. Rates from $6; Special Monthly Terms." An advertisement in Social Shanghai in 1910 bragged, "The Astor House Hotel is the most central, popular and modern hotel in Shanghai. At the time of its re-opening in January 1911, the refurbished Astor House Hotel was described as follows:
Astor House Hotel Shanghai Dining Room
The building has five storeys and attics on the Whangpoo Road frontage and four storeys on the Astor Road side. On the ground floor, at the corner of Whangpoo Road and the Broadway, is a handsomely appointed public bar-room and buffet, 59 ft. by 51 ft.; in the centre, with main entrance from Whangpoo Road, is a magnificent lounge ball, 70 ft. by 60 ft., and at the East end are the Hotel office and the manager's office, with the secretary's office, in mezzanine, above the latter. The basement fronting Astor Road contains store-rooms, the steam-heating apparatus, and motor fire-pump. The grand staircase, with marble dado and red panels on white background, leads upward to passenger lifts, a ladies cloak room, a very prettily furnished ladies' sitting room, a reading room with several comfortable sofas and easy chairs upholstered in leather, a private buffet with a polished teakwood bar, and a large billiard room. Farther up the grand staircase is the main dining hall, almost the whole length of the building with a gallery and verandah on the second floor and well lighted by a barreled ceiling of glass. On the Astor Road side is a handsome banqueting hall and reception rooms, both decorated in ivory and gold, and six private dining rooms. There were six service elevators, bedrooms with private sitting rooms, and luxury suites under the dome.
Additionally, the Hotel now had a 24 hour hot water supply, some of the earliest elevators in China, and each of the 250 guest rooms had its own telephone, as well as an attached bath. A major feature of the reconstruction was the creation of the Peacock Hall, "the city's first ballroom", "the most commodious ballroom in Shanghai".The newly restored Astor House Hotel was renowned for its lobby, special
dinner-parties, and balls." According to Peter Hibbard, "Despite their architectural bravura and decorative grandeur, the formative years of both the Palace and Astor House Hotels were overshadowed by an inability to cater for the fast changing tastes of Shanghai society and her visitors". In 1911 John H. Russell, Jr. told his daughter, the future Brooke Astor, that the Hotel offered "the finest service in the world", and that in response to her question about "a man dressed in a white skirt and blue jacket beside every second door", was told by Russell: "They are the 'boys.' ... When you want your breakfast or your tea, just open the door and tell them."
William Logan Gerrard (1910-1915)
In October 1910 Scotsman William Logan Gerrard, who was a long-time resident of Shanghai, was appointed the new manager, but severe illness forced him into hospital for several weeks, before being invalided home temporarily. Soon after his release from the hospital, Gerrard married Gertrude Heard on Tuesday 19 July 1911 at the St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in the French Concession. That evening they departed on their honeymoon in the USA and Scotland, and returned to Shanghai early in 191