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The `Old South' in Shanghai
21/2/2005 13:00

Shanghai Daily news


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The house at 338 Huaihai Road W. (top) is a rare example in Shanghai of a residence built in the style of the mansions of the American South. One of the staircases before (above right) and after the buildingĄ¯s renovation which was completed five months ago.

The style of the mansion in Margaret Mitchell's bestseller `Gone with the Wind' was rebuilt in Shanghai more than 70 years ago by an American lawyer. Michelle Qiao walks through the building looking for traces of Scarlett O'Hara.
The mansion at 338 Huaihai Road W. inside the grounds of the No. 455 Military Hospital may remind visitors of the scene at the beginning of the blockbuster movie ``Gone with the Wind'' set on the Southern plantation of ``Tara'' on a bright April afternoon in 1861.
The Shanghai residence also has an ample porch with six giant columns, three windows set in the roof and is surrounded by a lush garden. The red tiles on the roof are in sharp contrast with the white walls which are as pure as the magnolia-white skin of Scarlett O'Hara, the heroine of the Hollywood Civil War movie.
``It's built in typical American Southern manor style like Scarlett's home in `Gone with the Wind','' says Qian Zonghao, an expert in architectural history at the Shanghai History Museum. ``Southern plantation owners used to watch over their fields through the roof windows and the porch was designed to cope with the hot weather in America's South.
``Shanghai has many British country-style or Spanish-style villas but American Southern-style is very rare. I thought it was the only one until last year when I found another similar, smaller white house on the campus of the East China Law University.''
According to the archives, American architect Elliott Hassard designed the mansion in 1931.
``The first owner was an American lawyer named Dallas Lee Franklin who had his own law firm in Shanghai,'' says Qian. ``He even gave himself an academic and fine Chinese name, `Fan Kelin,' which followed the pronunciation of his English name and which he also used as the name for his law firm. His daughter was named C.S. Franklin and she was a columnist for the `Yankee Clipper,' a popular magazine among Americans in Shanghai in the 1930s.
``The family was wealthy, well-known and influential among the foreign communities in Shanghai at that time. They enjoyed Shanghai life. They chose to stay until 1949 and although they had always kept away from politics the legal work gradually dwindled and they had to return to the United States in 1950.''
After the Franklins left, their former residence was occupied by a foundation established by Soong Qing Ling, the late honorary chairperson of the People's Republic of China and the widow of Dr Sun Yat-sen. Next, the military hospital took over and used it as office accommodation. Last year the house was rented out to a plastic surgery business which spent 6 million yuan (US$722,000) on a thorough renovation completed last September.
``When I first saw the house, it was in tatters and oddly painted with layers of apple green, creamy yellow and even red lacquer on the wall,'' says Li Feng, an official of the plastic surgery center who was in charge of the renovation.
``We tried to retain everything that was valuable, including the stone steps on the first floor, the entire staircase, several fireplaces, the wooden floors and the general structure of every room. It was very hard and it might have cost us only half as much if we had demolished the house and then rebuilt it.''
The residence today does indeed look like a beauty salon for the wealthy with its white walls, chestnut-hued European furniture and a German-made air-conditioning system. A variety of imported fillings for breast implant surgery can be seen in fine glass cabinets.
The novel design of the original building remains, including a lovely French window half-way up the staircase. There's a fireplace fashioned from imported white marble and a dressing room on the third floor lined with camphor wood which still gives off an aromatic scent.
In the past, residents and guests used to enter the mansion from the eastern side but today a path in the garden leads visitors to the front door which is set on the southern side.
``We invited a `fengshui' master from Hong Kong who gave us this instruction,'' says Li. ``He said in this way every visitor could appreciate the overall look of this grand house instead of only the eastern side.''
And it's true that the path does offer a better way for one to approach and enjoy a pretty view of this magnolia-white house built in the architectural style of the American South before the Civil War.
And sometimes, when the sun is shining brightly, it seems that in the cool shadows on the porch there is a girl in a green dress wearing green Morocco slippers and with a pair of green, willful eyes.