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Nanjing Road lays bare signs of its former glory
From:Shanghai Daily  |  2020-06-10 08:29

Century-old English signage from what was once Shanghai’s biggest real estate company was found during ongoing extension work on the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall.

The words “CHINA REALTY CO.LD” were painted on multiple concrete beams on a historical building at the corner of Nanjing Road E. and Jiangxi Road M.

The white letters were covered by a layer of red tiles from a subsequent refurbishment.

Other business signage from roughly the same period has also been discovered during redevelopment work. One on Nanjing Road E. belonged to the Shanghai Lace Co.

Renovation work on the realty-signed historical building was suspended after the discovery, an official in charge of the project told Shanghai Daily.

“We will wait until authorities figure out appropriate protection plans,” he said.

Many local residents and citizens and tourists have been taking photos of the old signage, which is on a building that later became a branch of Xinghuoriye, China’s first 24-hour store dating back to 1968.

“The signage on the building has been changed many times, but I’ve never seen this original one,” said Zhu Shengrong, a senior resident who has been living in the nearby Ci’anli neighborhood for over half a century. “It should be protected because it records the history and story behind Nanjing Road.”

Xue Liyong, a researcher with the Shanghai History Museum, has been digging up the history of the building.

China Realty Co was established in 1902 by John Calvin Ferguson (1866-1945), an American scholar, art collector and businessman. The company became one of the most powerful real estate firms in Shanghai, Xue said.

In its heydays in the 1930s, the company handled the rental business of more than 200 local properties, including apartments, lane houses and street shops. Its clients included International Savings Society, a French financial institution and Jewish tycoon Silas Aaron Hardoon, according to Xue’s research.

Hardoon, owner of the building, decided to build an additional floor on the original two-story structure around 1922 as downtown property prices were increasing.

In a 1920s photo provided by Xue, the letters on the signage of the building look the same as the ones recently exposed.

In the 1940s, the corner structure housed the Golden Castle stock company, and in the 1980s, it was home to Yuancheng Food store. The new branch of the famous Xinghuoriye food store opened there in 2000.

Xinghuo means “spark” and riye translates as “day and night.” The name refers to a well-known letter written by late Chairman Mao Zedong that contained the phrase: “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”

That shop has since relocated to the intersection of Xizang and Beijing roads. It still specializes mainly in foods such as biscuits, spiced beans and seaweed-flavored fried dough twists from a venerated Shanghai bakery factory. It also sells traditional favorites like White Rabbit candy, pear syrup candy and a chocolate filled with malted milk. Some of its foods are older products often hard to find elsewhere.

“The corner building is a microcosm of the commercial development of Nanjing Road,” Xue said. “Many of the buildings there rent out ground floors and use upper floors as residences or offices.”

Indeed, some residents are still living in the upper stories of the corner structure.

Xue said renovation work on the building is quite essential and urgent because the structure has suffered from age, especially after the additional floor was built.

The restoration work is part of the extension of Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall. It is scheduled to open to the public in September, featuring new lighting, more seating and upgraded businesses.

Gao Yun, Party secretary of Huangpu District, said the pedestrian street, once fully completed, will become “a new highlight and calling card” of Shanghai.

Nanjing Road E., originally built in 1851 as one of the city’s first modern roads, is being extended eastward to Sichuan Road M. from its current end at Henan Road M. It will later be extended to the Bund to accommodate a growing number of visitors.

The street, which currently stretches just over a kilometer between Xizang and Henan roads, received 200 million visitors in 2019.

Upgraded businesses will highlight the extended pedestrian street, including new specialty shops opening along adjacent streets such as Jiangxi Road M. That will distribute shoppers more widely and activate the dynamics of the surrounding area, Gao said.

Nanjing Road was originally called Park Lane and extended from the Bund to the racetrack on today’s Henan Road. It was further extended to Zhejiang Road in 1854 and to Xizang Road in 1862.

Nanjing Road E. was converted into a pedestrian street in September 1999 and quickly became a popular venue for local residents and tourists alike.

Last year, the walking street was listed by the Ministry of Commerce as one of China’s first pedestrian roads to receive a national accolade for high-quality, tasteful renovation.

The entire Nanjing Road E. is now covered by 5G, the next generation of mobile communication technology. That plays a key role in its future development.