Shanghai’s 6 Most Interesting Historic Streets

Shanghai’s 6 Most Interesting Historic Streets
By Susie Gordon , eChinacities.com

Almost every road and avenue in Shanghai has a story behind it, from the colonial thoroughfares of the former French Concession to the wide boulevards of Pudong. But there are several streets that are particularly interesting. These are six of the most historically rich.

Shanghai’s 6 Most Interesting Historic Streets
Photo: flickr.com

1) Fuxing Lu
Stretching across the former French Concession parallel to Huaihai Lu, Fuxing Lu was built in 1914 and named Fahwah Road, after a village that lay at its western end. It was renamed Rue Lafayette in 1918, after an American Revolutionary general, the rather grandly named Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier Lafayette. In the concession era, Rue Lafayette was as busy and vibrant as modern Fuxing Lu, and was a hive of entertainment and activity.

The Canidrome had its main entrance there (and there was a dog hospital at number 664), which hosted a range of leisure activities as well as greyhound racing. It opened in 1928 and could seat 50,000 spectators. Rue Lafayette was also home to the Ballroom, where famous jazz musicians played during the 1930s, including Buck Clayton and his Harlem Gentlemen. Other highlights were the Blackstone Apartments at number 1331, the Portuguese Consulate at number 1050, and the Brazilian Chamber of Commerce at number 1290.

2) Duolun Lu
Duolun Lu is so famous for its history that it is known as "Duolun Historic Street" in many guidebooks. Located in Hongkou district, it curves for just 500 meters and is completely pedestrianized, lined with red-brick buildings from the 1930s. It was known as Darroch Road during its time as part of the American Concession, after Reverend John Darroch – a publisher of religious tracts. It is fitting that the street later became the epicenter for a group of Leftist writers including Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Mao Dun and Qu Qiubai. Possibly the most interesting building on Duolun Lu is the Hong De Tang, or Great Virtue Christian Church, which was built in 1928. It is notable for its mix of Western architecture with Chinese elements, such as upturned eaves. Today, Duolun Lu contains a modern art gallery, a museum, a film café, and a row of antique and curio stalls.

3) Huaihai Lu
One of the busiest streets in downtown Shanghai, Huaihai Lu began life as Avenue Paul Brunat, named after a famous Shanghai doctor. It was renamed Avenue Joffre after the First World War, in honour of Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre, an army general (who also lent his name to a mountain in Canada, a French aircraft carrier, and a type of train). The street was the main artery of the French Concession, and grew busier between the First and Second World Wars, when White Russians arrived and opened businesses there. Among the prominent buildings that lined the road was the Normandie Apartments, which still stands today at the junction of Wukang Lu, and resembles the Flat Iron Building in New York City. Avenue Joffre was also a popular nightlife hub, with clubs like DD's and Pop's Place.

4) Xinhua Lu
For fans of the book and film Empire of the Sun, a walk down Xinhua Lu is a must. It was home to the author J. G. Ballard for part of his time in Shanghai, and is one of the prettiest and leafiest streets in Shanghai. It was part of the External Roads area during the concession era, and was known by several names over the years, including Amherst Avenue and Fahwah Road. Fahwah was the name of a temple and village that used to stand on the site, beside a creek. The creek was covered over in 1958, and became the road we now know as Fahuazhen Lu. A residential street, Xinhua Lu has many beautiful old villas and apartment blocks, many set in lush gardens. J. G. Ballard lived in a mock-Tudor residence, and writer and lawyer Norwood F. Allman had a home nearby.

5) Hengshan Lu
Known nowadays as one of the former French Concession's most vibrant nightlife thoroughfares, Hengshan Lu started out as Avenue Petain during the concession era. Then, as now, it was at the epicenter of the expatriate community, with many establishments and organizations setting up bases there. These included the American Boy Scouts headquarters, the Shanghai American School and the American Community Church. Due to America's neutrality during the First World War, Americans in Shanghai were spurned by the rest of the expat community, so decided to build schools and churches of their own. Avenue Petain contained several beautiful apartment blocks including the Picardie, Dauphine and Georgia, many of which are still standing.

6) Sichuan Bei Lu
Formerly called Szechuen Road North, this street in the north of the city stretched up out of the International Settlement. Like nearby Duolun Lu mentioned above, Szechuan Road North buzzed with intellectual activity. Lu Xun frequented the coffee shops with other writers, and bought books from Japanese intellectual Kanza Uchiyama at the Uchiyama Shoten bookshop. The Gongfei Coffee Shop attracted members of the Japanese and Chinese literary scene, while the many bars and clubs provided after-hours entertainment. One of the most exclusive was the invitation-only Caldbeck McGregor private club, owned by a prolific alcohol importer. There was also a mariners' club called the Captain's Club, and the Portuguese Club Lusitano. For those less tempted by drink, there was a Temperance Hall at number 21A. 

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Keywords: Historic streets Shanghai oldest streets Shanghai most interesting streets Shanghai

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