Still Standing: 10 Historical Buildings in Shanghai You Have to See

Still Standing: 10 Historical Buildings in Shanghai You Have to See
By Susie Gordon ,

Historical isn’t a word you’d usually associate with Shanghai’s architecture. It’s a thoroughly modern city on the surface – multi-storied apartment blocks, sky-high office towers, glass-fronted malls. But look a bit closer and you’ll find a whole host of interesting buildings. Shanghai’s colonial past has bequeathed the city with lots of architectural styles, from Neoclassical to Art Deco. Here’s a look at ten of the most eye-catching:

1) Gutzlaff Signal Tower 外滩信号台
It’s an arresting sight, the spindly white lighthouse perched at the end of the Bund. The Gutzlaff Signal Tower was originally made of wood, and was part of a complicated weather warning system set up by the French Jesuits to guide ships up and down the Huangpu. The light house we see today was built in 1907 and named after a 17th century German missionary. These days it contains a bar on the top floor, and the sad remains of the once-illustrious Bund Museum down below.

2) Shanghai Park Hotel 上海国际饭店
Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec stamped his mark indelibly onto Shanghai with over 40 Art Deco buildings. The Park Hotel on Nanjing Lu overlooking People’s Square is one of his most famous. Built in 1934, it’s hard to believe, looking at the futuristic monoliths around it, that the 22-storey hotel was actually the tallest building in Shanghai until 1982.

3) Normandie Apartments 诺曼底公寓
The leafy southern section of Huaihai Lu where it crosses Wukang Lu is home to an unusual wedge-shaped building reminiscent of the Flat Iron in New York City. This is the Wukang Building, and is another Hudec landmark. Inside are the Normandie Apartments, also known as the International Savings Society Apartments. Originally there were 76 apartments, each one unique in layout, built in 1924. These days they have been split into 95 separate apartments, home to over 700 residents who are lucky enough to call this piece of history home.

4) Changning Children’s Palace 长宁区少年宫
Former residence of Wang Boqun's concubine. Wang Boqun was a Minister of Railways for Kuomintang. In the era of raging modernism he wanted his girlfriend to live in a fancy Edwardian-Gothic-Tudor-Gingerbread vaulted palace. Only seven years after the construction of this love nest he was accused of corruption and fell from power. In 1945 Wang's real wife managed to get the house 'back' and rented it to British Consulate. (From

The Changning Children’s Palace in Lane 1136 of Yuyuan Lu is one of the most beautiful – a gorgeous triple-fronted mansion in red and white brick. It was originally built in the 1930s as a house for the Kuomintang (KMT)’s Transport Minister, and became the Children’s Palace in 1960.

5) Ohel Moishe Synagogue 摩西会堂
Of the two surviving synagogues in Shanghai (there used to be seven), Ohel Rachel on Shaanxi Lu is the more historically atmospheric, with its ivy-clad façade and air of dereliction. But the Ohel Moishe in Yangpu (62 Changyang Lu) is interesting because it is home to the Jewish Refugee Museum. The synagogue was built in 1907 for Shanghai’s Ashkenazi Jews from Russia, and was a place of worship until the end of the Second World War. It was fully restored as a museum in 2008.

6) Waibaidu Bridge 外白渡桥
The Waibaidu Qiao, or Garden Bridge as it’s known in English, isn’t the most attractive sight in Shanghai. With its low curves and dark buttresses, it resembles a caterpillar crouching over the Suzhou Creek. But the Waibaidu is interesting because it was the first all-steel bridge in China. The technical term for its design is camelback truss, thanks to its double ‘humps’, and it is the only bridge left of its kind in China. This part of the creek near the confluence of the Huangpu was a ferry crossing until 1856, when the Soochow Creek Bridge Company commissioned engineer Charles Wills to design and build a bridge. The wooden viaduct he built was replaced in 1907 by the steel structure we see today, constructed by Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co. who also built the Victoria Falls Bridge over the Zambezi River.

7) Peace Hotel 和平饭店
One of the Bund’s most iconic structures, the Peace Hotel straddles Nanjing Lu, with Sassoon House on the left (the one with the pyramid roof) and the former Palace Hotel just behind it. The Sassoon House part of the complex was built in 1926 by famous tycoon Victor Sassoon, and contained the famous Cathay Hotel which welcomed many famous guests over the years. The Palace Hotel section dates from 1903. The two buildings were united as the Peace Hotel in 1956. These days the façades are covered in scaffolding and construction mesh, but next year the older section will reopen as the Swatch Art Peace Hotel where artists can live and work.

8) >Xujiahui Cathedral 徐家汇天主教堂
Coming up into Xujiahui from Hengshan Lu through the road tunnel, the last thing you’d expect to see is a twin-spired Gothic-style Jesuit cathedral. But St Ignatius has stood proud since 1910. It was begun in 1905 by the French Jesuits who lived in Xujiahui, with the help of English architect William Doyle. During the Cultural Revolution the Red Guards tore down the spires and destroyed most of the stained glass, and the building was used as a grain warehouse. It was reopened in 1978, and now welcomes over 2000 worshippers each Sunday for Mass.

9) Custom House 海关大楼
Another unmistakeable Bund structure is the Custom House with its stout clock tower and austere grey stone frontage. Built in the Neo-Classical style in 1927 by Palmer & Turner, it is a throwback to the days when the Bund was a hive of trade and industry.

10) St. Nicholas’ Orthodox Church 俄国东正教大教堂
This Russian basilica is one of those dreamy buildings that make you forget you’re in Shanghai. Rounding the corner of Gaolan Lu near Sinan Lu, you glimpse St. Nicholas’s blue onion domes and are transported to a distant corner of St. Petersburg. Dating from 1934, the church was used as a washing machine factory during the Mao years, and declared a cultural relic in 1994.

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