By Michelle Qiao | 2013-2-27 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
The banking hall is lined by black marble fluted columns.
Enamored of the city's glamorous life, American writer Emily Hahn extended her stay from several weeks to six years - from 1935 to 1940.
Vivacious Hahn had chosen a life around the Bund. She lived in a Chinese bank building on Jiangxi Road, worked as a reporter in the North China Daily News building on the Bund and partied in the Sassoon House.
A recent visit to the Bund amazed me as the Bund today appeared to be dynamic and poetic. Walking back and forth down the waterfront road with so many examples of handsome architecture, my earliest memory of the Bund was suddenly reawakened.
What was really behind each of the buildings, beyond the brief guidebook introductions? I felt a spark of curiosity.
So I decided to restart this column at the Bund, telling stories of the buildings from No. 1 to No. 33, one by one, combining archival extracts and my field visits.
Now please follow Hahn's traces and follow me to explore a bit more of the "billion-dollar skyline."
No. 23 on the Bund, the Bank of China building, stands out as a rare example of Chinese Art Deco on the mile-long Bund dominated by a range of Western-style architecture.
Completed in 1937, it is the only heritage building on the waterfront that was invested by Chinese, co-designed by Chinese and adorned with abundant Chinese elements.
"In the 1930s, the Bund that we see today was completed and the Bank of China was one of the last few strokes on the beautiful skyline," says Tongji University professor Qian Zonghao.
It was powerful architecture, representing a powerful bank. The white building was originally designed to stand 34 stories, around 100 meters, which would be China's tallest building at the time. But the plan had shrank drastically to a 17-story, 70-meter-high structure, which remained one of the most famous myths lingering on the Bund.
It is widely said that magnate Victor Sassoon, owner of the 77-meter-high No. 20 next door, insisted that the new building should not be taller than his Sassoon House.
The Bank of China was founded in 1912 by the Kuomintang in Shanghai as the continuation of the former Da Ching Bank, the Qing Dynasty's (1644-1911) royal bank, which closed soon after the 1911 Revolution.
Initially, the Bank of China used the Da Ching Bank office at 50 Hankou Road. The head office now was formally established in August 1912 in Beijing where it remained until 1928 when it was moved back to Shanghai to the Club Concordia at No. 23 on the Bund.
Formerly a club for the German community, the Club Concordia was designed in 1907 in Gothic revival style by German architect Heinrich Becker, the man behind No. 15. The club closed in 1917 due to World War I. However, images of the fairytale castle-style club often appeared in newspaper advertising for the bank in the 1920s.
As the bank expanded swiftly along with Shanghai's booming economy, the club building could no longer accommodate all the business.
"The power of the Bank of China could compete with American and European banks. We had to build a new-style building to symbolize the modernization of the bank, to showcase our solid foundation and superb credit to China and the world," the bank's president Zhang Jia'ao (Chang Kia-ngau) said at the time.
The original and ambitious blueprint called for a powerful, soaring structure, similar to the American Radiator Co Building in New York designed by Raymond Hood (1881-1934).
It would have towered over Sassoon House and the tycoon is believed to have influenced the Shanghai Municipal Council to deny a building permit for such a tall structure.
The record of a bank meeting in 1934 indicated that top managers were concerned the council might oppose the height.
Citing an issue of The Building magazine in 1935, Professor Qian has uncovered details behind the changed height of what was to be "the first skyscraper to dominate the Shanghai Bund."