BRAND STORIES

A Hundred Years of Change, Ending with a Star, at Bvlgari Shanghai's Heritage Building

22 PHOTOS

What today is the Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai's Heritage building was built a century ago for a very different purpose. We look inside the building, at its history and its star-studded present as haute Cantonese restaurant Bao Li Xuan.


SmSh
September 20, 2019

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    The Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai is more than a slick new tower. At the foot of its 47-floor high-rise is a heritage building that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and has now been given a new lease on life after years of renovation.

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    The three-story building is more than a century old and sits on the site of the former Tian Hou temple and diplomatic residence of the Qing dynasty government. The residence was a guesthouse for envoys travelling overseas and the temple was a ritual site, especially for the many Fujianese fishermen who worked in Shanghai at the time.

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    In 1911, the Shanghai military government granted the site to the Shanghai Merchants Association, which eventually became the Chamber of Commerce Shanghai, also known as the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Constructed in 1916 at the cost of 120,000 liang of silver, it was the first of its kind in China at the time and became a gathering place for business magnates from across the country.

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    The building itself was designed by Atkinson & Dallas and combines classic western architecture with a traditional Chinese garden landscape. It’s mostly done in red brick and granite. A huge Roman-style triumphal archway faces Suzhou Creek.

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    The majority of the magnates were from the banking industry, but also came from shipping, real estate, textiles, cotton, insurance, silkworms and silk, tea, flour, import/export and hardware businesses. In total, there were more than 500 members by the mid-1920s. Together they financed things like disaster relief and the aftermath of war, initiated China’s first commercial laws, and promoted Made in China products. In 1929, the government at the time dissolved the Chamber of Commerce.

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    Over the next 80 years, the building became used as a vocational school, as the Shanghai Electronic Tube Factory, the United Bulb Factory, and the Shanghai Electronic Component Research Institute. It did not fare well, as each successive owner added to the exterior and renovated the interiors to suit their needs at the time. In 2011, real estate developer OCT purchased the plot of land containing the building and embarked on what would become a seven-year restoration of the one-time Chamber of Commerce Shanghai.

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    The renovation team from Italian architectural firm Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel and UDG Office for Urban Renewal used historical drawings, photos and measurements to ascertain its original 1920s look. The façade had been covered in paint and tile and the original sloped roof demolished to add an additional floor to the building.

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    During the seven-year restoration, the team discovered lost details like woodcarvings done by hand on the grand stairway and an entire hand-laid tile mosaic underneath a wood floor.

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    Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai decided to honor this mosaic by using it as the logo for the Shanghai hotel.

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    This is how it looks today after a thorough restoration.

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    One of the most impressive features about the original building was the 800-person ballroom, constructed without pillars or obstructions. This hall was where all the important decisions of the Chamber were made but had fallen into serious disrepair.

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    After the restoration, it’s once again available for events, weddings and large meetings. The only modern concessions are the paintings on either side of the raised podium. They call it the Bvlgari Ballroom.

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    Apart from the ballroom, the majority of the Heritage Building has been converted into a restaurant. Bao Li Xuan, a haute-Cantonese restaurant, is run by Executive Chinese Chef Fu Manpiu. Originally from Hong Kong, Fu earned a Michelin star for the restaurant in the recent Michelin 2020 awards.

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    Like Italian restaurant Il Ristorante by Niko Romito on the 47th floor of the modern tower, the philosophy here is simple: keep the flavors rooted in tradition but add a contemporary twist to the presentation, where appropriate.

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    At lunchtime, like every good Cantonese restaurant, the restaurant’s focus is on dim sum, like these abalone tarts, pan-fried Wagyu beef buns and sweet char siu bao.

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    Much of the restaurant is private rooms, which are more like suites. A living room connects to the private dining room, with an en-suite bathroom. The surprise here is that there is no minimum charge to book any of the six private rooms. They are available on a purely first-come, first-served basis.

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    All six rooms are named after gemstones, in keeping with Bvlgari’s history, and are upholstered in different colored silk wallpaper. This room is Diamond.

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    At dinner, it’s classic Cantonese, like this steamed spotted grouper plated to resemble a dragon.

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    Roast goose is a signature and a standout dish at both lunch and dinner.

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    Man vs. goose. Man wins.

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    The main dining room, on the third floor, is decorated with turquoise raw silk wallpaper, black lacquered panels, and Art Deco patterned carpets. Prices average about 500rmb for lunch and about 1,000rmb per dinner, including all taxes and service fees. There’s no surcharge for seven years of restoration work.

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    The restored building in all its 2019 glory. Click here for more details about the restaurant.