Urban Sketching: Central Hotel

For Saturday’s (20 May) outing, we went to sketch No. 543 Guangdong Road, at what was formerly known as the Central Hotel (中央旅社), built around 1929 and owned by the Chief Inspector of the Police Force in the International Concession, Lu Liankui (陸連奎). It was also known to be the gangsters’ den.

Lu Liankui’s story was he was rural area and escaped to Shanghai getting caught defrauding people during his stint as an orderly. When he arrived in Shanghai, he saved a rich man who in turn wrote him a recommendation letter which he used to his advantage, signed up with Huang Jinrong’s gang, and then rose up to his position in the settlement. Through his position and connections, he amassed a fortune from defrauding and bullying.

Central Hotel

The hotel opened in April 1930 and was the only location in Shanghai that allowed smoking opium openly. I was reading a bit about this hotel’s history, and during its heyday, it had a ballroom where a lot of famous people came, there was prostitution, an opium den, a gambling parlour, and of course, the hotel.

Lu Liankui was assassinated on August 18, 1938, right in front of the entrance with rumours that:

  • He was killed because he had slapped General Chiang Kai-shek’s nephew after accidentally hitting Lu’s mistress in the lobby, which later had him pay up for the “damages” in the form of 10 airplanes. Rumour was General Chiang Kai-shek after had hired people to assassinate him.
  • He was assassinated for having in his possession a pure gold ear spoon, small and exquisite with fine workmanship, that was a family heirloom of Huang Jinrong, one of the notorious gangster at that time.

NOTE: There is way too many stories on Lu Liankui’s death and about Shanghai’s mob family to go into too much detail, I’m afraid this will be an even longer post. Historic Shanghai has an interesting post about Shanghai’s gangsters in the 1900s.

After the Liberation in 1949, the Central Hotel then closed its doors until it was opened once again to house staff of the Xinhua Bookstore. The grandballroom as well as rooms have been converted to residential quarters. Apart from those occupied by the Xinhua Bookstore, there rest of the “apartments” or rooms were assigned to workers by their unit or danwei (单位) so most of the people who lived here were newly married who worked at various state-owned companies. Once a couple have a kid, their living quarters are “upgraded” to a bigger apartment and then another upgrade as the kid becomes bigger.

This building has actually been declared to be demolished for a couple years. A lot of families have moved out while some choose to remain here. And in between the news of the place being demolished, there are still apartments that are being rented out to immigrant city workers. There are several shops still open along the street on the two main sides of the hotel.

Source: https://stoney.tuchong.com/posts

The hotel has a unique shape especially as it also sits on 3 intersections — Guangdong Road, Zhejiang Road, and Haikou Road. After sketching, Lily, Fei Fei, (two other fellow urban sketchers) and I went exploring inside the building. Walls are marked with the character for “demolition” (折) which has an eery feeling especially with the derelict look of some of the hallways, crusted with years of dirt and grime and neglect.

I only managed to get 1 sketch in but I ended up researching about this building more than the time spent sketching. LOL!

Thank you you for stopping by.

Leave a Reply