Back in November, Shanghai received the very sad news that the elegant Face Bar was closing after ten years operating within the grassy Ruijin Hotel compound. Regardless of whether or not you were a denizen of Shanghai’s nightlife, if you were in an expat in Shanghai, more likely than not you visited Face Bar at some point – and most likely, the purpose of your visit was to show off the extraordinary renovation of the building, and its idyllic garden setting, to out-of-town guests. I can’t count the number of times that friends with no interest in Shanghai’s nightlife listed Face as one of their tour stops.
Yesterday morning, a little after dawn, I was in the neighborhood and slipped past construction fences to snap this photo of what remains of a building that many will remember as an idyllic pink glow set in a vast green lawn (you can see it from Fuxing Road, as well, but the view is partially blocked by a wall).
The building is empty and gutted, but – to my untrained eye (it still has its glass windows) – it appears to be awaiting another renovation, and not demolition (rumors has it that Face will be re-opened, eventually). Still, it’s now surrounded by construction, and it’s hard to believe that it will remain unscathed by the activity around it. And that’s a pity, because Face – and the Shanghai-owned Ruijin Hotel complex that owned the building – was a one-of-a-kind property that can’t be rebuilt later. Likewise, the open spaces that made the complex so special can’t be reclaimed once a building has been erected upon them.
Indeed, as it now stands, The Ruijin Hotel complex and grounds cover an astonishing 100 acres in the midst of one of Shanghai’s busiest neighborhoods. Built during the 1920s by the family that owned the North China News (a full history can be found here), the remarkable complex of gardens and houses managed to survive the tumultuous second half of the twentieth century largely due to the fact that it became the headquarters and residence of Shanghai’s first communist mayor (those guys may have believed in proletarian revolution, but they knew nice property when they saw it), and later, Shanghai’s official guesthouse (in recent years, favored by Jiang Zemin). But what revolution and politics couldn’t destroy, the state-mediated free market apparently, can. Face Bar was denied a lease renewal so as to accommodate the development of a highrise expansion of the lowrise Ruijin. It just won’t be the same. Below, the current state of one of the gardens, and the back side of the main hotel building.
A final note. Many of Shanghai’s oldest buildings (especially residential ones) may look interesting to the foreign eye, but they are absolute miseries for those who live in them. Speaking personally, I can’t be counted among those foreigners who bemoan the destruction of an architectural heritage that I only plan to enjoy from the outside. That is: if I wouldn’t want to go in it (much less live in it), I don’t see why I should expect anyone else to do so just because it’s pleasing to my eye. But that’s why the renovation (and destruction) of the Ruijin is so distressing: it was beautiful, well-preserved, and eminently desirable as a place to live, stay, or wander (as the party officials who live on its south end will surely attest). In the grand scheme of Shangahi’s ongoing development, this doesn’t matter much, of course. But in small way, its destruction makes Shanghai a much smaller, much livable place. I have no doubt, in years to come, younger generations will wonder how this generation could have been so short-sighted.