Shanghai’s Peace Hotel looks to future

Shanghai, September 20 :

Shanghai is seen as the birthplace of everything considered modern in China, and the Peace Hotel now towered over by sleek glass skyscrapers prepares to blend the modern with the classic. By the end of the year, the port city will have 4,500 more luxury hotel rooms. In two years there will be 16 more luxury hotels, according to a report by the international property and hotel investment consultants Jones Lang LaSalle.

Just across the river, on the eastern bank of the Huangpu, is the Grand Hyatt Hotel, occupying floors 54 to 87 of Jinmao Tower, the world’s fourth tallest building. From those vertigo-inducing heights, the Peace Hotel, dwelling in the tower’s shadow, must seem like an ancient dwarf.

For proprietor Jinjiang International, China’s largest hotel operator, the Peace Hotel is its most prestigious property and most profitable, with 78 percent occupancy rate last year for its 363 rooms.

State-owned Jinjiang plans to carry out an extensive renovation of the hotel to prevent

it from losing its reputation as one of the most prestigious addresses in Shanghai.

Ideally located on Bund Boulevard, the south annex was built in 1906, but construction on the better-known north annex started in 1926 and opened in 1929.

Iraqi Jew Victor Sassoon, who made a fortune through the opium trade and real estate ventures and became one of Shanghai’s wealthiest men, commissioned the edifice, erected in the Chicago school of architecture style.

“If renovations are not going to start soon, we are going to lose more and more guests,” says Ma Yongzhang, the hotel’s public relations manager.

In previous years, complaints from guests about broken heaters and air conditioners, the slightly musty smell permeating the rooms and the dilapidated furniture have proliferated. Even cockroaches and rats are said to have scurried across the floors as recent as a few years ago.

Ma Yongzhang, who started as a liftboy at the Peace Hotel in 1964, claimed the hotel has solved the rodent problem but admitted the overall standard of the traditional hotel still needed to be improved. “Every society has its history. The Peace Hotel is witness to Shanghai’s history,” said Ma proudly.

In the 1930s, considered the hotel’s most glorious years, it was the preferred lodging for celebrities such as the writer Noel Coward who penned his drama “Private Lives” in room number 314 and actor Charlie Chaplin who stayed there with his wife Paulette Goddard.

Turbulent times arrived in the 1940s when a bomb destroyed the hotel’s eastern entrance during the Japanese-Chinese war and following the Communist takeover of China in 1949, the premises were closed down for several years.

“There were supposed to be no capitalists or wealthy people in the country who could afford to stay at the hotel,” said Ma.

After a short stint of accommodating a government agency, the premises were re-opened in 1956 and re-christened the Peace Hotel. During the confusion of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the hotel became the refuge of foreigners. But it was only with the beginning of China opening herself to the world by the end of the 1970s that the hotel was able to regain its former glory.

Guests love the art deco interior with its original chandeliers, marble fittings and dark hardwood paneling. The dim corridors and thick carpets provide an historic allure that appeals especially to European tourists willing to pay up to $415 for a suite.