Shanghai’S 1930s-era racing club building, a symbol of the city’s heady years before Communist party rule, is facing an uncertain future as its current tenant prepares to move out.
The Shanghai Art Museum has occupied the clubhouse of the Shanghai Race Club for the past 12 years but will relocate in December as it is absorbed into the new China Art Museum, which opened on Monday.
In its heyday, the building was a center of the cosmopolitan city’s social life and its love of sport, even after Japan invaded of 1937.
The Communists took power in 1949 and from the 1950s until the 1990s the building remained largely untouched while it was used as Shanghai’s history museum and library.
But the art museum then renovated the building, leaving few traces of its original purpose, except for the metal horse heads on its stairway railing.
Shanghai has cleared huge tracts of land in its race for development, but some buildings have survived for government, residential or commercial use as the city awakens to the value of conservation and potential for profit.
A government official said future use of the building, which has been protected as a historical landmark since 1989, was still under debate.
“It has not been decided yet. The city is still studying and discussing it,” Li Lei, executive director of the Shanghai Art Museum, told AFP.
Historical conservation supporters say the building will certainly survive, but they worry its character could be damaged.
“I have serious reservations about what will become of that fine old building,” said Tess Johnston, a historian and writer who featured the clubhouse in her book “A Last Look — Western Architecture in Old Shanghai.” “But maybe they will realize that it is of more value if not trashed in another renovation.”
The clubhouse, which opened in 1934, was known for its eight-story-high clocktower overlooking the race course on major commercial street Bubbling Well Road, now known as Nanjing Road.
“It was one of the most revered buildings in the whole city for what it stood for,” said Peter Hibbard, historian and author of “The Bund Shanghai: China Faces West.”
“Racing was something that was very dear to the hearts of the British and Chinese communities.”
Former Shanghai resident Ellis Jacob recalled going to the clubhouse in the early 1940s because his father owned four horses that he raced at the track — Tattle Tale, Chatterbox, Gossip and The Sneak.
“He spent a lot of time there,” Jacob said. “The halls were spotlessly clean, with white walls, and the halls were long, with many doors housing the various groups there.”
The private club once had bowling alleys and tennis courts, Turkish baths, a wood-panelled breakfast room and a separate staircase for women.