Source: San Francisco Chronicle
- Mark Graham
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Not everyone involved in Shanghai's old homes sees them as money-making opportunities.
In fact there are people who are ardently against too much gentrification of the European-style homes, worrying that they will become merely facades for modern-day interiors -- early 20th century on the outside, early 21st century within.
The Shanghai Old Homes Association is the flag-bearer for preservation, its members keen to preserve, in situ, as far as possible, homes that have real character and significance. Members Tina Kanagaratnam and Patrick Cranley stick to those principles, living in a house that has barely changed since it was built in the 1940s.
The French Concession building is one of Shanghai's quirkiest, a home designed, apparently, to resemble the shape of a piano. The current occupants have made every effort to keep the place as it was, including keeping the stained-glass windows that were fashionable at the time, the sweeping wooden staircase and even period window frames. The couple have accentuated the other-era feel with their own collection of antiques and bric-a-brac.
The three-story house, with garden, was originally constructed by a wealthy Chinese merchant, when the Art Deco style of architecture was all the rage; his widow, now in her 90s, still lives on the upper floors.
Every year, the association organizes an open day, where the public can tour houses like this.
"Some people buy these places and then rip out the interiors and put in things that are like a hotel," says Kanagaratnam. "When you step inside it is all modern. I don't understand why you would do that. Why not just build a modern house?
"I think there has to be progress, but these buildings constitute the texture of the city. If it was all skyscrapers, it would be really boring. I think people are beginning to appreciate them more."
It is a small association with a loud voice, using every opportunity possible to lobby authorities for the preservation of key buildings.
Cranley and Kanagaratnam, long-term Shanghai residents who both speak fluent Chinese, are convinced that making a noise will help save needless destruction of buildings that represent a key part of the city's past. After all, They are the only feature that distinguishes Shanghai from other Chinese cities: All the richer ones have pretty much the same portfolio of skyscrapers, new hotels and flashy apartment blocks.
"The more people know about them, the more they will become attached to them," says Cranley.