The Astor House ballroom is one of several fine ballrooms built in the 1920s that catered to Shanghai high society, and which may still be found in the city today. The following two articles published in the North China Herald describe the design and building of the ballroom of the Astor House Hotel, Shanghai’s landmark hotel located just north of the Garden Bridge on the Bund. The hotel itself goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, but in 1909 it underwent a major extension to become the landmark building that it still is today. The ballroom design was handled by the Spanish architect Abelardo Lafuente. An article by Alvaro Leonardo published in the Tongji University journal Built Heritage sheds new light on the architect Lafuente and his unique contributions to Shanghai’s built environment in the 1910s and 1920s.
New Ballroom at Astor House
(North China Herald Dec 1, 1917)
The new ballroom at the Astor House Hotel was formally opened last Saturday night with a
grand ball. Alterations and improvements have been going on for some months now and many structural difficulties have been met with and overcome to make what is now perhaps the finest dance hall in Shanghai.
A solid wall had to be removed and replaced by reinforced concrete piers and girders allowing a passage and several private rooms to be included in the general scheme, making the new dancing floor area 95 ft. by 70 ft., A stage has been erected at one end which should be a valuable asset for concerts and soirees besides providing accommodation for the orchestra.
The room is well ventilated by windows running the whole length of the hall on both sides with large mirrors between them. The mural decorations are tastefully done in cream and white matte paint picked out with old gold; the electric lighting scheme was also well thought out, the result being a pleasing soft effect with ample brilliancy. Cloak rooms and refreshment rooms are situated at the entrance. The floor is oak parquetry, highly polished and in beautiful condition for dancing. The architectural work was carried out by Messrs. Lafuente and Wootten, the furnishings by Messrs. Lane, Crawford & Co., and the electric lighting by Messrs. Andersen. Meyer & Co.
The New Astor House Ballroom
Brilliant Opening on Saturday Night: The Architectural and Colour Beauty
(North China Herald, Dec 29 1923)
Tho Astor House ballroom was opened formally on Saturday, if one may say formally, for there was a good-natured jolly crowd numbering 375, who came in to dinner. But although they were dressed in the most conventional style, they hardly seemed formal, for such an air of good fellow-ship and friendliness prevailed that it would seem an anomaly to characterize it as such. Those who attended the first night declared that words could not describe the marvellous combination of colours and lights that have been the product of the mind of the mind of Mr. A. Lafuente, the designing architect. The light blue walls decorated with maidens and sylphs dancing in the open spaces, are surmounted by the plaster reliefs for the indirect lighting system suspended from the ceiling, while high on the marble pillars beautifully cast female figures appear to support the roof.
Probably the most novel feature of the decorative scheme, excepting the incandescent mirrors, was the peacock shell utilized by the orchestra, and in particular the effects of light produced by the electrical staff. Five primary colours have been used for still effects throughout the variegated bedecked panels of feathers, but the revolving cylinder hidden added hundreds of shades of light that blended and dissolved over the whole giving the appearance of running waves of rainbow hues. The electric installation is by Messrs. Larsen & Truck.
The dinner was most excellent and the guests enjoyed dance numbers throughout, most of them not finishing with their meal until well after eleven, when dancing began in earnest. The new Astor House orchestra under the direction of Mir. “Whitey” Smith, numbers eight, of whom three formerly played in one of Shanghai’s ball-rooms while the other five arrived here just 10 days ago. The strains of “Zamboanga” and “No, No, North” delighted the light steppers and encore upon encore was called for, to which the musicians responded most liberally.
Messrs. J. H. Taggart and E. Burrows, who have been so keenly interested in providing Shanghai people with this splendid dining and ball-room, are to be congratulated on the complete success of their efforts.