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Fairmont Peace Hotel

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The story of the Fairmont Peace Hotel is also the story of Shanghai, one of the great cities of the world, the “Paris of the East”, the “Pearl of the Orient”.

Once, the Fairmont Peace Hotel was The Cathay Hotel and it was the most glamorous hotel of 1930s Shanghai. It stood beside the Huangpu River, at the corner of the Bund and Nanjing Road, the most famous address in Shanghai.

In the 19th Century, West met East in Shanghai, the roaring port city of frantic energy and opportunity and of international high style. Its famous river-side Bund, “the Wall Street of the East”, was built by the British in the International Settlement and was two imposing kilometers of dignified marble, granite and concrete buildings, built in a world of architectural styles. The Bund was a monument to trade and commerce, serious money, stability and success.

The Cathay Hotel was the enduring vision of Sir Victor Sassoon, Shanghai’s exotic property and finance tycoon, who had a passion for racehorses, high style and high society, and for giving fabulous parties and extravagantly flamboyant costume balls.

The guests at the Cathay Hotel were the famous and infamous – adventurers and travelers, members of the Shanghai and Shanghailander families, the swanky, the chic and the talented, artists, diplomats and celebrities – the elite of the world.

The Cathay Hotel to which they came was “the most beautiful hotel in the Far East”. It was a world of luxury and state-of-the-art amenities. It had air-conditioning, new in 1929 when the hotel opened and in-house telephones, not even in use in European hotels at the time. The bathroom taps of real silver gave fresh water which came from the Bubbling Well spring, the water source that gave its name to the Western end of Nanjing Road as  “Bubbling Well Road”.

By the end of the decade there was no longer a place for glamour and style in the world. Clouds of war gathered over Shanghai in 1932, and by 1937 hostilities had engulfed the International Settlement. The Cathay Hotel and the Palace Hotel opposite were damaged when bombs fell on the famous Bund-Nanjing Road corner. By 1939 the world was at war.

The grand old hotel survived the dark years of World War II, and after Liberation in 1949 and the Communist victory in China, it re-opened as The Peace Hotel in 1956.

The Peace Hotel used fewer rooms than its predecessor, was less luxurious and its doors no longer opened onto the Bund. However the famous old Peace Hotel Jazz Band played on, and the distinctive green copper pyramid tower was still a signature shape on the Shanghai skyline. The Peace Hotel was the place to which foreign delegations and distinguished visitors were shown during visits to the Shanghai of the PRC. In 1964, China’s beloved Premier, Zhou EnLai held diplomatic discussions there, and in later years, US Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton stayed in the Peace Hotel.

As the 20th Century was closing, China was “Opening up” to the world, and the policies of Deng XiaoPing, Chinese leader and economic architect of New China, paved the way for the re-vitalization of Shanghai. By the 21st Century Shanghai was host to 2010 World Expo and the famous hotel on the Bund re-opened as the Fairmont Peace Hotel.

There have been three years of careful, extensive restoration and the new Fairmont Peace Hotel brings to Shanghai the very best of contemporary sophistication.  While much of the old world has gone, much remains. There are still the 1920s Lalique glass ornaments and fixtures, especially designed by the Lalique workshops in France. The original Art Deco frieze of the two greyhound design, the emblem of the hotel, still surrounds the entrance atrium, and once again light pours through the original skylight, gilding all who stand below in the golden light of energy, optimism, and success.

The imposing granite statue of Marshall Chen Yi, PLA liberator of Shanghai, first Foreign Minister of PRC, first Mayor of Shanghai, gazing across the city, stands on the other side of the Bund opposite the hotel entrance. The grand revolving doors once more open onto the Bund, still the most famous address in Shanghai, and the windows overlook the Huangpu River, “mother River of Shanghai”, forever flowing out to all the world. It shimmers with the years that have made history. The green copper pyramid of the Fairmont Peace Hotel stands as witness to the style and energy of Shanghai and to the promise of China.


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