The Fairmont Peace Hotel: The reawakening of a Shanghai legend
It’s been three years in the making, but this week on July 29 just days shy of its 81st anniversary (originally opened on August 1, 1929), the newly branded Fairmont Peace Hotel will be officially opening its doors to the public.
Fairmont Peace Hotel historic beginnings
Formerly the Cathay Hotel (it adopted the Peace Hotel name in 1956), this brainchild and residence of visionary businessman and real estate tycoon, Sir Victor Sassoon, not only made its mark with new heights (China’s first high rise with 10 floors) and prominent copper roof design, but served as a Bund trendsetting first with its granite exterior.
Every effort has been made to consult local historians and the Cultural Bureau of Shanghai to maintain authenticity and restore rather than renovate the Peace Hotel.— Fairmont Peace Hotel General Manager Kamal Naamani
Setting new luxury standards at that time, the Cathay’s chic art deco design and state-of-the-art amenities surpassed most European properties and rivaled Manhattan’s best. Its air-conditioned rooms (including ballrooms), in-house telephones, private indoor fresh water plumbing and Shanghai’s first electric elevator ruffled some serious feathers in the hotelier community.
The Cathay and eventually Peace Hotel had made its mark as Asia’s center of glamor and glitterati accommodating the rich, famous and nameless from around the world. But as decades passed and a new century approached, time and tumult took its toll (not to mention stints of Japanese soldiers, office workers and the Chinese Telecom nerds who still remain today) leaving the Bund’s most beloved icon a mere shadow of its original splendor.
In 2007, it was officially closed for some serious and well-needed R&R -- renovation and restoration.
The challenges of change
Fast forward to 2010 and a fully restored Fairmont Peace Hotel (including modern extension) makes its final preparations for an official public appearance.
No magic wands (that we know of) were used to create such a transformation. It was the sweat, tears and tireless work of its dedicated restoration team -- a joint effort among Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Jin Jiang International Group and design and architectural dream team Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) and Allied Architects International.
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Such a massive restoration had its share of challenges. And not everyone was convinced of the changes being applied. But Fairmont Peace Hotel general manager Kamal Naamani recalls that “prior to this renovation, Peace Hotel was partitioned into a much smaller, disjointed space, in which the atrium area was a shopping arcade and the west flow areas were occupied by China Telecom. It took much negotiation by the ownership with various parties to re-claim most of the lost areas of the old Cathay Hotel. Today, the public can finally experience the same arcade interior planning as the original Cathay Hotel guests did back when it first opened, and the lobby spaces are much grander in scale as a result.”
Shanghai’s own breakneck development has become associated with modernity and futurism, so updating these landmark buildings without compromising their architectural traditions means navigating uncharted waters.— Ian Carr, Principal of HBA
Noting Shanghai’s anticipated 10 other luxury hotel openings over the next two years, Ian Carr, Principal of HBA, says: “Expectations of travelers to China have heightened over the last five years. The opening of international standard hotels in major Chinese cities has elevated demands for comfort, hospitality and service. Shanghai’s own breakneck development has become associated with modernity and futurism, so updating these landmark buildings without compromising their architectural traditions means navigating uncharted waters.”
Out with and then back to the old
Thank goodness for teamwork and perseverance. The results are well worth it.
Completely refurbished above and below the surface to meet modern standards (fully wired and techie-approved rooms), its current 270 guest rooms and suites boast the latest and greatest modern amenities and goodies including illy espresso machines, 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton bed linen and exclusive Miller Harris Cologne Series 1888 in the bath. And it doesn’t stop there. A Guest Health Club, sky-lit pool and Willow Stream Spa are coming this fall.
Although the amenities might be modern, the interior, on the other hand, is a pure path to Shanghai’s bygone days. The Peace Hotel has become an antique lover’s dream -- and art deco fans just might go a little hysterical.
Past visitors will notice immediate changes, notably the transformation of a once drab lobby into a now stunning octagonal glass rotunda (mysteriously covered for decades) surrounded by four copper, silver-coated murals -- a befitting entrance the hotel has long been denied. Even the least imaginative of souls won’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia having taken a few steps past the main door.
Any and all surviving treasures (that could be safely used) were restored including original remaining Lalique glasswork, moldings and light fixtures.
Most of the entire East Entry Lobby is original along with a near preservation of the Dragon Phoenix (Cantonese) and Jazz Bar. And the hunt goes on for memorabilia donations not just from the city but the world, to be displayed in the Peace Hotel Gallery.
“Every effort has been made to consult local historians and the Cultural Bureau of Shanghai to maintain authenticity and restore rather than renovate the Peace Hotel,” assures GM Naamani.
1. Gawk with an expert. Sign up for a tour by a trained original hotel staff member. Although tours aren’t available until the fall, before then you can visit the Peace Gallery on the Mezzanine Level for a photographic piece of hotel history.
2. Traditional high tea is now served at the Jasmine Lounge, one of Shanghai’s first high tea venues introduced by Sir Sassoon himself just days after the original hotel opening. Those white gloves are optional, but smart casual dress is required.
3. Completely restored to its original state, the Jazz Bar is a throw back to old Shanghai. Sit in on a live performance featuring regular appearances of the six surviving original band members, with an average age of 75 years.
Fairmont Peace Hotel
20 Nanjing Dong Lu, The Bund
tel +86 21 6321 6888