Shang­hai’s lit­tle-known Span­ish style

Shanghai Daily - - FEATURE - Tang Yingx­ian

Shang­hai is fa­mous for what’s left of its Euro­pean neo­clas­si­cal and Art Deco ar­chi­tec­ture and Hun­gar­ian ar­chi­tect L.E. Hudec is vir­tu­ally wor­shipped for his work in the 1930s.

But lit­tle is known about Shang­hai’s Span­ish and Moor­ish-style build­ings and many oth­ers de­signed by Span­ish ar­chi­tect Abe­lardo La­fuente, who prac­ticed in the city from 1913 to 1931. He was the only Span­ish ar­chi­tect in Shang­hai at the time.

La­fuente de­signed some mag­nif­i­cent build­ings and projects, such as the man­sion pur­chased by H.H. Kung, the ball­room of the As­tor House Ho­tel (now the Pu­jiang Ho­tel) and the Sasha’s Restau­rant and Bar, once home to Chi­ang kai-shek and his wife, Soong Mei-ling dur­ing the civil war.

He died in Shang­hai in 1931 of lung dis­ease, be­fore the golden pe­riod of Shang­hai’s Western ar­chi­tec­ture.

“There was a golden time for ar­chi­tects in the 1930s and Hudec was here, but La­fuente had al­ready died,” says Al­varo Leonardo, a young Span­ish ar­chi­tect who is study­ing La­fuente and hop­ing to res­ur­rect his rep­u­ta­tion.

Leonardo leads pop­u­lar monthly Sun­day af­ter­noon tours of Shang­hai’s Span­ish­style build­ings. He is try­ing to in­ves­ti­gate but says he does not have ac­cess to doc­u­ments that are pri­vate prop­erty.

“La­fuente was in Shang­hai when all the new build­ings, ideas and cre­ative sit­u­a­tions were hap­pen­ing,” Leonardo says. But he says that La­fuente was not of “the cor­rect na­tion­al­ity,” mean­ing non-Mediter­ranean Euro­peans, and most of the ma­jor works went to oth­ers.

“It is very star­tling to find build­ings with a strong Span­ish fla­vor here in China, and through Al­varo’s re­search, we are learn­ing about other Span­ish peo­ple in Shang­hai in the early 19th cen­tury and their ac­tiv­i­ties. One owned a mag­nif­i­cent garage, an­other opened the first cin­ema in the city, and all those build­ings were made by A. La­fuente,” says Vi­o­leta Janeiro Alfageme from the Span­ish Con­sulate Gen­eral in Shang­hai.

Leonardo’s Span­ish-style ar­chi­tec­ture tour starts from Anfu Road, goes along Nan­jing Road E. to­ward the Bund, and then pro­ceeds north — the build­ings span the ge­o­graph­i­cal heart of Shang­hai.

A cen­tury later, La­fuente and his ar­chi­tec­ture, some of them mag­nif­i­cent (and re­main­ing only in pho­to­graphs), were dis­cov­ered ac­ci­den­tally by Leonardo. He came upon an old re­view of La­fuente’s work in a yel­lowed Span­ish news­pa­per; he in­ves­ti­gated and was al­lowed into the fam­ily ar­chives in Madrid where he read some of La­fuente’s cor­re­spon­dence. His on­go­ing re­search be­gan last May.

“These build­ings are part of his­tory and re­flect a facet of 1920s Shang­hai,” says Leonardo. “I came upon them by chance and they are part of the life of some­one whom every­one for­got.”

The ar­chi­tect and en­tre­pre­neur was al­ways try­ing to do ad­vanced and dif­fi­cult work, says Leonardo. In the 1920s, de­spite lag­ging telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, La­fuente was run­ning two of­fices si­mul­ta­ne­ously, one in China and one in the United States, bring­ing Span­ish style to two con­ti­nents.

Ac­cord­ing to Leonardo, La­fuente’s most im­por­tant works in­cluded cine­mas Ramos and ho­tel projects com­mis­sioned by Hong Kong and Shang­hai Ho­tels Ltd.

In 1923 La­fuente con­verted the for­mer McBain fam­ily home into the Ma­jes­tic Ho­tel. He also de­signed churches, mosques, garages, lux­u­ri­ous vil­las, of­fice build­ings and at least one pub­lic hospi­tal. In 1917 he in­tro­duced the “Mozarab” ar­chi­tec­tural style, us­ing mod­ern con­crete slabs.

La­fuente worked with Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect G.O. Woot­ten and in his later years was as­so­ci­ated with renowned Rus­sian ar­chi­tect A. J. Yaron.

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