Shanghai Homecoming

A storied hotel company returns to its roots

By: By Jim Calio

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The art deco-inspired Peninsula Shanghai was topped off a few months ago and is now set to open later this year. It will be the hotel chain’s ninth property worldwide, but the opening also holds special significance for parent company, Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd. The company will return to the city where it began in 1923 after an absence of almost 60 years.

Rendering of the new Peninsula Shanghai, set to open later this year // (c) Peninsula Hotels
Rendering of the new Peninsula Shanghai, set to open later this year

Shortly after the 1949 takeover of the Chinese government by the Communist Party of China, Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd. and its owners, the Kadoorie family, were forced to leave Shanghai. The family, which had contributed significantly to the city’s cultural and financial success, had previously owned such iconic Shanghai properties as the The Kalee, Majestic, Palace and Astor House hotels.

Now, they are returning.

"It’s a homecoming for the Kadoories, and it’s the only new construction on the Bund since the early 1940s," said John Miller, Peninsula’s general manager for design and planning. "The site is a perfect match for us. It was a chance to do something retro, deco and romantic."

In fact, the new Peninsula Shanghai, with its interior tones of cerulean blue and ivory, exotic woods, imported stones, carved glass and polished chrome harkens back to the Shanghai of the 1920s, when the city was known as the "Paris of the East."

But the hotel is also state-of-the art and modern. The large cream marble bathrooms are equipped with a double vanity, hands-free telephone function, mood lighting and a separate bath and rain shower. A spa button beside the bathtub dims the lights, activates the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the phones and doorbell and switches on soothing music.

The entire complex, which cost some $361 million, is a joint-venture project between the Peninsula Group and Australia-based SPG Hotel Ltd. It is comprised of a 15-story luxury hotel with 235 rooms and suites, five restaurants, a shopping mall and 39 serviced apartments on a four-acre site. The multi-use concept is a first for the Peninsula group.

"There is a demand for luxury accommodations that are also safe," said Paul Tchen, the Peninsula Shanghai’s general manager.

Tchen added that the owners and guests of the apartment building will enjoy the same service as the hotel’s guests, including security.

Planning for the new hotel began in 2002, when the company was approached by Shanghai city officials and presented with a design for how the north end of the Bund could be developed. The Peninsula group had turned down several previous offers to build hotels in Shanghai, but never on The Bund.

Miller knew it was the right fit when he saw the actual site, which is adjacent to the old British Embassy gardens.

"I knew that it was an incredible site. I knew we had to find a way to do it, but do it properly," he said.

What followed was a spirited give-and-take between the Peninsula Group and Shanghai development authorities, during which the hotel company’s plans underwent at least 10 different versions before they were finally approved.

"We actually built a full-scale, three-story section of the hotel with windows right on the site," said Miller. "It was reviewed by the authorities and finally approved. The Chinese authorities were difficult, but not unreasonable. But don’t forget, they must look after one of the most historically significant areas of their city."

The result is an L-shaped building fronting The Bund that blends in with the traditional architecture but also boasts the usual amenities of the Peninsula chain. The beige facade of the hotel rises to 10 stories and then steps back with a series of terraces.

"If you look at the whole Bund," said Tchen, "it fits right in, like it’s been there for many, many years."