The Normandie Apartments (today’s Wukang Mansion, 武康大楼, 1836–1858 Middle Huaihai Road) is at a rare six-way intersection in the center of Shanghai, the junction of Shanghai Tianping Road (天平路), Yuqing Road (余庆路), Xingguo Road (兴国路), Wukang Road (武康路), and Huaihai Middle Road (淮海中路). It is in the western part of the former French Concession area of the city.
While the angle between Wukang Road and Huaihai Road is less than 30 degrees, the building fits perfectly shaped into a narrow-angle. The unique shape attracts the attention of many tourists. It is one of the iconic buildings in the former French Concession.
But, why did Wukang Road have such a strange angle with Huaihai Road?
A brief history of the Normandie Apartments
However, in the beginning, this path did not have a name. Later, as the nearby French Concession wanted to expand its area, the plan raised a conflict with a local Ningbo Association, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia. Ferguson mediated the dispute and reached a solution that satisfied everyone. The local people named this road Route Ferguson to honor him. In 1914, the road belonged to French Concession.
In 1924, there were many high-end shopping malls and business venues near Route Ferguson and Avenue Joffre. The French International Savings Society took the opportunity and initiated the construction of this apartment building at the location.
The building got its name, the Normandie Apartments but had no relation with the Battle of Normandy. The building housed mainly senior business people from foreign companies in the old Xujiahui district.
So, who was the architect at that time?
The architect of the Normandie Apartments
The unique shape of the Normandie Apartments was the highlight of the designer’s smart ideas. The designer of the Normandie Apartments was László Hudec. He was a Hungarian-Slovak architect who also designed many landmarks in Shanghai.
The Normandie Apartments is a masterpiece as a residential building. Let’s take a look at the features of this building.
The architectural style of the Normandie Apartments
The eight-story building is in the French Renaissance style and is the oldest veranda-style apartment building in Shanghai. The concrete apartment building is 30 metres tall, occupies a ground area of 1,580 square metres, and has a floor area of 9,275 square metres. Formerly, there were 63 apartments, 30 servants’ quarters, and three elevators. The unusual wedge-shape of the building is reminiscent of the Flatiron Building in New York.
The first and second floors formed a semi-circular vault with a stone-like cement wall. The third to seventh floors of the building have yellow-brown tiled walls. The exterior of the eighth floor is still a stone-like cement wall. Next to the spiral staircases, there are also passenger and cargo elevators.
The historical stories associated to the Normandie Apartments
There used to have two movie companies not far from this building. Therefore, it became a renowned residence for people from the film industry in the 1940s. They gathered in the cafes and restaurants on the ground floor to discuss the manuscript and interview potential actors and actresses.
Soon, it became the centre of China’s film industry during the Republic of China era. Residents included famous actors and actresses Wu Yin, Wang Renmei, Qin Yi, Zhao Dan, Sun Daolin, Wang Wenjuan, Shangguan Yunzhu, and actor/director Zheng Junli.
Wang Renmei was the main actress in the movie “Children of Troubled Times” (风云儿女). The song from that movie was The March of the Volunteers(义勇军进行曲), composed by Nie Er and written by Tian Han.
After the movie was released on the 24th of May in 1935, nearly every Chinese knew the title song. Later, it has become the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China.
The dramas of the Normandie Apartments
Normandie Apartments was the target of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). The Red Guards called the building an anti-revisionist tower. Dozens of intellectuals committed suicide, and some of them jumped off the building. The Chinese film star, for example, Shangguan Yunzhu jumped out of her seventh-floor window in November 1968 after being badly beaten.
The present status of the Normandie Apartment
The former Normandie Apartments got its new name Wukang Mansion(武康大楼) in 1953. In 2008, the building had gone through several restorations. Now, it is one of Shanghai’s historic buildings under municipal protection.
In 2019, a thorough upgrade of the building’s surroundings took place. There are no web-like wires and cables around the building. Some of the poles and pillars in the surrounding area also moved away. Visitors can take a decent picture of this historic Normandie Apartments.
The Normandie Apartments, or Wukang Mansion, is undoubtedly the famous building in the former French Concession. Besides, there are many things to do on the premise as well.
Things to do around Normandie Apartments (Wukang Mansion)
On the ground floor of the building is an arcaded passage. The Cottage Cafe & Bar is popular among the locals. It has a nostalgic interior and offers tasty coffees. However, what attracts me more is the bookstore 大隐书局, which is only a few steps further from the Cottage Cafe & Bar.
The bookstore’s door is so small to be missed out. And its facade looks unremarkable. The interior design of the bookstore is also simple. Only a few types of books are available, and most are in the Chinese language.
But visitors can sit in one of the six rooms at the back of the bookstore, reading books, drinking a cup of tea, and meeting friends. The wooden tables and chairs, the warm colors, and the background music make this venue a comfortable place for a relax. 大隐书局 is also one of the epic bookstores in Shanghai.
The Wukang Road itself is one of the famous streets in the former French Concession as well. The street is not long but lined up with many European-styled buildings. Meanwhile, Wukang Road is also one of the most beautiful streets in Shanghai. Bars and restaurants are along the street. You can join a tour through the former French Concession and enjoy a good time during your limited stay in Shanghai.