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The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels: A Brief History 香港上海大酒店簡史
The development of up-market hotels across Asia was a response to the growing popularity of steamship travel in the mid to late nineteenth century. Great ocean liners transported a new breed of leisure traveller across the world, eagerly seeking adventure whilst cocooned in the same luxury and hospitality afforded to guests in a first-class hotel. Following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the first direct passage between Europe and Asia, Hong Kong soon became a connecting port for several important European-Asia sea routes. Before the 1860s, Hong Kong had relatively little to offer by way of tourist accommodation. The Hongkong Hotel Company, incorporated in 1866, signified a turning point in the port's nascent tourist trade and provided Hong Kong with its first luxury hotel in 1868.
Situated directly on the Central waterfront at the heart of Hong Kong's bustling business and shipping district, the Hongkong Hotel was soon recognised as ‘the most commodious and best-appointed hotel in the Far East' following its opening in 1868. The hotel became one of Hong Kong's most favoured institutions and was home to the famous 'Gripps' bar, a hot spot for balls, tea and dinner dances where dignitaries, businessmen, stockbrokers and international travellers of the day would meet.
Hongkong Hotel grill room menu, 1920
In the nineteenth century, the port of Shanghai was the commercial capital of China and the largest port and industrial centre in the Far East. With its rich trade, Shanghai attracted budding tycoons and adventurers from around the world as well as visitors enticed by the city's famous dance halls, theatres and the majestic Bund. All European and American steamship lines trading to the East made Shanghai a port of call for their steamers.
Central Stores Limited was established in 1896 and marked a revolution in the nature of hotel keeping in Shanghai. In 1909 the Company opened the Palace Hotel, majestically situated on the Bund and Nanking Road, known as the 'Oxford Street of the East'.
Palace Hotel, Shanghai
In 1915, Central Stores, later renamed The Shanghai Hotels, Limited, purchased the Astor House Hotel (established in 1858) under the drive and vision of newly elected board member and shareholder Edward I. Ezra. The hotel was considered the most luxurious hotel in Shanghai during its heyday, with a famed ballroom that played host to new Jazz Age dances and the popular Argentinian 'tango teas' craze of the early 1900s. The Herald touted the ballroom as the finest in Shanghai, with murals in cream and white matte highlighted with gold, and a polished oak floor 'in beautiful condition for dancing'.
在新任董事及股東愛士拉（Edward I. Ezra）的策動下，匯中洋行（後易名上海酒店有限公司）在1915年買入建於1858年的禮查飯店。禮查飯店在全盛時期被公認為全市最豪華的大飯店，它的宴會廳更被「北華捷報」形容爲上海舞場中的極致，廳內米白燙金的壁畫襯托着晶亮的橡木地板，瑰麗不可方物，亦是體驗爵士樂年代最新舞步及1900年代初大熱的阿根廷式探戈茶舞的勝地。
Astor House Hotel, Shanghai
The Hongkong Hotel Company's new Managing Director James Taggart had previously managed the Hongkong Hotel and was again selected by the Company to build a new hotel in Repulse Bay. Taggart's idea was to provide an opportunity for sun weary travellers to rest and relax in the calm, clear waters of the Repulse Bay and to enjoy the full benefits of a luxurious hotel sited nearby. The Repulse Bay opened on New Year's Day 1920 at an event attended by Hong Kong's elite including Governor Sir Reginald Stubbs and nearly every motor car in the city.
Repulse Bay Hotel
By the 1930s, Hong Kong had acquired the reputation of 'The Riviera of the Orient', a place where travellers could enjoy a perfect winter climate of sunny days and cool, peaceful nights. This new-found status was in part thanks to the gracious surroundings of the Repulse Bay Hotel and later, the Repulse Bay Lido which opened in 1935 to much fanfare and excitement. The addition of seashore pastimes during the day and open-air dancing to the exotic sounds of a South Seas orchestra at night provided the city's residents with a much-anticipated new destination.
Repulse Bay Beach
The Repulse Bay Hotel continued to win the hearts and minds of the literati until it finally closed its doors in 1982.
Guests enjoying the ambience and food at The Garden of the Repulse bay Hotel
Following Ezra's death in 1921 and the sudden passing of Board member Ellis Kadoorie in 1922, The Hongkong Hotel Company acquired The Shanghai Hotels, Limited - marking the historic birth of The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels (HSH) in 1923. HSH now controlled some of the most exceptional hotel properties in China and Hong Kong, and with the arrival of The Peninsula Hotel in 1928, its reputation for luxury and excellence was cemented.
Luggage label of Hongkong Hotel
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Hong Kong, like Shanghai, was facing a serious shortage of hotel accommodation. To meet this demand, the Hong Kong Government decided to build a new hotel at the tip of the Kowloon peninsula, opposite the railway terminus and close to the quays of Kowloon. It was the railway station, with its steam engines connecting Hong Kong to Europe via Beijing or Moscow, which ultimately made the site an ideal location for a grand railway hotel.
The Peninsula Hotel was built opposite the railway terminus
Envisaged as a catalyst for the wider development of Kowloon, this prospective hotel project was soon open to investors to bid. In 1922 HSH Chairman A.R. Lewis announced the Company’s intention to build 'an up-to-date hotel with accommodation for 500 guests'. The hotel was designed by prominent architects and civil engineers from the Hong Kong Realty and Trust Company Ltd., with interior decoration including modelled fibrous plaster, stained glass, and bronze and metal work being taken care of by Arts & Crafts Limited of Shangha.
這個被視為九龍發展催化劑的酒店項目公開徵求投資者，而香港上海大酒店的主席A. R. Lewis在1922年宣布公司意向，計劃在彼處興建一所劃時代、可容納500位人客的大酒店。項目聘用香港置業信託有限公司的名建築師及工程師主理，室內設計則由上海美藝公司負責。
Peninsula under construction in 1925
Following years of protracted construction work, the Peninsula Hotel finally opened its doors on 11 December 1928 to the greatest party of the decade. James Taggart gave a cheerful welcoming address remarking that 'this edifice may justly be regarded as not only a worthy addition to the everyday life of the residents of the Colony, but also (in view of its location as a gateway of this great port) as an establishment which may be fairly expected to enhance the popularity of the Colony by affording to transient visitors.'
The Peninsula Hotel
The arrival of the Peninsula hailed a new era in Hong Kong's social calendar as the hotel became the focal point for the city's dances and balls, with Sunday concerts, nightly dinners on the terrace and twice weekly dinners in the Rose Room quickly filling the diaries of Hong Kong's rich and powerful.
The Rose Room in the 1930s
The Lobby in particular quickly became the place to see and be seen. Having started life as a tea lounge, the Lobby became a popular rendezvous for locals and travellers alike. Graceful Romanesque arches with slender columns, hand wrought bronze grill work, delicate marble-carvings and heavy velvet drapes extended from ceiling to floor across the entire frontage of the Lobby. The Lobby was Hong Kong's arena for society ladies, businessmen, travellers and residents: a meeting place for the rich from both East and West. It was where society gossip was relayed and Peninsula legends made.
The Lobby, just before the hotel opened
With the inception of efficient, comfortable and speedy mass air travel in the post-war years, the Lobby became the natural home for the major airline companies of the day. Following minor construction work and the hanging of a BOAC shingle where the Moorish Bar once stood, the Peninsula Hotel became the world's first city-centre check-in terminal –ready to welcome a new clientele of international travellers.
Airline counters took over west side of hotel lobby in the 1950s