A Seventh-day Adventist church of yesteryear, a budget inn of today

071611_Seventh-day Adventist Church

“No, I told you, you can’t go upstairs if you’re not a guest,” the teenage hotel desk clerk scowled at my camera.

Just then, a portly middle-aged man waddled up to the counter and interrupted me, “How much for a room for 3 hours?” Her suspicious eyes not leaving me, the desk clerk pointed to a board on the wall which indicated day and overnight rates.

As the man contemplated, I noted his lady friend seated on the couch, her long legs encased in a mini-skirt, examining her fingernails. Without missing a beat, he grunted, “I’ll take the small room.”

I couldn’t resist a quiet laugh. So there I was, in the tiny lobby of a budget inn watching a man preparing for some afternoon delight, in what was a former Seventh-day Adventist Church (沪北会堂).

It was hard to miss this handsome red-bricked building along Wujing Lu (武进路), close to Wusong Lu (吴淞路), with its Gothic-inspired equilateral arches yet built in a manner reminiscent of its times. It was the first church built by the Seventh-day Adventist in Shanghai in 1905 and later expanded in 1924 to its present two-storey, Settlement design.

Interestingly, Wujing Lu, formerly known as Range Road, has a colorful history and one can always rely on Paul French of ChinaRhyming for a bit of historical context. Range Road marked the northern border of the International Settlement in Hongkou and the Chinese-managed part of Shanghai. According to French, border roads bred proprietors that skirt (literally) the law with businesses such as low-end bars and brothels, hence attracting a diverse group of characters including hoodlums and gangsters. But looking around the beautiful houses in the neighborhood, one imagined Range Road to have been quite tame for a border road.

Details on the activities of the church are scant, but I found out that the church had rented out the space on occasion. One particular patron was the famed writer Chinese Lu Xun, who held a Russo-French Book Illustration Exhibition on the premises in 1933. The church laid empty for much of the Cultural Revolution and later served as a kindergarten and primary school. Appropriately enough, the space transitioned into a spacious restaurant when China’s economy opened up after 1979 and eventually into the present arrangement of a smaller restaurant and budget inn.

I had wanted to see the second floor of the building from the inside, hence the awkward situation with the temperamental hotel desk clerk. My limited sleuthing inside and around the church revealed an interior that had absolutely no architectural connection with the exterior.

At this point, the hotel manager was called down, a middle-age man who looked more curious than annoyed. I explained the situation to him, sharing the history of the building in effort to assuage his suspicion that I was going to expose the seedy underside of budget inns.

“Yes, yes. I have heard about the history,” he waved his hand in acknowledgement, “It was a church. But you still can’t go up. There is nothing worth looking at. The outside is just a shell. The rooms have square windows and are not at all aligned with the outside windows. It would have been too expensive and impractical. Don’t bother.”

Behind him, another couple strolled down. The man yawned heavily as his girlfriend checked out of the hotel.

After a 15 minute back and forth, I unwillingly admitted defeat and left. As I lingered outside to take more photos, the hotel clerk, with her busy fingers furiously texting, continued to watch my every move.

July 2011

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7 Comments

  • Reply July 18, 2011

    Chris

    Nice story Sue Ann and thank you for the rendition of the hotel’s athmosphere and customers, it let us dreaming about pics you could have taken if you were more the spy-type… The church should have been a fantastic dining room though (dreamy)- lit with candlelights and colored glass windows… I am assuming that there must be plenty of empty old churches in SH to start a restaurant business (dreamy again)…

    • Reply July 18, 2011

      Sue Anne

      Thanks Chris. Actually, I recommend DisappearingCorners.com to check up on Shanghai’s churches. But yes, it would have made a very nice upscale restaruant. I’d take that with proper efforts at restoration over a love hotel anytime.

  • Reply July 19, 2011

    Chris

    Apparently having a restaurant in an old church is not new in SH (http://www.disappearingcorners.com/the-st-nicholas-russian-orthodox-church/ and http://app1.chinadaily.com.cn/star/2006/0117/ci2-2.htm), although the government seemed to have closed it. Is it still the case? I’d prefer a catholic church though, for the wooden banks. Also confessionals would make great separes.

    • Reply July 20, 2011

      Sue Anne

      Well, Chris. You certainly have good ideas for a restaurant in a Catholi church. Not sure if the Pope will concur though, ha. With the ups and downs of the F&B industry, I’m unsure if a restaurant is the way to go in terms of preserving a religious site. In the case of the St Ncholas Russian Orthodox church, I’ve seen it and it has been well restored and holds services.

  • Reply June 4, 2013

    john

    Thanks Sue Anne for the ID of this building. My wife and I walked by it 2007 and noted from the windows that it was most likely an old church but could not find additional information. Here’s a link my 2007 photo on flickr, now updated with a link to this article: http://www.flickr.com/photos/meckleychina/1689475081/. Thanks! -john

    • Reply June 4, 2013

      Sue Anne

      Hi John! I have seen many of your Flickr photos and they have been very useful as reference as well. The last photo I saw of yours was the St. Theresa Catholic Church on 370 Datian Rd in Jingan. Over the weekend, I managed to gain entry and the local priest gave me a tour including the roof and attic. I will share more next time. You’ve built a great archive, thanks for sharing it all with us.

  • Reply June 5, 2013

    john

    Sue Anne,
    Glad to know that my photos are useful.;-)Btw, I had inadvertently labeled my photo of the SDA church as being on Harbin Lu. Now I have it labeled correctly as Wujin Lu. Thanks!
    -john

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