Hands cupped on both sides, I peered inside the dusty and vacant lobby of the Majestic Theatre (美琪大戏院), searching for a way in to no avail. I tested one entrance after another, stymied by the chain locks. At one point, I caught a strong whiff of urine and noted stained splatters against the side of the walls.
The Majestic Theatre has been closed for renovations, from what I gather to be since December of last year. Nestled behind the busy shopping street of Nanjing West Lu (南京西路), along Jiangning Lu (江宁路), the theatre is an iconic landmark for its historical Art Deco design, known to be one of the oldest and most ornate theatres¹ with a well-built sound system. From the outside, nothing much has changed from its original structure.
The Majestic has also had many defining screenings and performances in its time, from the theatre’s inaugural screening of the muscial movie by 20th Cenutry-Fox Film “Kentucky Moonshine“² in 1941 to defining performances including the famous Peiking opera singer Mei Lanfang (梅兰芳) who played the dan (旦角)(leading female) role in Chinese opera before 1949 and Soviet-era actress Galina Sergeyeva during Communist times.
The theatre was designed and completed in 1941 by one of the leading Chinese architects Robert Fan (Fan Wenzhao) (1893-1979), who had also designed the Nanking Theater, now the Shanghai Concert Hall amongst other numerous government buildings, universities and private residences in and and out of Shanghai. He was part of the first generation of Chinese architects who were educated overseas, in Fan’s case at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1920s. His peers include Dong Dayou, Zhao Shen, Tong Jun and Yang Tingbao (the latter three were also UPenn alums), many of whom introduced a unique blend of Western and Eastern architectural design. Fan’s achievements, along with his peers, were made more remarkable in a time dominated by foreign influence and presence in Shanghai.
Placed under heritage protection, the Majestic Theatre is likely to remain for a long time and perhaps all renovations will be inside rather than out. The entrance has since turned into a mini parking lot for scooters and sales points for fruit hawkers angling for more business, you know, business as usual.
¹For a look at Shanghai’s old cinemas, check this out.
² Baidu’s Chinese description mentioned 美国福克斯公司的五彩歌舞片《美月琪花》which is “American Fox Company’s colorful musical …” and what I pieced together to be “Kentucky Moonshine” produced in 1938. If I am mistaken, kindly let me know.