A tell tale sign of what used to be

This may seem unremarkable at first glance, but the location was previously a circular turret building which once housed Horn’s Imbiss Stube (Horn’s Snack Bar) and Cafe Atlantic, common meeting places for many Europeans (many of whom were Jewish refugees) who lived in Hongkou district during the 1930s and 40s. Back then, it was known as the heart of Little Vienna. More background here and here.

Its doomed demolition began sometime around September of last year and I watched week by week as the roof and walls came down.

By January of this year, it had become a near empty plot of land, save for the side skeleton of what used to be shophouse fronts.

I found it odd that this worker was building a brick wall around a demolished site. Upon closer inspection, I realised that one of the shop fronts, all of which were made of old stone, was in English.

I came to the conclusion that the place was most likely once owned by a European family. It made the most sense given its location. After the mass exodus of foreigners from Shanghai post 1949, the shop head was covered rather than painted over, with new headers, which evolved from cloth banners to wooden sign boards to what are now mostly plastic sign boxes with fluorescent lights attached within.

A fortuitous deed for posterity, a little tell tale sign of history, but gone the last time I stopped by.

Taken along 海门路 (Haimen Lu) and 长扬路 (Changyang Lu)

December 2009



  • Reply March 19, 2010


    This is beautiful! You are such a gifted artist, thanks for letting me see the world through your lens 🙂

  • Reply March 19, 2010

    Adam Daniel Mezei

    Have you ever arranged some “before/after” shots and lined them up side-by-side for comparison’s sake? Like they do in some coffee table books, you know?

    Your “more learning” links were fabulous and this is getting crossposted as soon as I’m done commenting. You’d be a cinch for some of the book the Earnshaw Books label puts out, Sue Anne. With your camera and sharp eye, you could quite literally trace the contours of the old neighborhoods, spots like “Blood Alley” (which I hear doesn’t exist any longer) and similar such places, not to mention the evolving face of Pudong.

    I am so glad I found this site…

    • Reply March 21, 2010

      Sue Anne

      Hi Adam,

      I don’t have the exact before and after photos in terms of composition and framing. But I have aspects of before and after, as you can see here, here and here, though not as many as I like. Actually, if you’re interested in folks who are detailing very carefully the disintegration of historical houses, I’d recommend you check out Katya’s work (which I think you already know). She has painstakingly checked out the history of the demolished or sites being demolished in Old Town.

      Cheers for stopping by again, Adam!

  • […] Sue Anne’s latest post from Shanghai Street Stories, which shows a very unexpected street-level reveal. Her photos are […]

  • Reply March 19, 2010


    What, if at all, is the preservation policy? Are there any criteria for historic building that shouldn’t demolished?

    • Reply March 21, 2010

      Sue Anne

      Hi Rogel, I don’t know of any official framework that details the criteria of what should stay and what should go. But the overall priority of modernization, the growing scarcity and profit to be made from tearing down old buildings is too much. I’ve seen some places that have been labelled cultural heritage buildings but most of them outside of the French Concession are poorly maintained. I’ve seen very dilapidated preservation sites which does not bode well for how the public will feel toward them if they are not properly funded, and in other cases, one building will be preserved while everything else around it is flattened. The environs will eventually be changed and the context of the preserved building will be changed.

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