Astor House Hotel in 1928. The neoclassical baroque building had been constructed in 1846, only a few years after the British had first settled in Shanghai, but clearly after the first opium fortunes had been made. A Sikh policeman keeps watch outside the building to keep out the poor.
Astor House Hotel was the first modern hotel in Shanghai. Opened in 1846 under the name Richard's Hotel, it was located at the end of the city's first major street, The Bund. The building still stands. In 1859, the hotel changed its name to Astor House Hotel. This marked the beginning of the most luxurious hotel in all of Asia and thanks to continuous modernization it kept this status until the mid-1920s. Then even more extravagant hotels started popping up in Shanghai. Astor kept a certina mystique, however, and its ”tea dances” and opulent evening balls were highly sought by the city's white elite in the 1920s. When Astor allowed the Chinese entry to its tea dances in 1926, it also become a popular choice for the more success members of Shanghai's Chinese population.
The last great modernization of Astor House prior to 1927 took place in 1923. At the opening, the local newspaper The North-China Herald described the ball room like this:
”The light blue walls decorated with maidens and sylphs dancing in the open spaces, are surmounted by the plaster reliefs for the indirect lighting system suspended from the ceiling, while high on the marble pillars beautifully cast female figures appear to support the roof. Probably the most novel feature of the decorative scheme, excepting the incandescent mirrors was the peacock shell utilized by the orchestra. ”
Others praised the ball room for its fans and its cooling fountain and some commented on the curved glass ceiling. People generally agreed that it was an example of opulent luxury. There was also a consensus that the tea dances were largely proper, but that the evening parties were more freewheeling with drunks jumping into the fountain.
The Astor House ball room with its peacock stage, photographed in 1926.