Two historic buildings on Shanghai's famous Bund have temporarily escaped demolition after a group of experts appealed to the government to conserve the heritage sites, but the intervention was too late to save a third.
About 15 architecture, history and culture experts based in Shanghai banded together to write an article on social media app WeChat last month, calling on the city's government to "protect the city's memories" by preserving three houses on Huangpu Road.
A few days after the article was published one of the buildings was demolished as part of a plan to build public cultural facilities on the site. But authorities suspended work on the other two and are considering removing only the interior structure while preserving the external walls, according to the group.
The houses, which date back to 1902, witnessed the city's boom in the first half of the 20th century when it became one of the world's most important, and famous, ports, the experts said.
All three of the properties originally belonged to Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha Group and were later used as storage facilities for Japan's military forces during the second world war, according to Yu Hai, a sociologist from Shanghai's Fudan University.
"These buildings, along with the nearby Yangzijiang port on the Huangpu River, represented Shanghai's wharf culture and port culture," Yu said. "They are historically significant as they witnessed Shanghai grow prosperous through shipping and trade industries about a century ago."
Although the two remaining buildings are safe for now, the experts argue their interiors are also worth preserving.
Liu Gang, an architecture professor at Shanghai's Tongji University, said the properties featured big wooden beams supported by black iron pillars, which were prominent architectural features of industrial buildings dating back to the 19th century.
"We guess it was hard to move these giant beams with vehicles at the beginning of the 20th century. Quite possibly they were transported on the river. We guess that the wood was chopped down and processed in places across the Pacific (from North America) and shipped to Shanghai."
In the WeChat article, Liu called for the protection of the interior structure of the buildings. "Without solid research, we cannot simply take them down to be replaced by new ones."
Yu agreed, saying: "The building with a new inside structure would be a fake and this plan will destroy historical heritage."
Huangpu Road, where these houses sit, is rich with history. It features the Garden Bridge of Shanghai " the city's first steel bridge, built in 1907 " and was once home to the consulates of the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Other notable landmarks on the road include the Astor House Hotel, built in 1846, where Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein and George Bernard Shaw stayed in the 1920s and 1930s. The hotel is still there.
"History happened here," Yu said. "But it's a pity that most of the old buildings in this area no longer exist."
Despite their success in winning a stay of execution for the two buildings, the experts are cautious in their expectations.
"The demolition work was suspended, but that does not mean they have accepted our proposals. We are not optimistic," Yu said.
About two weeks ago as part of their effort to save the buildings, Yu and three other scholars approached officials from Shanghai's Planning and Natural Resources Bureau, the government body behind the demolition project.
"Officials emphasised the difficulties of keeping the completeness of the old buildings and we just pointed out the damage to their historical values," Yu said.
The Shanghai bureau did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Appeals by the public to conserve historical buildings have generally not been successful. Shenyuli, a typical Shanghai residential community built in the 1930s, was included in the city's protected list of historical buildings in 2004.
The listing was not enough to prevent its demolition eight years later to make way for a public green land space.
Three years ago, the Shanghai government announced it was suspending the planned demolition of a former sex slavery station used by Japanese soldiers during the second world war, following media reports and a public outcry.
However, the building was later demolished, according to Su Zhiliang, history professor from Shanghai Normal University and a researcher on sex slavery, who predicts a similar outcome for this latest conservation effort.
"I think the government is just using the same tactic to postpone their plan. After the public's attention is over, they will continue demolishing," Su said.
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