Travel Diary: Heng Shan Moller Villa – Shanghai

Moller Villa Grounds - Shanghai

I’ve been intrigued by this villa since my first trip to Shanghai 6 years ago when it was off-limits to visitors. On a recent walk I was excited to see it was open for business again as a hotel, and decided to take a look around.

The Moller Villa is a fairy tale house located in Shanghai’s old French Concession. Snippets from guidebooks only piqued my curiosity further – “a house build for a Swedish magnet’s daughter”. Or as legend has it, it was a house built for a favorite daughter based on sketches from a dream she had about a Gothic castle. Or another story claims it’s a life size dollhouse built for the daughter.

So what is the real story? Eric Moller was a Swedish-Jewish businessman from Hong Kong with a British citizenship (got that?) His father started a shipping company in Hong Kong in 1860. As the business expanded into China, the son took over the business – eventually landing in Shanghai where he oversaw the family’s shipping, insurance, real estate and investment concerns.

Eric Moller commissioned the villa to be built in 1926 for his family of 6 children. The house heavily references Scandinavian design as well as maritime and Chinese motifs. Designed by a Shanghai architectural firm – Allied Architects – the house was completed in 1936.

The family owned the villa until the 1950s when the Communists took over. The home became the headquarters of the Communist Youth League – Shanghai branch.

In 1989, the house was listed as a protected historical building, and in 2001 it opened as a hotel by the Heng Shan group of Shanghai who have maintained the beauty of it’s wood paneled and tiled interior.

Even more mysterious, the hotel was closed for “repairs” in 2006 but was actually being used as the headquarters for the corruption investigation of top Shanghai Party official Secretary Chen Liangyu. People were invited to the villa for “a cup of coffee” only to find themselves implicated in a corruption scandal. The villa reopened in 2009.

I suppose there will always be questions surrounding this mysterious villa. It remains an intriguing example of Western architecture and design in Shanghai.

For additional pictures, check out Tess Johnston & Deke Erh’s book “A Last Look – Western Architecture in Old Shanghai”.

Heng Shan Moller Villa Hotel
Address: Shaanxi Nan Lu 30, Shanghai, China
Location: South side of Yan’an Zhong Lu
Tel: 021-62478881
Website: http://www.mollervilla.com

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