Choa tries to save the Jewish North Bund area in Shanghai

Christopher Choa, a New York architect who moved to Shanghai three years ago, became enchanted by the area, the North Bund in Shanghai, and its history. The North Bund, known as Hongkou (or Hongkew), once the American and then the International Settlement, harbored more than 20,000 Jews who fled Nazi Europe from 1933 to 1941 and 5,000 to 10,000 who fled Stalin's Russia. Now it is facing redevelopment.

Almost all the Jews left in 1949 behind a charming neighborhood with row houses, schools, a synagogue, a park and even a Little Vienna Cafe. When Shanghai officials announced urban renewal plans for the North Bund almost two years ago, they said they envisioned turning the area into a masterpiece of the 21st century, a modern business and residential district with skyscrapers, apartment buildings, cruise ship docks and even an enormous Ferris wheel. Officials had earmarked about 400 buildings for preservation citywide, but in the old ghetto only the Ohel Moshe Synagogue and a block or so of row houses made the list.

Choa had a different idea. He and his New York architecture firm, HLW International, entered a competition to design a master plan for the new North Bund. HLW, along with two other firms, the Cox Group of Australia and RTKL Associates of Baltimore, won.

Choa, who had already restored the Art Deco lobbies of the Park Hotel and the Peace Hotel annex, architectural jewels from the era when Shanghai was known as the Paris of the East, has experience in environmentally sensitive design. The centerpiece of his plan is creating a memorial park around the synagogue, where there are now buildings.

An alternative plan has been drawn up by two Canadians, Ian Leventhal and Thomas M. Rado, who are Jewish. They formed a company called Living Bridge, which is trying to raise $450 million to preserve at least 50 ghetto buildings in a nine-block area. Leventhal and Rado, who are working with government-appointed preservation professors from a Shanghai university and a Toronto architect, made a presentation to district officials in Hongkou on May 24.. (Source: Sheridan Prasso, New York Times, May 31, 2004)

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