Culture\Music and Theater

An icon from the past makes its comeback

By Xu Junqian in Shanghai | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-05-19 10:52

An icon from the past makes its comeback

Paramount Hall, a famous cabaret venue in the city where Charlie Chaplin used to perform, has reopened

Shanghai's version of the famous Moulin Rouge reopened its doors in late April, 84 years after it was built as the most extravagant cabaret in the Far East.

Situated in the western part of the city, the six-story Paramount Hall was built by Chinese textile and real estate tycoon Gu Liancheng and opened to the public in December 1934, less than three years before Shanghai joined northern Chinese cities in the fight against the Japanese.

Today, the building is the only one out of the Big Four dancing halls in Shanghai that has survived. During its prime in the mid-1930s, its ballrooms were where the rich kids of the city's magnates learned the rumba or foxtrot, and where businessmen, gangsters and foreign adventurers socialized and sealed deals. Among the high profile personalities is English comic actor Charlie Chaplin who performed twice at the venue.

The building was taken over by the municipal government in the 1950s and revamped into a cinema. It was later acquired by a Taiwan businessman and reopened in 2001 in an attempt to cash in on the city's obsession with ballroom-dancing. The venue was shut down again in 2012 due to poor management.

Paramount Hall's latest renovations, which started in 2013, cost more than 100 million yuan ($14.5 million) and was funded by businessman Zheng Honghe. The venue was officially opened on April 22.

"Paramount Hall is not just a historical building that should be preserved - it is also a part of the city's memories," said Chen Gang, one of China's most famous composers and a Shanghai native.

During the latest session of Colormen, a cultural salon in Shanghai, Gu Jiawei, the grandson of the founder of Paramount Hall, shared how a staff from the venue was apparently responsible for the creation of the cabaret's biggest rival Ciro's Club.

According to Gu's grandfather, Jewish adventurer and hotelier Victor Sassoon had established Ciro's Club after he was infuriated with how a waiter at Paramount failed to recognize him when he was at the cabaret venue. Ciro's Club, which is now a commercial building with theaters, shops and restaurants, was named and built after the eponymous club founded in New York.

Zheng Deren, a bassist that used to play at Paramount, shared during the salon how his band Jimmy King - it was the first professional jazz band in China - had to play renditions of hit songs from blockbusters movies in the United States, which were popular with the guests.

Zheng, who is today 96 years old and the last band member alive, also remembered how he had to watch the film Bathing Beauty four times in order to memorize the tune of its theme song and replay it with the band at the dancing hall.

Film director Hu Xuehua said that the exclusive cabaret, just like the towering skyscrapers in today's Lujiazui district, was an icon for the city.

"Many old Shanghainese have never stepped into the hall before and they can only tell of its charm and magic through their imagination," said Hu, who has included dancing scenes at Paramount in a number of his films.


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