The Fleishhacker Pool and the French Concession of Shanghai

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San Francisco’s Fleishhacker Pool was built in 1924 by philanthropist and financier Herbert Fleishhacker. Its grand opening was 22 April 1925. The pool was 1,000 x 150 feet (300 x 50 meters), and held 6,500,000 gallons (25,000,000 liters) of heated seawater pumped in from the Pacific Ocean.

Since the pool was so immense (with room for 10,000 people), lifeguards used rowboats. During WWII, it was used for training servicepeople. This was one of the world’s largest pools.

A diving pool was fifteen feet (4.5 meters) deep and fifty square feet (fifteen meters). Both pools heated 2,800 gallons a minute from 60 to 75ºF.

In 1929, it gained a new neighbor, Fleishhacker Zoo (now the San Francisco Zoo).

The grand opening hosted an Amateur Athletic Union swim meet, with 5,000 spectators. One of the swimmers was Johnny Weissmuller, representing the Illinois Athletic Club. Weissmuller returned to Fleishhacker Pool for many future swims, and always drew a crowd.

Other famous swimmers who frequented the pool were Esther Williams and Ann Curtis.

The general opening was 1 May 1925, and drew 5,000 patrons. Adults and teens paid a quarter, while those under age twelve paid fifteen cents. This fee not only allowed them use of the pool, but also a rented swimsuit and large towel (sterilized between uses) and a huge dressing room with showers.

There were also a cafeteria, childcare area, and a tree-lined miniature beach.

Sadly, the pool went into disrepair and decline, and a January 1971 storm was the straw which broke the camel’s back. The repairs cost too much money, and an attempt to convert it to a freshwater pool failed due to uncontrolled algae.

In June 1971, it closed forever.

My characters Nadezhda Lebedeva and Vsevolod Smirnov go to the Fleishhacker Pool during their exhilarating first full day in America in April 1933, after their visit to the Emporium department store. Among their purchases were swimsuits.

Nadezhda, who’s just been released from twelve years in Siberia, can’t remember the last time she went swimming, and Vsevolod, who’s lived his entire life in the small Siberian town of Bulun, has never gone swimming.

It’s been so long since Nadezhda last visited a public bath, she’s forgotten it’s customary to offer rental swimsuits as part of the entry fee. She feels buyer’s remorse for the swimsuit she bought, since that money could’ve been spent on more important things.

Copyright Alan Levine; Source

The French Concession of Shanghai was formed 6 April 1849, in a narrow area around the Old City, south of the British Concession. In 1861, a strip of riverside land east of the Old City was added to enable the building of a dock for French–Chinese shipping.

Starting in the 1860s, “extra-settlement” roads outside the concession began being added.  The first of these roads connected the Old City’s western gate to a Catholic stronghold in Zi-ka-wei (Xujiahui). This enabled French troops to swiftly move between the areas.

In 1899, the concession doubled in size, and in 1913, France gained police and tax powers over the extra roads. In return, France could evict Chinese revolutionaries in this territory. This gave France control over an area fifteen times larger than the original grant.

The French Concession was Shanghai’s most exclusive area by the 1920s. It attracted not only upper-class Chinese and French, but many foreigners. Many luxury apartments were built as the demand for housing grew.

White Russian émigrés brought the Russian population from 41 in 1915 to 7,000 after the Revolution and Civil War. By 1934, it was 8,260. Many Russian employees of the Chinese Eastern Railway fled after the Japanese occupation of northeast China.

Shanghai also became a haven for European Jewish refugees, since it was one of the few places in the world which didn’t require an entry visa or work permit.

Copyright stevechasmar

Just before the outbreak of the Second Sino–Japanese War in 1937, the native Chinese population had grown to 500,000. During WWII, they continued coming to the French Concession to escape the Japanese occupation. They eventually numbered 825,342.

On 30 July 1943, Vichy France handed the French Concession over to the puppet Wang Jingwei government. In February 1946, France gave up all her Chinese concessions.

Avenue Joffre police station; Copyright Fayhoo

My character Inga Savvina defects to the French Concession from Vladivostok in June 1942. Her grandfather and a Navy vice admiral arrange for her to be smuggled onto a Pacific Fleet ship, wearing a nurse’s uniform.

Vice Admiral Agapov handles the Japanese officials at the Huangpo River port, and accompanies Inga a short distance inland. Left on her own, she approaches a non-Chinese couple and speaks to them in the elementary French her grandfather taught her.

She’s taken to Avenue Joffre, where most of the Russians live, and put up in the home of White émigrés who help her gain passage to America to meet the father who has no idea she exists.

The Empress Hotel and The Emporium

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Copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, CC-By-SA-3.0

Victoria, British Columbia’s beautiful landmark Empress Hotel (now The Fairmont Empress) was built by British architect Francis Rattenbury from 1904–08 as a terminus hotel for the nearby Canadian Pacific steamship line.

Initially, The Empress served businesspeople and well-off visitors. To accommodate all the patrons, new wings were added from 1909–14 and in 1928. When Canadian Pacific stopped serving Victoria, the hotel remarketed itself as a tourist resort.

Copyright Another Believer

Famous guests include Prince Edward, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mum), Katharine Hepburn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jack Benny, Rita Hayworth, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Tallulah Bankhead, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, and Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan.

Prince Edward’s waltzing till dawn in the Crystal Ballroom in 1919 was so important to Victorians, elderly women’s obituaries almost fifty years later bore headlines like “Mrs. Thornley-Hall Dies. Prince of Wales Singled Her Out.”

Copyright Another Believer

Most of the 477 rooms overlook the Inner Harbour or the rear courtyard gardens. There are four restaurants—The Veranda, Q at The Empress, Q Bar, and The Lobby Lounge. The lattermost hosts the famous Tea at the Empress, which has run daily in the summer ever since the hotel’s opening on 20 January 1908.

More than 400 people enjoy this classic Victorian-era tea service every day, which features tea sandwiches, a house blend of tea, pastries, scones, quiches, clotted cream, strawberry preserves with lavender from the rooftop garden, mousse, and champagne.

The house tea was first served to King George V in 1914 in Stoke-on-Trent, England, upon the opening of the Booth factory, and the china was first used for the 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, CC-By-SA-3.0

For many years, there was no sign above the door. As workers raised the sign, a furious man proclaimed, “Anyone who doesn’t know this is The Empress shouldn’t be staying here.”

In 1965, debate was raised about whether The Empress should be torn down to make room for a more modern hotel. Thankfully, this beautiful Edwardian landmark was preserved, and launched a $4 million restoration campaign, “Operation Teacup.”

In 1989, $45 million more were spent on renovations. While new features such as a health club and indoor pool were added, the goal was to restore it to its prewar elegance instead of bequeathing a new image.

Many people report ghostly sightings, such as an early 20th century maid who helps with sixth floor cleaning.

Copyright Brandon Godfrey; Source

My characters Inga Savvina and Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov go on their first date to Tea at The Empress in August 1947, the day after Yuriy finally confessed he’s been in love with Inga almost since they met five years ago.

Yuriy is so excited to finally be on a date with his dream girl, he almost misses their streetcar stop. He never thought Inga would want to be more than friends, or go out with someone almost five and a half years older.

Yuriy’s family also treats his spinster aunt Zina to tea and supper by The Empress for her 60th birthday.

San Francisco’s Emporium department store opened on Market Street in 1896. For decades, this was a beloved shopping destination, but it sadly closed on its 100th birthday. Today, only the glass dome and façade survive.

In 1896, it was advertised as “the most beautiful store on earth,” with “a grand display of a million-and-a-half dollars worth of all good kinds of merchandise,” fifteen acres of floor space, and a concert by The Emporium Orchestra.

In the gaslight era, The Emporium boasted 10,000 electric lights and its own power plant. Every morning, the store opened with a bugle call, and “improperly-dressed” saleswomen were sent home.

Surprisingly, the 1906 earthquake didn’t damage the building too badly, but the resulting fires destroyed the stock and all the records (accounts receivable among them). That summer, The Emporium set up temporary new digs at Van Ness Avenue.

In 1908, it reopened with a new glass dome 110 feet high. In 1936, it became the city’s first big store to use escalators.

For years, upper-class San Franciscans shunned The Emporium, since it was on the south side of Market Street, a major social dividing line.

After WWII, kiddy rides were installed on the roof during December.

Corporate shakeouts, the proliferation of retail stores, and the bourgeois move to the suburbs all led to The Emporium’s decline.

The Emporium’s restored glass dome in Westfield San Francisco Centre; Copyright http://flickr.com/photos/maveric2003/; Source

My characters Vsevolod Smirnov and Nadezhda Lebedeva shop in The Emporium during their exhilarating first full day in America in April 1933. They buy new clothes and swimwear, and marvel at the modern appliances they never dreamt existed. Nadezhda doesn’t even recognize a modern telephone.