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IMG_1874Among the iconic places I still had no opportunity to visit during my years staying in Shanghai was the legendary Ezra Mansion at 1209 Huaihai Middle Road.

Surprisingly this house is located right near where I live but it was never visible from the street until these a few weeks. On the occasion of the moving of the Redleaf International Hospital to Songyuan Road, the front part of the compound has recently being demolished, revealing one of the most legendary residences of Shanghai to strollers on Middle Huaihai Road. Built by the Jewish tycoon Edward Ezra, the house long stood for one of the architectural gems on Avenue Joffre, definitely intending to impress visitors. Inside the house, the owner had built a lavish ballroom meant for 150 guests and music salon fully decorated with Louis XIV style furniture which could accommodate up to 80 people.

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The South side of the house definitely pays tribute to Versailles with its full length balcony and French windows overlooking the gardens. Born in Shanghai in December 1882 of Jewish Sephardim origin, Edward Ezra made a fortune with opium trading and later real estate investments. Owner of several companies including Shanghai Hotels Limited, Shanghai Gas , Shanghai Motors, China Press and the Evening Star newspapers, his most famous property was probably the Astor Hotel, which became highly profitable under his management. As most of the wealthiest Sephardim Jews in those years, the Ezras had connections with other rich Jewish families. They were specifically related to the Sassoons through wedding links. When I travelled to Dallas last summer to read Victor's Sassoon's diaries, I actually saw the mention of Mrs Ezra Robinson's name at different places, either as a guest of Sir Victor or herself host at the Ezra Mansion. 

63DB6D49-EAED-4B35-BB85-FAE109770392Edward and Victor, however, probably never met as Edward died at 39 in 1921, more or less the same time when Victor Sassoon settled in Shanghai. His widow survived him fifty-eight years and their two sons Cecil and Denzil stayed in the family house in the 1930s when Victor Sassoon was around, as testified by the Hong Books. The house was close to the villa of the Mayor of Shanghai Fu Xiao An and the German style former residence of Xi Dejun, comprador of Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, forming a kind of upper class golden triangle. To tell more about Edward Ezra, he belonged to the Shanghai Club, the Masonic Club, the Shanghai Race Club and the Cercle Sportif Français. He tried to revive the Jewish community of Kaifeng, on the model of David Sassoon with Kochi "Beni Israel" Jews, though less successful than his predecessor! 

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His greediness was probably the reason for his downfall as Edward Ezra got involved in illicite drug traffic into the US, under the protection of Chinese Guomingtang, as well as tricking sports competitions. When those facts went public, his former partners and investors turn their backs on him sothat when he died from cerebral hemorragy, he had practically gone broke. When flipping into Tess Johnston wonderful “Shanghai Architecture, A Last Look” or “Shanghai Walks”, I realize that the mansion was used by the People Liberation Army for a while and that for this reason, photos were almost unthinkable when she published her books I therefore consider myself lucky being able to sneak into the construction site to make pictures . 

From my visit, it seems that most former luxurious rooms have been emptied with no trace left of the French Louis XIV past glories. Still I am happy to share outside pics of the mansion. So please enjoy, just like I did!

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