Renovations to JG Ballard's Amherst Ave Home.

Updates from Shanghai: scroll down thru time...

October 27, 2009

The SH508 people have sold the house and moved to a new location around the corner. The house is currently under renovation of some kind. 

Will keep my eye on it, but, in Shanghai, despite the govenment 'protection' of old houses, everytime one of the villas changes hands there's a 50 percent chance it goes, at least in it's original form.

Also, the Longhua runway and the original guard booth we saw by the railway are both dug up and going as part of the expo site work. 

Andy Best

November 27, 2009

I just returned from a trip through China. Made it to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. I stopped by JG Ballard's boyhood home in Shanghai. It's currently undergoing a major renovation. The construction workers were aware of the historical significance of the home. Hopefully it will be finished with respect to its origins.

Dan Butterfield

These photos were taken on November 17, 2009. That's Dan Butterfield.

January 17, 2010

Concerning the house, yeah, I went yesterday and it's much worse.

They ended up stripping it to the beams, it looked like a barn. Now it's re-made out of concrete. Only the old front door down the lane is untouched, but not for long. 

Andy Best

August 29, 2010

Hi Rick,

Haven't got much of a story to tell -- to visit the Ballard home, I came out of Hongqiao Road metro Station, and headed northeast along Huahai Road for about ten minutes, before turning left into Pan Yu (Columbia Rd before the war). The house is clearly visible behind a wall and electric fence. At first glance, it looks pretty much like the original house, but almost nothing original remains of the old place. The renovations seemed to be pretty much complete, but I was not able to tell what the building is intended to be now. It might be another restaurant, or it could equally be a private dwelling. I didn't have time to try and ask around to find out, so I headed around the corner into what used to be Amhurst Avenue (now Xinhua Rd). As I saw the old driveway to JG Ballard's home, I thought of the old beggar lying dead in the snow on the corner, and the wheels of the car going over his foot as it turned out into Amhurst.

There is a little cabin with a security guard at the entrance of the drive, but I just walked by and waved at him -- he nodded back and didn't seem to mind me being there. At the end of the drive I looked at the original site of the Ballard front door. It is completely sealed off by a new brick wall, and unless you knew, you wouldn't imagine this was once the front of the house. The window above the old door remains.

Directly opposite the old front door is another pre-war house, somewhat untidy and overgrown. In a pile of earth next to the new brick wall, I picked up a shard of pottery with some blue and white decoration. It looked like part of a tea cup. Could Mrs Ballard have sipped morning tea from this cup before the Japanese invasion?

I also had a look around the old Longhua Airfield. To get there, just come out of Longcao Road metro station and walk east along Longhua Road for about 5 minutes, past some shops, then turn right into Longhua Road West. Go over a canal, and then behind a newly built brick and cement wall on the right, you will see the old guardhouse where the Hangzhou - Shanghai railway line used to cross the road until a couple of years ago. Only the roof is visible behind the wall, but you can see more of it just around the corner. It is now a fruit shop, and the owner is not very keen on allowing people to come in and take photos. Right across the road is a large building that looks something like a cinema, or large store. This is the old terminal building of Longhua airport, that has now been converted into a hotel and public baths. If you look at the back of the building, you can see the old control tower. Walk further down towards the Huangpu river, and on the right you wil see the old runway stretching into the distance -- now covered by car parks and buildings. Across the road to the left where the runway once ended, you can still see some old planes, streaked with dirt and grime, falling apart trapped among the apartment blocks and rubble.

There are quite a few buildings scattered around the area that must be contemporary with the airport in its heyday -- maybe even some from the pre-war airbase, but it's hard to tell. In China, comparatively new buildings soon start to look old.

Nick Darsley

Nick was kind enough to also send these photos:

The old Ballard home is now completely renovated, picking up from the changes made when it was turned into a restaurant in 2007. Only the roofline now remains.

The lane to the Ballard house original front door, off Amherst Avenue

The wall beside the old front door of the Ballard home... all bricked over

Lunghua airport terminal... now housing

Lunghua airstrip... now a parking lot

Lunghua Airport control tower... now residences

Lunghua Pagoda (rebuilt in the 1990s)

The roof of the old Hangzhou - Shanghai railway guardhouse can be seen behind the new wall.

May 9, 2011

Hi Rick,

Glad you liked the photos.  Unfortunately, we weren't able to tour the rest of the house, as it was booked out for a wedding.  Chinese believe that some dates are better than others for weddings, and apparently, yesterday was a very good day, as a lot of weddings were taking place.  I might go back for afternoon tea sometime, and see if I can get a tour of the rest of the premises.

Looking at JG's drawing, it looks like the dining room, drawing room, and enclosed veranda have been combined into the main dining room of the restaurant, and this is where we ate.  The kitchen for the restaurant appears to be the original kitchen, and expanded into the servants quarters.  My parents are in town visiting, so I brought my dad along with my friend and I.  My dad can't recall if he ever saw Empire, so I gave him a short rundown of the movie, and significance of the house.  The restaurant itself is a mid to upper end Shanghai style restaurant, although we felt that for the money, there are places for better quality Shanghai food in town.

My dad asked the waitress if she knew anything about history or ownership of the building, and she told us that a lot of English and Germans come in and talk about an author who is famous in the West that used to live there, but that was all she knew, which was actually more than I expected.

Another interesting tidbit, I always knew that my grandfather had spent time in Shanghai, but I never knew much about it.  Later in the evening, as my dad and I were telling my mom about the trip to the Ballard house, she mentioned that her father had spent 1936-1946 in Shanghai, or roughly the same time JG Ballard was there.  I never talked to my grandfather about it, and apparently he never told my mom or her brothers and sisters much about his time in Shanghai either.

Sadly, my grandfather passed in 2004, so what I'm sure was a rich treasure trove of first hand stories and history is also gone forever.

Regarding the rest of the premises, the lane in the back must have been wider in the 1930s-1940s, because I can't imagine it being wide enough for a car of the period to get in and out of the garage gate.  I suppose if you remove the trees and bicycle storage areas, it would be wide enough.  Today, it's barely wide enough for a modern car, which has a much smaller footprint than cars of the 1930s.  It appears that the house has been built all the way up to the outer wall, and the only way into or out of the premises into the lane is through the garage gate.  What was the front door is totally sealed up to the outer wall.  Walking down the lane, it also looks like a couple of the other period houses have also been rebuilt recently, and are being used for offices, restaurants, etc.  A few are still residential, and appear to be inhabited by local Chinese.  Based on the size of the houses, I would imagine that at least 3 or more families would live in each one, perhaps, they have been subdivided into apartments/flats.  I got a couple pictures of the walls with carved artwork immediately adjacent to the gates of the lane, not sure if those are original pieces, or modern additions.


Ben Lin

The new sign:

Lane entrance:

These two shots show where the original front door was:

This is where the original garage was