The construction of the Embankment Building was a landmark event in 1930s Shanghai. Owned by the real estate mogul Victor Sassoon, it was the first high-rise condominium to be built alongside the Suzhou Creek — or anywhere else in China.
Feted as “the first apartment building in the Far East,” the art-deco block represented the height of modernity at the time. Inside its massive concrete shell, the architects crammed 194 apartments, and around 20 maids’ rooms on each of its six floors. Another two stories were set aside for businesses. Since then, the building has borne witness to nearly nine decades of Shanghai’s turbulent modern history. It remained standing through the Sino-Japanese War and the battle for Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War. In 1938, the tower was also used to house thousands of Jewish refugees who had fled persecution by Nazi Germany.
During this period, the Embankment Building embodied the social structure of Old Shanghai — both its cosmopolitanism and its colonialism. Until the end of the Second World War, it was dominated by foreign white-collar families and their Chinese nannies.