My mom and uncle each visited Tokyo’s famous Imperial Hotel in the mid-60s.
Originally built in 1890 in the Victorian style, the Imperial has gone through several incarnations. In 1923 a new building was designed by one of my favorite architects, Frank Lloyd Wright (as shown in the postcard). Now it’s a modern high rise.
My mom had gone to the bar there with some friends, so when her brother was planning to stay there in 1965 (at $8 a night), she let him in on a secret.
“Look for William Stewart in the basement bar,” she told him. “He’s an Old China Hand and full of good stories.”
And sure enough my uncle found Stewart in the bar and learned about his life in China.
Stewart worked in Shanghai for an American tire company in the 30s, leaving sometime during WWII. He returned to Shanghai after the war and stayed until 1949. He then settled in Tokyo where he ran the company’s East Asian operations.
By 1965, China had already been closed to most of the world for 15 years and it was rare to find people who had been there.
Three years later, the Frank Lloyd Wright building had been through its share of floods, earthquakes, and wartime bombings so the management decided to build a modern high-rise in its place. Part of the Frank Lloyd Wright building was transferred and reconstructed outside Nagoya, where my mom lived in the mid-60s.
Old Hotels. Old China Hands. Those were the days.