Built by Swedish shipping tycoon and horse-racing enthusiast Eric Moller, the Moller Villa sits incongruously at the junction of Shaanxi Lu and Yan’an Lu, its gothic spires turning heads on the nearby flyover. Moller had come to China in 1919 with not a penny to his name, but quickly established himself as a man of means, with his own steamboat service running from Shanghai to Zhenjiang.
For a long time, it was claimed the building was inspired by a dream of Moller’s daughter; though this particular fairytale has since been debunked. Regardless, it had to be big enough to house Moller, his wife, their six children, and a whole bunch of pets.
Construction of the three-storey mansion was all but done by 1936 but not formally completed until 1949. A fortune-teller had warned Moller that a tragedy would befall him around the time it was finished; he was to die six years later in a plane crash.
Briefly occupied by the Japanese, the building later housed the Communist Youth League for the best part of half a century.
It’s now a boutique hotel, with 28 bedrooms spread across its various Gothic wings. The villa’s tea and coffee room, set beside a rather delightful garden, is open to the public. A statue of Moller’s favorite racehorse (Blonic Hill) still stands on the grass.