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Hotel uncovers hidden treasures

Seven century-old, white marble clapboards embossed with carvings of the Egyptian Sphinx were recently found in a hotel storage room that has been sealed for decades.

The storage room at the Shanghai Astor House Hotel also contained several other century-old utensils, including an American hurricane lamp, an English ammeter, four blades of an American electric fan, and 37 white marble candle holders, according to Zuo Yan, who has worked at the hotel for more than 20 years.

"I believe that these aged items are the only intact ones existing in the city," he said. "It'll be impossible to find any others as old as them."

The antiques will first be appraised, then be repaired, and finally be put in their former places or exhibited to the public, said Li Hao, a manager at the hotel.

He said some old photos show that the clapboards and candlesticks were once used to decorate the hotel's Peacock Hall, the city's first ballroom and the biggest one in Shanghai during the 1930s.

"We'll relocate them to where they were, providing them a chance to function again as before," Li added.

The Astor House Hotel, located on the north end of the Waibaidu Bridge near the Bund, was regarded as the most deluxe western hotel in the city and one of the best in China during the first half of the 20th century. It was once the first choice for many international celebrities, such as Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin.

Its architecture, which mixes different elements of the baroque, Victorian and Spanish styles, is still a unique attraction for many visitors, said Zhou Yourong, office director of the hotel.

He said the hotel is currently undergoing a major restoration, and more antiques are expected to reappear.

"The most classical item is expected to stand in the center of our rebuilt front hall, telling the customers the hotel's past, and the city's former glory as an international trading port," he said.