Workers with sledgehammers began demolishing a century-old mansion Tuesday that was occupied for years by I.M. Pei's family, despite an appeal from the renowned architect for its preservation.
"It's a real shame. . . . There was nothing at all we could do," said Bei Naizheng, 44, a distant relative of Pei who uses the Chinese spelling of the family name. The city ordered her and other clan members out last weekend.
Shanghai is being spruced up for a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders this year, and the three-story, gray-and-red brick building is being demolished to make way for a park.
Pei, who designed the Bank of China building in Hong Kong, the glass pyramid at the Louvre and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, had written to Shanghai's mayor asking that the home be saved.
Pei said he had no emotional attachment to a house he never lived in, but said preserving it was a "worthy cause" given that much of Old Shanghai is being torn down.
City officials declined to comment Tuesday.
Bei Rensheng, a paint businessman known as the "King of Pigments" and a great-uncle of Pei, bought the home in 1911. It housed five generations of the clan, including Bei Naizheng, who was born there.
During the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, Red Guards smashed stained-glass windows from France, tore out carved woodwork, and poured cement on the balcony tiles.
Shanghai's housing administration named the residence a historic landmark in March 2000, and Bei and her husband scrubbed its exterior, replastered its ceilings and scoured neighboring provinces for rare tiles to repair the roof.
But then she found out the city decided to raze the neighborhood.