Since the late 19th Century, the riverfront Bund has been Shanghai's most prestigious boulevard. In the 1880s, it was a popular residential neighborhood for affluent foreign nationals. By 1900, rapid industrialization had transformed the Bund into a bustling commercial center, where prominent businesses established their headquarters.
Built in 1916, the former Union Building located on Bund No.3 Zhong Shan Don Yi Road is one of the "Outstanding Historical Buildings" recognized by Shanghai Municipal People's Government. It was the first steel-framed structure in Shanghai, of which the frame was custom made by famous German steel manufacturer Friedrich Krupp AG. The exterior wall was covered with granite stone veneer. The steel structure allowed tenants to select the layout of their offices and the building became the pioneering architectural model of open-plan office buildings of its time.
The Union Building was situated at the corner of Guangdong Road and the Bund, with its facade facing Guangdong Road. It is designed in Neo-Renaissance style with some Baroque style details on the exterior. The main gate and the balconies on the third and fifth floors were decorated with carved long Ionic columns, while the window panes at the door and two sides were trimmed with Baroque style spiral patterns.
The 150 feet domed pavilion at the north-east corner rooftop of the building was the first tower-on-the building structure in Shanghai. There were double columns at the four corners and an Islamic style calabash-shaped dome on the top. Formerly an observation deck for the insurance company to monitor boats entering Shanghai and a bell tower, it has found new glory as the Cupola, Shanghai's most exclusive private dining venue.
The land on No.3 Zhong Shan Don Yi Road where the Union Building is located used to belong to Dodwell & Co., Ltd., a British trading company. In 1912, the renowned marine insurance company in the Far East, the Union Insurance Society of Canton Ltd. signed a contract with Dodwell & Co., Ltd to build its office building on that property. The insurance company travelled far to Hong Kong in search of the perfect architecture firm which could adapt to modern development and local needs. Finally, the project was commissioned to Palmer & Turner Group when they expended business to Shanghai. 32-year old architect Georges L. Wilson was appointed as the designer and the building was completed in 1916.
Upon resuming business in Shanghai, the Mercantile Bank of India moved into this building from its previous office on Hangzhou Road in 1922. After the Songhu Battle, being unable to indemnify war damages, the Union Insurance Society of Canton Ltd. had its assets frozen, the Mercantile Bank of India then purchased the building in 1937. From 1941 to 1945 it was closed due to the Japanese invasion. The bank re-opened after the war until it filed a close-down application in 1952 and transferred the property to Shanghai Municipal People's Government. Since then the building was used by the Shanghai Civil Architecture and Design Institute, Shanghai Architectural Design Institute Co., Ltd. and Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.
In 1997, Giti group, a private enterprise from Singapore purchased the building with the vision of reinstating the Bund's glory and commissioned acclaimed American architect Michael Graves for the restoration project. In 2004 House of Three Ltd. under Giti Group established Three on the Bund which opened to public in September same year. Today, Three on the Bund has become an iconic Bund Landmark, and Shanghai's finest Epicurean destination blending arts, gastronomy and culture.