Wuchang Temple 武昌宮 is one of many remnants of the devastating 921 Earthquake, which ripped through central Taiwan on September 21st, 1999, toppling tens of thousands of buildings and claiming nearly 2,500 lives. Located in the rural township of Jiji 集集 in Nantou 南投, less than five kilometers from the epicenter of the magnitude 7 quake, this temple was destroyed mere months after it was completed. Rather than clear the debris, the damaged structure was left more or less as it was the morning after it collapsed, and a new temple with the same name was built in front. Nowadays this ruined temple is a popular roadside attraction and a prime example of disaster tourism in Taiwan.
Zhongyang Theater 中央戲院 is located in Guanmiao 關廟, a rural district in southern Tainan 台南 with slightly less than 35,000 residents. The name is derived from a nearby street and simply means Central Theater. It was constructed in 1969, a few short years after an open-air movie theater began showing films on this plot of land just east of the biggest market in town. As with many Taiwanese cinemas of its vintage, it was in business until the late 1980s before winding down, another casualty of changing consumer habits, the collapse of local industry, and rural flight. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Zhongyang Theater, a milestone recently observed by Guanmiao Youth 關廟青, a group of local activists hoping to revitalize their hometown. They were successful in generating some some positive news coverage of the occasion, and now that this theater is in the news, I figure I may as well share my findings from several visits to the site over the last four years.
Taiwan Motor Transport Company 台灣汽車客運公司 (or simply Taiqi 台汽) was a state-owned enterprise founded in 1980, partly to take advantage of the newly-completed National Freeway 1 國道一號 running along the western coast of Taiwan from Keelung 基隆 to Kaohsiung 高雄. Considerable investments were made into an extensive fleet of vehicles, more than two dozen bus stations, and a massive maintenance depot (previously documented on this blog). Despite enjoying a monopoly on long distance, intercity coach travel, the company struggled to remain profitable in its first decade of operations—and when the market was deregulated and opened to competition in the early 1990s, its fate was sealed. After incurring another decade of losses Taiqi was privatized in 2001 under the name Kuo-Kuang Motor Transport Company 國光汽車客運股份有限公司, which continues to operate today, albeit on a much smaller scale. One consequence of the downsizing that preceded privatization was the closure of the Changhua Bus Terminal in Changhua City 彰化市, the administrative capital of Changhua 彰化. Today it remains derelict, a crumbling relic of the optimistic 1980s hidden in the laneways north of the central railway station.
Dongxing Theater 東興大戲院 is located in a small village in the outskirts of Taitung City 台東市, Taitung 台東, at the southernmost extent of the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷. Not much is known about its history beyond whatever can be deduced by visiting the site, but it was almost certainly built in the late 1960s, around the same time as Jinxing Theater 金星大戲院, located just down the street, and Zhonghua Theater in Guanshan 關山, which has almost the same design. At some point it went out of business, probably in the 1980s, and was converted into a small rural hospital, a repurposing I’ve seen nowhere else in Taiwan.
Xiluo Theater 西螺大戲院 is perhaps the most widely-known of the many abandoned theaters of Taiwan. It is located just off the main commercial street running through Xiluo 西螺, a small city of approximately 46,000 residents on the south bank of the Zhuoshui River 濁水溪, the traditional boundary dividing northern and southern Taiwan. Completed sometime between 1937 and 1940, this reinforced concrete and brick building replaced a wooden theater originally built in the 1920s. The new theater survived the war unscathed and flourished during the golden age of Taiwanese cinema in the 1950s and 60s. In those days the area surrounding the theater became known as Xiluo’s Ximenting 西門町, a name derived from Taipei’s popular entertainment district. Business declined sharply in the early 1980s and the theater was abandoned to the elements by 1988, a consequence of changing consumer habits, the rise of television and home video, and population outflow to larger cities. More recently it has become a popular site for photography, video production, urban exploration, and historical tourism.
Zhonghua Theater 中華大戲院 is an impressive KMT authoritarian era ruin in Guanshan 關山, a small town of approximately 8,800 in the idyllic Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan. With seating for 1,200 patrons it was the largest theater in Taitung 台東 when it opened in 1965, and it soon earned the title “northern tyrant” (beibatian 北霸天) for dominating the cinema industry at this end of the county. What explains the existence of such a huge theater in this remote, sparsely populated place? As with the more modest and folksy Wuzhou Theater 五洲戲院 in neighbouring Chishang 池上, an examination of regional socioeconomic history provides answers.
Shulin is a heavily industrialized district of approximately 185,000 residents on the southwestern periphery of Taipei 台北. Until recently it was home to one of the most well-known large-scale ruins in the metropolitan area: the former Taiwan Motor Transport Maintenance Depot 台灣汽車客運公司機料廠, more generally known as the Shulin Factory. This abandonment was far from secret—it was regularly used for photo and video production, airsoft and paintball games, flying drones, practicing graffiti and street art, and the occasional underground techno party. It was so popular, in fact, that it attracted several con artists who impersonated security guards and the property owner to charge a fee for usage of the site, occasionally extorting large sums from more professional operations, which eventually led to their arrest. As for the history of the site itself, Tobias at Only Forward has published an extremely thorough account of this ruin, and I don’t have very much to add apart from my own original photos from two separate visits to the now-vanished site.
Xinyi District 信義區 is among the richest and most expensive parts of Taiwan but it hasn’t always been this way. Decades ago it was sparsely settled and far more industrialized, particularly around Wuxing Street 吳興街, where I lived for several years in the late 2010s. This part of the city was once anchored by an immense army maintenance depot previously mentioned in this post, but the entire complex was demolished in the early 2010s, replaced by parking lots, basketball courts, and wide open fields. The former depot was surrounded by several military villages, all of which were also dismantled apart from the grim concrete apartment blocks of Wuxing New Village 吳興新村 and, somewhat further north, the restored and revitalized #44 South Village 四四南村 across from Taipei 101.
Until recently there was also a cluster of what were probably illegal houses on the southern periphery of the former army depot. Nestled into a tiny patch of land next to the mountains and jutting into the factory grounds, this community was demolished in early 2017, but not before I made several visits to document its disappearance. There is nothing particularly noteworthy or unusual about this small community—and indeed, I can find no information about it whatsoever. This post serves only to document a nameless, unremarkable place, one of thousands disappearing into memory all across Taiwan.
The Stanton Club 飛宏象山國際會議聯誼中心 was an exclusive business and recreation facility located in the foothills of the Nangang Mountains 南港山系 in Xinyi District 信義區, Taipei 台北. Although details are scant, it was in operation from the late 1990s until approximately 2005, when it went out of business for reasons unknown. Most of the club is underground—and with floorspace or around 3,500 ping, a Taiwanese unit of measurement corresponding to approximately 12,000 m2, it was a rather large place. Perhaps owing to its relatively accessible location this became one of the most notorious ruins in Taipei for awhile, even appearing on television at times. The space was finally leased and renovated in 2018 so I am now at liberty to share some photos from several forays made to the site in previous years.
Linkou 林口, now the fastest-growing suburban district in the greater Taipei 台北 area, was once home to more than 30 brick factories, the highest concentration in northern Taiwan. Shengtai Brick Kiln 勝泰磚窯, at the far northern extent of the Linkou Plateau 林口台地, is one of the last remnants of this once-flourishing brick-making industry. Numerous ruins can be found across the sprawling site but the most impressive is a Hoffmann kiln, easily identified by its broken chimney. Hoffmann kiln technology was introduced to Taiwan during the Japanese colonial era but this particular kiln only dates back to the mid-1960s, and it has now been abandoned for many decades.