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.
Zhushan 竹山 (literally “Bamboo Mountain”) is a historic yet obscure township in southwestern Nantou 南投 mainly known for cultivating tea and bamboo. The town itself is one of the oldest in central Taiwan but it hardly feels that way. Many of Zhushan’s most historic structures were destroyed or damaged beyond repair in the devastating 921 Earthquake that struck in 1999, which is why its “old street” is lined with modern buildings. Most travellers pass through Zhushan on the way to attractions deeper into the rugged interior of Taiwan without sparing it a second glance—but I stopped for a closer look in the summer of 2017 while on an impromptu road trip. After staying the night in a sleazy love motel never meant for sleep (there was no way to switch off the lights) I wandered around in the morning haze, capturing traces of Zhushan’s history as it disappears into memory.
In May 2018 I embarked on a multi-day bicycle trip along the majestic Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Taitung City 台東市. Although I had previously cycled parts of this valley during my full tour of the island in 2013 I did so without really knowing what was there—and after five years I amassed quite a collection of notes about places I was interested in seeing up close. Several themes emerged while preparing for this trip: old standalone movie theaters, of which I had located more than a dozen; derelict railway infrastructure including stations, military checkpoints, and abandoned lines; and relics of the Japanese colonial era, particularly former Shinto shrines. This post documents my first day of riding, which only began in the late afternoon after arriving by rail at Hualien Station. I had shipped my bike ahead so all I had to do was pick it up from the baggage room, throw the panniers on, and start riding.
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.
In May 2018 I seized an opportunity to ride the beautiful and dangerous Suhua Highway 蘇花公路 (中文) from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Su’ao 蘇澳 in Yilan 宜蘭. I had previously taken this same route on bicycle back in 2013—a harrowing trip I’ll never forget—so I was eager to drive a scooter and experience it at a different pace. I also visited a number of historic sites along the way, including several former Shinto shrines, as part of an ongoing project documenting various elements of the Japanese colonial legacy in Taiwan. Much of the highway itself also owes something to Japanese engineering, having opened to vehicular traffic in 1931, but it has been continuously repaired and expanded since then.
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.
Yuanlin Credit Union 員林信用合作社 was a small town bank from Yuanlin 員林, Taiwan, that went out of business at the turn of the century. It originated with a Japanese colonial era credit union founded in 1914 and based out of a long-vanished red brick building directly across from Yuanlin Station 員林車站, a plot of land now occupied by the doomed Golden Empire Building 黃金帝國大樓. In the post-war chaos the original credit union was renamed and reorganized several times, eventually giving birth to the credit union that constructed this particular branch, possibly in the late 1960s or early 1970s.