I chanced upon the ruins of the RSEA Marble Factory 榮民大理石工廠 while riding around the industrial park on the north side of Hualien City 花蓮市 sometime in early 2017. It wasn’t immediately obvious what this derelict factory produced so I decided to stop and take a closer look. Although much of this sprawling site had already been cleared, a few half-demolished buildings remained. In one of these I found a pallet full of product samples and several references to marble, answering the first of many questions on my mind. But there’s always more to examine if you’re curious, so let’s dig into the archives and see what can be learned about this abandoned industrial site in Hualien 花蓮, Taiwan.
Emerald Bay (Feicuiwan 翡翠灣) is a forlorn stretch of sandy coastline in Wanli 萬里, a rural district of 22,000 residents situated on the rugged northeastern coast of Taiwan. It is widely known for its many derelict resorts, most famously the so-called Wanli UFO Village 萬里飛碟屋, which is what initially drew me here in 2013. I returned a year later and noticed a dilapidated structure further along the beach, an ugly institutional building similar in appearance to a Taiwanese police station of the 1980s. A closer inspection revealed an interior cluttered with intriguing clues—abandoned artifacts and decaying documents, enough to conclusively identify this neglected ruin. This was formally known as the Yeliu Signal Station 野柳信號臺, an outpost responsible for monitoring maritime traffic in the shipping lanes and designated anchorages just west of the Port of Keelung 基隆港.
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.
Sanqing Sanyuan Temple 三清三元宮 is an unusual attraction in Fuxing 福興, immediately to the south of Lukang 鹿港 in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. It was constructed over the course of nearly two decades by Huang Chi-Chun 黃奇春, a former soldier who moved here in the late 1970s. This otherwise modest structure is adorned with thousands of seashells, pieces of coral, and other oceanic oddments—which is why it is more commonly known as the Changhua Shell Temple 彰化貝殼廟.
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.