Some people are into urban exploration for the optics—they love visiting the most visually-impressive places and taking cool photos—but I’m just as interested in documenting history and solving puzzles. Animated by curiosity, I have become proficient in navigating the Chinese language web in search of leads. Not all of these turn out to be something interesting but I enjoy those rare days where I set out into the countryside and see how many candidate sites I can knock off my list. This is what originally brought me to the gates of the humble Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院 in the small town of Xizhou 溪州, Changhua 彰化.
Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋 (also Hsilo or Siluo Bridge) spans the mighty Zhuoshui River 濁水溪, the unofficial boundary between north and south Taiwan, connecting the counties of Changhua 彰化 and Yunlin 雲林. Construction began in 1937 under Japanese colonial rule but came to a halt after the attack on Pearl Harbor as the allotted steel was needed for the war effort. In 1952 the bridge was completed under the incoming Chinese Nationalist government with American steel and financial aid. At 1,939 meters in length it was one of the longest bridges in the world when it was finished—second only to the Golden Gate Bridge at that time—and became such a source of national pride that it appeared on Taiwanese bank notes and stamps in the 1960s. Originally it was equipped with sugar railway tracks but these have been removed and nowadays only light road traffic is permitted to cross the bridge.
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.
Xiluo 西螺 is a small historic town on the south bank of the Zhuoshui River 濁水溪 in Yunlin 雲林. It emerged as an important center of trade in central Taiwan during the Qing dynasty era and continued to prosper into the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule. Disaster struck in 1935 when the devastating Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake ripped through north-central Taiwan, reducing much of Xiluo to rubble. Colonial authorities and the local gentry worked together to rebuild, taking the opportunity to completely remodel the main commercial thoroughfares with an intriguing blend of influences from Baroque Revival, Art Deco, and Modernist architecture. A short stroll down Yanping Old Street 延平老街 reveals that many of these unique shophouses and commercial buildings remain standing today.
Xiluo 西螺 is justifiably famous for Xiluo Theater, the Japanese colonial era theater located close to the architectural wonders of Yanping Old Street 延平老街, but this small town on the south bank of the sluggish Zhuoshui River 濁水溪 was once home to two additional theaters. Almost no mention of these other theaters can be found except in this news report about a local painter—but while browsing around satellite view on Google Maps I managed to locate Huasheng Theater 華聲戲院 (also known as Yisheng Theater 一生戲院).
Beigang Theater 北港劇場 in Beigang 北港, Yunlin 雲林, is among the finest and most well-preserved of Taiwan’s remaining Japanese colonial era theaters. Built in 1937 with investment from a local businessman by the name of Tsai Yu-Hu 蔡裕斛 (whose old house is also worth a look), this three storey theater featured a revolving stage, seating for 800 guests, and simple western-style facade with a trace of the Baroque Revival architecture popular at the time. It was not only a cinema—Taiwanese opera, glove puppet shows, musical concerts, wedding banquets, and other events were also held inside. The theater went out of business in 1988 and was converted for use as a department store and restaurant for some time thereafter. Nowadays it is apparently still in use as a pool hall and, inexplicably, a kidney dialysis center, but I saw no evidence of this when I visited in the summer of 2017.
Liujiao Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯 was an unexpected discovery while riding from Beigang 北港 to Puzi 朴子 earlier this summer. The chimney is plainly visible from the roadside and the crumbling bulk of the kiln can be discerned in a gap between the row of houses out front. Stopping to take a closer look I went around (and through) the old kiln to document what remains. Liujiao 六腳 is a rather obscure part of rural Chiayi 嘉義 so I’ve not found any mention of this place online apart from this brief post. Whereas several kilns in various other parts of Taiwan are being preserved this obscure ruin is almost certainly never going to be the object of a conservation effort.
Recently I wrote about the Liujiao Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯, an obscure abandonment in rural Chiayi 嘉義, Taiwan. While attempting to find out more about that kiln I found a reference to a second abandoned kiln in the area, the Shuangxikou Brick Kiln 雙溪口磚窯, informally named after the closest village in neighboring Puzi 朴子. Weeks after visiting the first kiln I returned to scope out the second and—insofar as I can tell—only other remaining brick kiln in this expanse of the Chianan Plain 嘉南平原. It was a hazy, grey day out there so these photos aren’t nearly as nice as those of the other kiln, but in the interest of adding a little something to the historic record I’m sharing them here anyway.
Hsin Kang Theater 新港戲院 is located in the small town of Xingang 新港, Chiayi 嘉義, not far from the famous Fengtian Temple 奉天宮. Multiple sources agree it went out of business in 1988—a victim of shifting consumer preferences and demographic changes in small town Taiwan—but the actual age of the building is somewhat uncertain. This academic reference suggests it was founded in 1929, in the midst of the Japanese colonial era, but the theater was almost certainly renovated or completely rebuilt in the post-war period.
What remains of Xinxing Theater 新興戲院 can be found just east of the train station in Dalin 大林, a modest town of approximately 30,000 just north of Chiayi City 嘉義市 in Taiwan. Despite its relatively small size Dalin once supported five movie theaters, providing entertainment for sugar factory workers and the many soldiers stationed at nearby military bases. Xinxing Theater (not to be confused with the one in Xinpu) originally opened as Renshan Theater 仁山戲院 in 1954 and remained in business until 1992. Eventually the theater was renovated and subdivided into a billiards hall and KTV (also known as a karaoke box) before it was finally abandoned sometime around 2013. Recently there was talk of buying the property and transforming it into a creative market but its ultimate fate remained unknown until it was finally demolished in 2019.