Despite living in Changhua City 彰化市 for half a year I never paid much attention to the clothing store across the street from the historic Confucius Temple 彰化孔子廟. At that time my Chinese abilities were rudimentary and I wasn’t really aware of what kinds of buildings to watch for while navigating the variegated urban landscapes of Taiwan. Only after my awakening at Datong Theater 大同戲院 in Taitung City 台東市 did I begin to map out the rise and fall of Taiwanese cinema. Since then I have mapped the locations of more than a hundred vintage theaters and documented many of their fates. Most end up abandoned or destroyed—but Yíngōng Theater 銀宮戲院 earned a new lease on life after it was purchased by NET, a Taiwanese fashion retailer.
Yingong Theater looks like it dates back to the Japanese colonial era but images of American bombing runs from World War 2 indicate this is not the case. There is some ambiguity about when exactly it was built but it almost certainly dates back to the early 1950s, making it a contemporary of Xinxing Theater 新興戲院, another classic theater with Japanese architectural influences I recently profiled. According to government records the theater was officially registered as a business from 1957 to 2001, though other reports suggest the actual theater closed down in 1979 and NET moved in around 1997. The upper level was used only for storage for many years but after renovations in 2015 it recently opened to the public.
Not much remains of the original theater apart from the wooden ceiling beams and the facade but it’s better than nothing. So many historic theaters in Taiwan are destroyed because their large size and high ceilings make them unsuitable for most other commercial uses. Among those that are renovated few look anywhere near as nice as this one. Rural theaters are an exception—there are several examples of classic movie houses in small towns or the countryside that have been transformed into tourist attractions—but there aren’t so many of these vintage theaters left in major urban centers. On one hand we may lament the disregard for cultural heritage—but on the other there’s an awful lot of old buildings around and they can’t all be saved, can they?