Zhongsen Theater 中森戲院

Taichung’s Zhongsen Theater 中森戲院
The hulking remains of a vintage 1960s theater on the streets of Taichung.

Taichung 台中 is changing fast. The historic downtown area, formerly one of the worst examples of inner city blight in the nation, is presently undergoing a massive urban renewal effort. Some decaying and disused commercial buildings have been restored, many more await their fate, and others have been demolished before I’ve even had a chance to document their interiors. Zhōngsēn Theater 中森戲院 belongs to this last category: it came down after I shot a preliminary set of photos but before I had a chance to sneak inside. You have to move fast to capture these small histories in their unmaking.

Authoritarian brutalism in Taichung
The metal frames mounted on the facade would have once displayed movie posters.

According to this source (corroborated with government records) Zhongsen Theater was built in 1968 by Lài Zibīn 賴子彬, a veteran of the lumber trade, who later founded Chung Yang Industries 中陽實業股份有限公司. The theater business was highly competitive in the 1970s with dozens of cinemas scattered around the Taichung Basin1 but Zhongsen benefited from a central location and Lai enjoyed the assistance of his family in operating things.

The name of the theater in vintage tile
The theater’s name in vintage tile.
Eight showings on two screens
Eight showings on two screens.
Stone-clad columns at Zhongsen Theater 中森戲院
Stone-clad columns at street level.
Twin signs for Zhongsen Theater 中森戲院
Twin signs on the rooftop.

The rest of the story is pretty much exactly what you would expect if you’ve charted the rise and fall of the Taiwanese movie theater industry: attendance dropped off as home video and especially the internet came along. The theater was subdivided into two halls, entered its second-run twilight, and was eventually shut down in the year 2000. Derelict for nearly two decades, it was sold in 2016 and rapidly demolished in November of that year.

The hulking remains of an abandoned theater in Taichung
Authoritarian era brutalism at its functional best.
All that remains of Zhongsen Theater 中森戲院
All that now remains of the old theater.

I wasn’t surprised to find nothing more than empty space when I returned to Zhongsen Theater this week. News of its demolition quickly spread through the well-connected urban exploration community in Taiwan. Even so, I visited the site once again just to see if there was any sign of it left. Nope, nada. And since I won’t have an opportunity to take a closer look or shoot a new set of photos I figure I may as well share what I’ve gathered, however meagre it is. I gave all these images a black and white treatment as the sky was very washed out the one day I passed through on a scouting mission. Sorry, but it’s all I have.

  1. For some reason the source specifically refers to competition from Háobīn Theater 豪賓戲院 in Běitún 北屯 (possibly still standing and on my list) and Háoxìng Theater 豪興戲院 in Dàlǐ 大里 (demolished). 

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