Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ximen (West Gate) Hong Lou, A Surviving Theater

When you surface from the Taiwan subway at Ximen Station, you catch a glimpse across the busy intersection of people and car traffic of a chic and stodgy brick building. Modestly illuminated at night, it invited our inquisitive attention and we walked in to see what was inside.

Ximen is compared and likened to Shinjuku or Harajuku in Tokyo where young people visit boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. It's a place I felt nostalgia and I see why. It was a Japanese town before World War II. The historic temple Lonshanshi is close, where the area named Ban-kah, the name of the dugout canoes still kept, but in different Chinese characters "Wanhua" (pronounced Manka in Japanese).

Michelle Chen, our guide of the night, told us that this Hong Lou Theater was occupied by Guomindang soldiers. The building, decayed and neglected for a long time was restored recently as one of the historic buildings designated by the country. The brochure we picked up explained that it was built originally as a public health station, but later became the Taipei City Market, which thrived as an abundant commodity supply center. It became a show window of Taipei commerce and distribution, and the Japanese government officials used to pay a visit to observe how things were going down there.

Aptly nicknamed Octagon Hall because of its shape, the concept was reportedly from the art of divination, I Ching (Book Of Changes). The area was a kind of marsh where dead bodies were found on the roads. So, many prayers are placed in the octagonal design.

The architect was a man named Jyuro Kondo, one of the famous Japanese quartet, who worked at the Building and Repair Section of the Colonial Government. The four architects were Nagano, Moriyama, Ide and Kondo. Nagano was responsible for today's Presidential Office, Moriyama for today's Audit Office, and Ide for the Judicial Office and Educational Hall, the latter is still being used for all kinds of Musical events near the Ximen subway station as Zhongshan Hall. Kondo was responsible also for the old hospital of Taipei Imperial University. The Taiwanese probably had mixed feelings when they dealt with the Japanese architecture from the colonial days. It was just during the past 10 years that the Taiwan Government authorized the designation of those building as historical buildings and funded their restoration efforts.

Zhongshan Hall designed by Ide

A common style shared between the four architects are Gothic or baroque design, accents of grandeur and combined use of red bricks and white stones for horizontal belts. All these elements of style were apparently influenced by an architect named Kingo Tatsuno, their teacher at the University of Tokyo, whose representative work is the Tokyo Station Building.

Currently, the first floor of the Hong Lou Theater houses not only a cafe but also a place where traditional toys, artifacts, and photographs are exhibited and sold. The second floor is an open theater with a big stage / screen, used for small concerts, operas, and perhaps movies. We dropped into the theater a couple of times on the way to and from Heroes Hotel where we stayed. The hotel is within walking distance from this Ximen Market.

I searched the Internet for more information about Jyuro Kondo. He returned to Japan from Taiwan and opened an architectural firm. He built one hospital, called Do-Ai Hospital, in Sumida Ward. However, it was demolished 15 years ago. He must have consumed all his energy in Taiwan and had little left upon his return.

No comments: