Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Taiwan II - The Dilapidated White House of Tianmu

The plaque outside the White House of Tianmu in Taipei’s suburbs says that it is ‘exceptionally valuable’ and ‘worthy of preservation.’ However, that’s not the impression you get given that it is empty, untended, the paint is peeling, it’s boarded up outside and the back is wasteland. If that’s Taipei’s definition of ‘worthy of preservation’ I’d hate to see something deemed totally unworthy!!

The White House of Tianmu was originally built as a dwelling for US military personnel in the 1950s when Washington began sending its Seventh Fleet to patrol the Taiwan Straits and deemed Taiwan an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” From 1951 a detachment of US military advisors were based in Taipei and the Taiwan government constructed several high-quality barracks in the Shilin District – the White House is the only remaining structure. But as you can see (left) inside the main entrance the place is deserted now.

The back of the building (left) gives on to wasteland that looks cleared for construction. The White House is, according to the Taiwanese, ‘a fusion of American and Japanese architectural styles, featured yards, external walls of white clapboard and roofs of black tile (see pic below that shows the rather worn paint but black tiles still in place). The interiors featured fireplaces and niches built into the walls.’

The government had originally deemed ‘The White House of Tianmu as exceptionally valuable as a showcase of this historical period, and very worthy of preservation.’ But visiting this week that attitude has clearly changed and the place looks set to be demolished probably to make way for yet another upmarket apartment block of the sort that clusters around Tianmu. The signs are still up pointing directions to the White House as an historic monument but what exactly you’re supposed to do when you get there except resign yourself to more destruction of history is hard to tell.


Feiren said...

Taipei City has declared the site a historic one to prevent its owner the Bank of Taiwan from selling the building for development. The Bank has now earmarked funds for the building's restoration but wants to make an addition. The Taipei City Culture Bureau is reviewing the restoration plans--local residents are opposed to any additions. So the White House is not slated for development.

Did you visit Spot Film House? That is a western building of much greater historical significance that has been restored as a film theater, coffee shop, bar. and bookstore.

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