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Sun, Sep 09, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Taipei Guest House closed for renovations

HISTORIC SITE Filled with tales of ghosts and political intrigue, the Taipei Guest House, which dates back to 1901, is set to close for three years beginning Sept. 16

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tchen Yu-hsiu, wearing a hat, chairwoman of the Council for Cultural Affairs, yesterday held a press conference and invited local journalists to visit several historic spots -- including the Taipei Guest House featured in the picture -- to promote the nation's very first ``historical site day,'' scheduled for the third Saturday of every September.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Guest House, a national historic site over 100 years old, is scheduled to close on Sept. 16 for three years of renovations.

What lies behind "the most elegant baroque-style architecture in contemporary Taiwan," -- as architects once described it -- are endless tales of political intrigue and even ghost stories.

"I've heard about [the ghost stories], but it's inevitable to have these kinds of rumors surrounding this 100-year-old house," said renowned architect Shu Yu-chien (徐裕健).

For officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ghost stories surrounding the venue, located on Ketagalan Avenue, passed from one generation to the next, although few could confirm the validity of these wild tales.

The site has a unique past that reaches back to the period of Japanese occupation.

Constructed between 1897 and 1901, the house remained the Japanese governor's residence throughout Japan's 50 years of occupation of Taiwan, which ended in 1945.

In 1950 the venue was renamed and given its current title by Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) KMT government and was turned into a state property belonging to the Presidential Office.

The property also housed foreign ministry officials before the ministry built a new building just opposite the site.

Surrounded by gardens, ponds and dense foliage, the site is seen as having great significance in the eyes of architects while it is also colored with intriguing political dramas.

"The true value of the site is the main building," said Shu, who won a competition to lead the three-year renovation program.

"It embodies the highest performance in public buildings during the Japanese occupation period in terms of its patterns, structure, materials as well as decorations," Shu said.

The house is a rectangle oriented along an east-west axis, with a U-shaped two-story structure, according to foreign ministry records.

The first floor houses a reception room and a banquet hall. The ornately carved columns on the second floor are ubiquitous, with the column tops decorated with carving of spirals and leaves. Crystal lamps and chandeliers hang from the ceiling.

For those who intend to venture into the site, which is not open to the public, the Council for Cultural Affairs has scheduled several guided tours of the venue, the last one scheduled to be held on Sept. 15.

According to regulations on usage of the Taipei Guest House, only the president, vice president, secretary-general of the Presidential Office, premier or foreign minister can use the venue to host foreign guests and hold major meetings and activities.

But such limited access to the historic site can backfire, with the latest gaffe taking place last December.

Angry legislators then grilled Minister of Foreign Affairs Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂) for failing to entertain his counterparts from Taiwan's Central American allies in the house, the originally planned venue, and instead holding the banquet in a "shabby" hotel.

Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and her lawyers instead used the venue for a final discussion on whether to file a civil lawsuit against The Journalist.

When asked for an explanation about the mismanagement of the event, foreign ministry officials offered contradictory statements, pushing Tien to apologize to lawmakers for poor internal coordination.

The vice president's spokesperson, Tsai Ming-hua (蔡明華), then said nobody had informed Lu's office of the ministry's banquet prior to Lu's application.

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