A fire broke out at dictator Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) former official residence in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林) late on Monday night, damaging furniture and exhibits but leaving the main building intact, the Presidential Office said yesterday.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said the fire was caused by a short circuit at 10:17pm in a corridor in the west wing of the main building.
Security personnel arrived at the scene at 10:36pm and reported the fire to the Taipei Fire Department.
The preliminary investigation found the short circuit was the cause of the fire and that flames then spread across the carpet, Wang said.
The area was being used to store collection items temporarily moved out of the living room of the main building.
Wang said the area scorched by the fire was about 8 ping (26m²). The fire damaged or destroyed sofas, coffee tables, display shelves and other items. Fortunately, it was put out before it spread to the rest of the building, he said.
Wang said the contractor had been asked to suspend ongoing renovations until the power supply has been examined.
The insurance company has been informed and will examine the losses, he said.
The insurance company and the designer and contractor of the renovation project, together with antique experts, will put together a list of the damaged items, which will then be repaired or replicated.
The building was once a seat of power. Chiang and his wife Soong Mayling (宋美齡) resided there for 26 years until Chiang’s death in 1975.
The outer and middle gardens in front of the building were opened to the public in 1996. The main building opened to the public in 2000.
In April 2000, Taipei City’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs (文化局) designated the compound — formally called The Former Official Residence of Chiang Kai-shek and Madam Chiang — as the city’s 93rd municipal heritage site and decided to turn it into a resource center for academics studying the lives and times of the Chiangs.
The compound includes the main building, a guesthouse, a church, a pagoda and a garden.
Built in 1950, the two-story main building was the couple’s second official residence.
While the front of the building is built in a Japanese style, the rest is Western in style. The wings are the living rooms and offices for military aides and secretaries in residence.
Among the prestigious guests who visited the residence were US presidents Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower.
Decorations in the house’s ballroom include furniture from the Qing and Ming Dynasties, western sofas with silk covers and the family’s collection of antiques and valuables, including framed family photos, crystal ash trays, vases, antique lanterns, Soong’s hand-drawn paintings and the delicately carved wooden screens that were part of her dowry.
In April 2007, a fire partially destroyed Grass Mountain Chateau, a summer retreat used by Chiang, with arson suspected in the blaze.
Reconstruction began in March and the chateau is scheduled to reopen to the public next year.
The blaze caused an estimated NT$36 million (US$1 million) in damage.
The main exhibition hall and its exhibits were destroyed. The destroyed items — including clothes, pictures and documents belonging to Chiang and Soong — are being reproduced.