Culture and historic preservation have often clashed with urban and economic development in Taiwan, and preservation has rarely been the winner.
Nevertheless, management expert Lee Chien-lang (李乾朗) is determined to block the demolition of two historic warehouses at the Port of Keelung, which the Keelung City Government wants to demolish for an urban renewal development project.
Describing the warehouses on the port’s West 2 and West 3 wharves as “Taiwan’s mouth,” Lee, a professor in National Taiwan University of Arts’ Graduate School of Art Management & Culture Policy, said the public would regret it in the future if the buildings were torn down.
The warehouses, which were built 80 years ago, and the wharves were the sole water access point into Taiwan during the 1940s and 1950s, and have been witness to history, he said.
Japanese settlers returning to Japan at the end of World War II boarded ships from the two wharves, while hundreds of thousands of Nationalist Army soldiers from China disembarked there in 1949 after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost China’s civil war, the professor said.
Joyful crowds surrounded the warehouses for a few days beginning on Jan. 23, 1954, to welcome home more than 14,700 troops who had served with the UN-led forces in the Korean War, he said.
They were also the scene of goodbyes later in the 1950s as friends and relatives saw off young soldiers headed for the Matsu Islands, which were being shelled by Chinese forces, he said.
The two warehouses are the only ones left from eight that were constructed during the Japanese colonial era in the 1930s, when Keelung Port was Japan’s “colony harbor,” Lee said.
Under an urban renewal plan proposed by Taiwan International Ports Corp, which manages the port, the West-3 warehouse will be torn down to make space for a customer service center and a modern port building.
West-2 Warehouse will also be demolished, but the Keelung City Government has yet to decide how it wants to use the area.
The Keelung City Cultural Assets Review Commission has approved the plan, subject to several conditions, including “preserving five sets of steel girders” for a “structural conservation” effort in the construction of new buildings in the future.
The so-called “conservation” clause was simply an attempt to mollify opposition to the urban renewal project, Lee said.
“Preserving history does not mean just symbolically keeping fragments,” Lee said.