Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Brothel site’s status faces new attack

EYESORE OR LEGACY?Shuanglian Borough Warden Hung Chen-heng criticized COSWAS’ efforts to keep the building, saying it is blocking a revitalization project

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

Members of the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters yesterday protest at Taipei City Hall yesterday.

Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times

Conflicting views on a former Taipei brothel erupted into controversy again yesterday when the borough warden of a nearby area called on the city government to strip the building of its protected historic site classification.

The Wenmeng Building (文萌樓) in Taipei’s Datong District (大同) was listed as a city historical site in 2006 for its Japanese-style Baroque architecture and its use as a center for the resistance to the city’s moves to abolish prostitution in the 1990s.

Before a scheduled borough wardens’ meeting with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), Shuanglian Borough (雙連) Warden Hung Chen-heng (洪振恒) said the building was an eyesore that stood in the way of a road expansion project that he described as necessary for converting the area into a cultural and artistic lane.

“While it is worthwhile to look back on the past of good industries, the history of bad industries should be abandoned,” he said, adding that he would not know what to say if his grandson asked him about the history of the building.

The volunteers who work for the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), which manages the site, are “outsiders” who do not live in his borough, Hung said.

The city government should hold a referendum for local residents on the building, he said.

The owner of the former brothel sold the building after it was classified as a historical site, leading to years of conflict as the new owners tried to evict COSWAS.

Hung’s remarks drew a strong response from COSWAS representatives, some of whom lined up in front of Taipei City Hall wearing the veiled hats once used by prostitutes to preserve their anonymity during the anti-prohibition protests.

“A historical site is a historical site,” COSWAS secretary Hsiao Yi-ting (蕭怡婷) said. “We believe you can give future generations a full account of this part of Taiwan’s history.”

“All of the joy and sorrow we experienced in the sex industry is preserved in this historic site,” former prostitute Hsiao-yu (小玉) said. “We should not allow this history to be gradually erased.”

Ko said the building’s classification was decided by prior administrations and he said there should be more communication with residents when making decisions about historical sites in the future.

“Under the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act (文化資產保存法) it would be extremely difficult to cancel a historical site’s status,” Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Ni Chung-hwa (倪重華) said.

He said the focus should be on city plans for urban renewal of the area surrounding the building, instead of past conflicts.

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