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Department of Decay

The grotty facade of an abandoned department store in downtown Taipei.

Today I went to investigate reports of an abandoned building on the edge of Xīméndīng 西門町, a busy commercial district in central Taipei 台北. It is fairly well-known due to its central location but I could find no easy means of entry for the very same reasons. From this television news report it sounds as if this was originally the Zhōngwài Department Store Company 中外百貨公司 and later the Yángyáng Department Store 洋洋百貨. While it isn’t surprising to find such ruins around much of Taiwan 台灣 it is somewhat unusual to see in such a prosperous area. The building is for rent, as I understand it, and much of the aforementioned report seems concerned with the outrageous price tag for such a decaying monstrosity.

Shattered window tessellations.

This department store was not among the more famous of the many malls of Ximending, Taipei’s most vital and important shopping district for much of the 20th century, so I haven’t unearthed much about it. Ordinarily when I scope out a ruin like this I am interested in when it was built, when and why it was abandoned, and what might happen to it in the near-future. In this case I don’t feel as if I am working from reliable source material—Taiwanese media aren’t exactly known for historical accuracy and attention to detail. The only corroborating evidence I’ve turned up is this video from 1972, in which Zhongwai Department Store makes an appearance around the 4:25 mark. Obviously the building has been renovated since then—the ugly windows appear nowhere in the archival footage in either video.

A dark and moldy place illuminated by the lights of the street.
Beauty salons on the upper levels.
Dark, hot, and moldy corridors.
New life takes hold on one of the upper levels of the old department store.

Originally I published this post with only a few shots of the exterior. A few weeks later I was on my way to dinner in Ximending when I thought to at least take another look at the entrance to see if there might be an easier way to slip inside by night—and there was!

The entire place has been stripped down to bare concrete in most places.
Sealed by the court.
The ghost of Christmas past.
A newspaper clipping from 2006.
Reflections off the department store’s twisted metal and glass facade at night.

Not much remains of the old department store—almost every section has been stripped to bare concrete and brickwork. Only a long corridor lined with beauty salons and esthetician booths indicated what sort of businesses had been in operation here years before. It was terribly hot and humid inside with very little ventilation and the stench of mold hanging in the stagnant air. Only the rooftop provided a reprieve—and it was here that I captured one of the more interesting views of this minor ruin in the bustling heart of Taipei 台北.

Looking west toward Ximending from the rooftop of the Zhongwai Department Store.
The abandoned department store for context. Ximending’s famous entrance is just off to the right.

For more about the history of the many malls of Ximending I suggest perusing these Chinese language posts here, here, here.

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