(updated below on 1/15/2019)
A few months ago we wrote a blog about the Songshan Sanatorium Superintendent’s Dormitory, a Japanese era building that is one of the best preserved in Taipei, which is sitting and rotting while the Taipei government figures out funding for its renovation. We were interested to find the actual sanatorium itself, and if it even still existed. It was not easy to find or easy to get to, but we did eventually find it…at least the part of it that is still standing.
I would love to tell everyone where it is, but as it lays on private and protected property; we will not disclose the explicit location. With the help of clues from other blogs and historical photos, we found it abandoned on private property that has 24/7 surveillance.
We did not find a single English article on this building, except in statistical research of the hospital facilities at the time. The building itself is not mentioned as a historical building registry of Taipei.
The original Japanese style, two-story, wooden Sanatorium was constructed in 1915 during the Japanese colonial period of Taiwan. Here is a picture of the original wooden Sanatorium (on the left), and the existing concrete extension: Also, here is a photo of the staff in front of the wooden Sanatorium during the Japanese colonial period. A Japanese Physician was assigned as superintendent, and his dormitory was built nearby (松山療養所所長宿舍）, which is now the best preserved and most well-known building connected to the Sanatorium.
The Sanatorium’s main purpose was to treat mentally disabled patients, and later was turned into a center to cure tuberculosis. It has had multiple names through the ages, beginning with松山錫口養生院 (Songshan Xikou Health Hospital), and then changed to 松山療養所 (Songshan Sanatorium) in 1925. When the ROC took control, its changed name was changed again to 台灣省立松山療養院, (Taiwan Provincial Songshan Sanatorium) in 1946, with the first superintendent being Yang TianMu (楊添木). It was also known as (or part of it was) 治肺結核療養所 (Tuberculosis Treatment Sanatorium).
Here are a few historical photos of the original wooden sanatorium, with surrounding fields, hills, and lakes. Lakes surrounded the area around what is now the Sanatorium. (Image taken fromhere, dated 1931)
Nowadays those lakes are mostly filled in, with Nangang Park and an Army base taking their place. There is still one lake left that is much smaller now due to silting. (Image above taken from here, dated 1916).
The original Japanese style wooden Sanatorium building sat on the west side of a prominent hill that at the time. The building had 29 beds in 1915, then the capacity expanded to 72 in 1933.
The cement building that remains was built in the 30s or 40s, probably around the time the Sanatorium’s capacity was expanded. Here is a video that shows changes to the Sanatorium overtime:
From old maps I can tell that the original wooden building was torn down by 1972 in favor of a new cement building, probably for the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Another brick building behind the current cement structure was built around 1965. At the same time, a group of Japanese era buildings below the hill were also torn down to build what is now the administrative buildings for the Ministry of Health and Welfare. By 2014 another historical building that sat in front of the now cement Sanatorium was torn down and the whole place was turned into a parking lot. All the buildings on the lot seemed to be abandoned when I was there. I assume that the whole plot of land now serves as a parking lot for the employees that work at the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
The intricate and beautiful two storey Japanese era wooden Sanatorium was torn down around 1972, so all that is left to photograph is the concrete expansion to the Sanatorium.
For more historical background, see our 1/15/2019 update below.
I visited the existing building at night, avoiding most of the employees that park there during the day time. The whole building is completely boarded up with sheet metal, with no way to peek inside.
There is also a lock and wooden boards blocking the main entrance.
On the entrance is spray painted "please do not park at the entrance," I guess they come in and out of it often? Perhaps it is used as a storage shed.
Again, all windows are completely shielded shut.
That car in the corner seemed to be abandoned as well.
There is an address plate still on the outer wall of the Sanatorium. You can see the Taipei 101 from the top of the hill. I’m sure in its time the surrounding lakes, mountains, and Taipei in the distance must have been a beautiful sight for all the patients in the Sanatorium
I ended my tour with a peek into the abandoned building behind the Sanatorium, the one that was built in about 1965. Perhaps this is what the innards of the Sanatorium look like? Probably not, but we may never know. I am not sure the significance of this building, but maybe I will visit again during the daytime when I can take some decent photos.
As with the Sanatorium Superintendent’s Dormitory, I think Taipei City and the Ministry of Health and Welfare want to keep this building hidden and secret. If this building were considered a historical building, then they would be forced to renovate and be burdened with pulling money out of their budget to fix up the place. I’m surprised that the building has not been knocked over earlier to make more room for parking space.
We apologize that we have given so little information about the Sanatorium, but there are very limited resources. We’ll be sure to update this blog we learn of anything further.
We are sad to announce that as of January 13th, 2019 the Songshan Sanatorium has been unlawfully leveled to the ground. Below is a news piece on the building:
We also visited ground zero after being informed of its destruction.
The Sanatorium has been flattened to the ground, separated into different piles of bricks, metal, and wood.
The parking lot in front of the demolished building is full to the brim. You can tell some people would like the parking lot expanded.
Pile of bricks and wood with the old sheet metal in the background.
Precious Japanese era woodwork torn to pieces.
More wood and metal wire in a heap.
Metal bracing is piled into a heap on one side.
Why was the Songshan Sanatorium torn down?
The Songshan Sanatorium sat in a protected vacant lot on the near the Ministry of Health and Welfare headquarters. Most people that passed by would never have seen it, because it was protected by tree cover at the top of a hill, and because of that not many people studied it or ever even thought about it.
On October 8th, 2018 the Ministry of Culture head Tsai-Zongxiong (蔡宗雄) convened a cultural assessment on the building, which included three cultural information committee members (probably administrative employees at the ministry of culture). After their assessment they concluded that the Songshan Sanatorium had no cultural value. NO CULTURAL VALUE!!!
Although they saw the building was well preserved, they were unsure of the date it was built, and so not special features in the building. The information they had led them to believe the building was built in 1970 (when the building was registered as an ROC ministry of health building). However, as you can see from by blog above, this building was built in around 1940 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan.
On the morning of January 12th, Assistant Professor at National Taipei University of Business Hsiao Wenjie (蕭文杰) heard through a Facebook group that the building was soon to be knocked down, and rushed to the building site. Knowing the building's true historic value, he called upon the ministry of culture to enact Article 20 of the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act, which states that "historic buildings...undergoing the review under any of Articles 17 to 19 shall be deemed as interim monuments."
The ministry of culture agreed in word and said that construction would stop. Professor Hsiao waited at the scene for 5 hours, standing in the way of the excavator to stop the destruction, however the Ministry of Culture officials never arrived (it was a Saturday after all).
During that time, professor Hsiao sent some live video of the insides of the building that had been closed off to the public (also seen in the news clip above). He filmed a catwalk structure on the roof, showed that the room numbers still preserved, and that an intricate era woodwork that was well preserved on the roof of the building.
After never receiving word from the Ministry of culture, the demolition continued. However, Hsiao's video had already gone viral and the public was made aware of the demolition that was supposed to be kept a secret.
So why was the Sanitarium torn down so quickly? As I said in my original blog, probably someone at the Ministry of health and welfare wanted more parking space.
How was the Demolition Unlawful?
In the video above, Mayor of Taipei Ke-Wenzhe responds to professor Hsiao's attacks by saying "These procedures all followed SOP, I don't know what he's so mad about." WRONG! these procedures did NOT follow SOP, let's list the unlawful/unethical parts of the ministry of culture's actions here:
Why was the Songshan Sanatorium Culturally Important?
Much of the history and background of the building has come to the public's attention after it's destruction, thanks to Professor Hsiao andnews agencies in Taiwan. I was missing many of the details when I first made by blog in 2017, but here they are (in addition to my blog) as follows:
What did the Songshan Sanatorium look like on the inside?
Please see the video professor Hsiao made here for a full view of the insides.
On Sunday afternoon Jan. 13th I got a message on Facebook from someone telling me that the Sanatorium had been destroyed. After watching the emotional video of professor Hsiao standing in the way of the back hoe as well as cursing the Ministry of Culture, I was very deeply emotionally moved. It felt like a good friend had just died. It was unjust. You can count the historical buildings in Nangang on ONE HAND, and they just decided to destroy perhaps the most historically important building in the whole district. They should have preserved the building for future generations. I told professor Hsiao that if I has known earlier, I would have stood by his side blocking the way of the excavator.
It was an honor to have photographed and researched this building before it was destroyed. Looking back it was truly special to photograph an important historical building that is now gone forever. I was reached out to by UDN to provide the photographs from my blog, because literally no one else had any modern photographs of the building on the internet. I have done my part to help preserve Taiwan's past, but I wish I could have done more. It makes me think, what if I had been more proactive on getting the word out that this building exists and is important? Would it still be standing today?
I hope the ministry of culture employees like the parking lot they traded in for a unrepeatable historic monument. After all, a parking space in Taipei runs from around 2 million NT upwards, which is almost enough to buy you a house in Kaohsiung.
The most ironic and hypocritical part of this whole story is that the Taipei City Government went to such extreme lengths to preserve the Songshan Sanitarium Superintendent's Dormitory, but decided that the actual Sanatorium was of no worth. In fact, the Dormitory was worth so much, that the Taipei Government spent 1.4 million NT per ping on the last parcel of land remaining on the property so that they could restore the house. I'll tell you why there is such a discrepancy, because the Dormitory is in plain sight from street view, but no one could see the Sanatorium on top of the hill behind a parking gate!
The bigger crime here that no one is talking about is that the ROC government tore down the main wooden sanatorium building that sat at the top of the hill during the martial law period, which was truly beautiful and more significant that what we have now. In its place they build two ugly ROC era cement buildings that are way passed their prime and sit in disuse next to what was once the Sanatorium.
It is clear that the Ministry of Culture and Ke-Wenzhe don't care about historical buildings in Taiwan, especially if the buildings are not in public view. It is clear to see that they tried to pass an inspection and have the building destroyed behind closed doors. No one knew the building existed in the first place so no one would care right? Thank goodness for professor Hsiao.
Ke-wenzhe of all people should appreciate medical history of Taiwan, and the historically important contributions that were made in this building to curing and treating tuberculosis.
But at the end of the day it is clear the Ke-Wenzhe and Culture Minister Tsai-Zongxiong have other budget concerns, so getting rid of an old building is just one less thing to pay for and to worry about (after all, the government spent 670 million NT preserving Losheng Sanatorium). What we are teaching our children in Taiwan is that money is more important than preserving our heritage.
It's sad that the Taiwan government didn't see the value in this historically building. I can understand I would be expensive to renovate and upkeep, but it was very wrong to try to secretly knock it down. If they would have promoted it to the public and international community and let then know of its importance, it might have just paid for itself one day.
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living and working in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.