Taipei Children’s Recreation Centre 臺北市立兒童育樂中心 in the relatively central Zhongshan District 中山區 of Taipei City, was the first public amusement park in the entire country and occupies a huge swath of land atop a small hill next to the Keelung River 基隆河 – an unusually prominent location, for the site of such a large dereliction.
It first opened in 1934 during the Dōka 同化 period of colonial Japanese rule, when the Taipei Department of Education purchased land adjoining what was then Yuanshan Zoo 圓山動物園
under the name ‘Children’s Playground 兒童遊園地’. After the war, in 1946, ownership was transferred to the new ROC government, and the zoo was split from the amusement park to become it’s own separate entity.
In 1958, the first mechanical rides were installed and ownership was transferred to a private entity (the park would ping-pong between private/state ownership a few more times throughout it’s history). Due to the presence of the park, zoo, and a public swimming pool – 再春游泳池 which was completed in 1966, the Yuanshan area gained something of a reputation as a recreational hotspot and tourist numbers reportedly increased.
The park was re-merged with the zoo in 1970, a state of affairs that would last until 1986, when Taipei Zoo relocated to Muzha District 木柵 (which would itself later merge with neighbouring Jingmei 景美 to form Wenshan District 文山區). This shift resulted in the land the zoo had occupied being appropriated by the Recreation Center, more than tripling it’s total area from 3 hectares to 9.8.
Around this time, the Department of Education were planning a redesign of the park to make effective use of the extra space and it seems they held a competition of sorts between a number of schools in Taipei asking children to draw their own ideas for what they wanted the park to look like. This blogger claims to have been the winner with his vision of a futuristic, robot driven theme park, and his work perhaps even had some influence on the final decision, as it was decided to split the park into 3 ‘Worlds’: The ‘World of Yesterday’, ‘World of Tomorrow’, and ‘World of Pleasure’. The redevelopment and expansion took place over the course of 6 years and was finally completed in 1992, with the opening of the 3D theatre and Science Hall that formed the centrepiece of the ‘World of Tomorrow’.
In 2006, after a lengthy process dating all the way back to 1988, Yuanshan was designated as a National Archeological Site 國定遺址 of historical and cultural importance, one of only 8 in the whole of Taiwan, due to the discovery of large numbers of prehistoric artefacts in the area. This afforded the site protection under Cultural Heritage laws, to add on to existing height restrictions as a result of the park’s close proximity to Songshan Airport. The following year, citing these constraints as a hindrance to further development, the government planned for it’s relocation to Shilin District 士林區, a process that would take another 7 years to realise.
I explored the Park with a friend in August 2017, nearly 3 years after it’s closure, so things are decidedly more ‘intact’ than I’m used to, but even so, it’s remarkable how little time nature needs to strike back, as evidenced by the density of foliage overtaking the footpaths and enveloping the buildings. The odd piece of graffiti dispelled any notion that we were the first to visit the place post-closure, although surprisingly, I’d seen very little online in the way of photos or discussion of any exploration of the place, which I thought was odd given it’s visibility (you get a great view of it on the Red Line of the MRT between Yuanshan and Jiantan stations) and popularity throughout it’s extensive history.
From the ‘World of Pleasure’ which occupies the lower ground to the North-West of the Hill itself, you gradually ascend, past a rather sorry looking children’s adventure playground to the ‘World of Tomorrow’, which is contained entirely within a single building and comprises both the 3D Theatre, and science exhibition space. In 2009, the Recreation Center was closed for over a year to accommodate the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, during which, this theatre complex was designated the ‘Hall of Truth 真相館’ and was used to showcase 3D movies and exhibitions highlighting environmental awareness. The building’s design puts me in mind of a Horseshoe Crab with it’s shell-like structure and I’ll admit that there’s a certain novelty in coming across such a modern looking building that’s suffering from severe lack of use, although unfortunately I wasn’t able to go inside due to the presence of an active security system.
The final zone, which stands on the South side of the hill, the ‘World of Yesterday’, focussed on Taiwanese cultural heritage, incorporating traditional architecture – most notably the Fujian style buildings that once exhibited handicrafts, instruments, board games and the like, alongside ‘workshops’ in which children could participate in activities such as stilt walking and calligraphy. These are all now shuttered and padlocked, not that I saw anything worthwhile left in any of the ones I happened to peep into. A large open plaza nearby offers some really stunning views over the city and it’s a shame it’s only available to those of us willing to sneak in – I imagine it would be a popular spot if it were more accessible.
The current status of the Park is… complicated. From what I gather, the initial goal was to have a museum in the area, but, due to a mayoral election in 2014, the new mayor Ko Wen-je 柯文哲, scrapped that idea and instead opted to expand the Yuanshan Historical Park which occupies a tiny section of the hill, to cover the entire thing as a result of it’s new culturally important status, however progress in this area has been extremely slow. This is especially evident in the development (or lack thereof) of the ‘Yuanshan Tunnel 圓山坑道’ – a 200m long bunker built by the Japanese towards the end of the Second World War, containing 10 small rooms mostly likely used for military strategy and planning purposes; that has it’s entrance within the Recreation Center grounds. This was to be repurposed into a small, historic exhibition space as part of the proposed ‘Taipei City Museum‘, and due to open to the public in October of 2014, yet this change in direction appears to have halted those plans and the entrance was still shuttered by construction fencing during my visit.
Another large reason for the delay appears to be down to disgreements with contractors over budget after the site was assessed, with spiralling demolition and renovation costs alongside license fees looking set to burn through public funds as of May 2017. There does seem to be some slight progress being made as the ‘Folk Culture Area’ of the ‘World of Yesterday’ were re-opened to the public in late 2016 (although the buildings remain closed) and it seems as if many of the existing structures will be incorporated into the design of the new park, rather than be simply demolished – even the Ferris Wheel and Carousel look set to stay for some nostalgic value, although many aspects of the site are still reportedly in the ‘planning phase’, so a full opening still looks to be a long way off.