I took the above photo on January 25, 2013. It depicts one of the most prominent buildings in Ximending, the New World Commercial Building (新世界商業大樓). Unfortunately this building doesn't look like this anymore, this is how it looks today:
Thank you, H&M, for destroying this colorful corner of Taipei with your new white facade. But then again, someone must have allowed that to happen. Who is the owner of this building? What's the backstory here? Before I answer these questions, let us go back in history.
New World Cinema or Shinseikaikan (Jap: 新世界館) was one of the first cinemas in Taipei according to Taiwanese website BuzzOrange. It was built in the year 1920 during the Japanese colonial rule. The oval shaped main part of the building in Tudor style was one of the most iconic buildings in Ximending in the 1920s and one of the most fabulous cinemas in Taipei and Taiwan in that time. Standing not far from the Red House, it was a symbol of modernity of that era, and helped shaping Taipei's new commercial and cultural center, that was flourishing even more in the 1930s when several cinemas popped up across Ximending. After World War II, the building became a party asset of the Kuomintang (like several other cinemas in Ximending, says BuzzOrange), the former ruling party of China, who lost the civil war to the Chinese communists, and escaped to Taiwan together with soldiers, with whom it ruled Taiwan with an iron fist until the 1990s. In the 1950s the building was still used as a movie theater playing mostly Mandarin language movies, but in 1965 Kuomintang decided to demolish the original building and build up a new one, which was 9F tall, and was named New World Commercial Building (新世界商業大樓), according to BuzzOrange. What used to be dedicated to culture, has been converted to business. The Kuomintang became landlord of a commercial building at one of the most popular commercial areas in Taipei, further says BuzzOrange. In the past decade the building was rented by Eslite, which is one of the largest bookstore chains in Taiwan, however due to the recent increases of the rent (12 mil. NTD per month), they decided to pull out. After that H&M negotiated a deal. The building is under renovation for several months now, but the outer part seems to be finished. If there's anything Taipei needs right now, it's definitely not a new H&M, but ok, it is what it is.
The New World Cinema building is already dead for 50 years. The way it got demolished is symptomatic: If you see images of Taipei from the 1950s, Northern Zhongzheng and Ximending were full of beautiful historic gems, that were then slowly knocked down by companies who were often connected to the ruling party to make way for gaudy commercial buildings. That is something that pains me to see every time I walk around that part of Taipei, and unfortunately that trend seems to be continuing today.