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Grass Mountain Chateau reopens as artist mecca

By Yali Chen
All photos by Yali Chen / Taiwan News

The entrance to Grass Mountain Chateau.The Grass Mountain Chateau, a former residence of Chiang Kai-shek, late President of the ROC, stands in Yangmingshan National Park just north of Taipei City. In winter, mist and clouds are a common afternoon occurrence in the mountains of the park, which attracts tourists from all over Taiwan as well as overseas to enjoy its cheery blossoms, hot springs and hiking trails throughout most of the year.

At the end of this year, the chateau was reborn after being engulfed in a midnight fire in 2007.

A reopening ceremony for the chateau kicked off on Thursday with a drumming performance given by students from Hushan Elementary School. Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-pin and Cheng Mei-hua, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Taipei City Government, were also on hand for the festive ceremony.

Mayor Hau told those present at the event that he believes the historic monument will become a tourist hotspot and help to boost tourism and the image of Taipei City.

“Following two years of restoration work, this historic building reopens as an artist mecca with art, local history, rich culture, ecology and the aesthetics of life,” chateau director Vivia Huang proclaimed, adding that the city government will invite local and international artists to create works here by launching an artists-in-residence program in the near future.

An exterior view of Grass Mountain Chateau.In one planned event, Chinese photographer Tseng Yi-cheng will hold an exhibition of photographs of Yangmingshan scenery from December 29, 2011, to February 19, 2012.

Caoshan, or “Grass Mountain,” is an old name for the Yangmingshan area, which includes numerous peaks such as Mt. Datun, Mt. Qixing, and Mt. Shamao. During the Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan (1895-1945), Grass Mountain was developed into a recreational area because of its well-known hot springs and spectacular mountain views.

The chateau was built in 1920 by the Taiwan Sugar Corporation in preparation for a visit by then-Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito. Historical records show that Hirohito stayed only briefly at the house, which was then dubbed the Grass Mountain Royal Guest House, during his visit to Taiwan in 1923. It later functioned as a spa villa for social celebrities for the rest of the Japanese colonial period.

When the Kuomintang (KMT) government relocated to Taiwan in December 1949, President Chiang Kai-shek selected the chateau as his first official residence in Taiwan.

Known as the first ROC presidential residence on the island, the secluded guest house was an interesting piece of architecture displaying a unique mix of Japanese and Western styles. It has a floor space of about 547 square meters on a plot of land measuring over 1,800 square meters.

Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-pin (center) and Cheng Mei-hua (second from right), Director of the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs, attend a reopening ceremony for the Grass Mountain Chateau on December 29, 2011.In May 1950, Chiang and his wife Soong Mei-ling moved to a new residence in Taipei’s Shilin District at the foot of Grass Mountain. The chateau on the mountain later served as the first couple’s summer villa – also known as the “Summer Retreat” or “Old Presidential Residence on Grass Mountain” at that time.

“Several foreign dignitaries were met and major government decisions were made during the Chiangs’ stay at the chateau,” Hau noted.

Chiang renamed the Grass Mountain to Yangmingshan in the same year in memory of philosopher Wang Yang-ming of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The Taipei city government took over the administration of the chateau after Chiang died in 1975. On December 31, 2002, the municipal cultural department entrusted its operation and maintenance to the Buddhist Fo Guang College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

This action turned it into a cultural and arts center with a main exhibition hall, a small-scale showroom, multifunctional auditorium, performance area, semi-open air coffee shop and management center.

Created by contemporary sculptor Wang Hsiu-chi, a bust of Chiang Kai-shek remains intact in a large fire that broke out at 12:22am on April 7, 2007.The historic building was opened to the public in April 2003, the first time that ordinary people could catch a glimpse of this part of the first couple’s lifestyle.

On March 14, 2005, the city government registered the house as a monument because of its historic significance and officially named it the “Grass Mountain Chateau.” But it was seriously damaged in a large fire that broke out at 12:22am on April 7, 2007.

The midnight fire almost burned down the Japanese-style wooden structure – including the main exhibition hall (Meilu Hall) and its exhibits, as well as showrooms and the coffee shop (Yingho Hall). Only the stone wall and a bust of Chiang Kai-shek remained intact after the blaze.

“This bust was made from fiberglass, not bronze. In fact, fiberglass is a flammable material,” said Wang Hsiu-chi, a contemporary sculptor living in Yangmingshan. “I created this sculpture work in 1999 and thought it would be destroyed in 2007.”

The city government estimated total damage at roughly NT$36 million (US$1.09 million).

In an effort to restore the 87-year-old chateau to its past glory, the municipal cultural department invited a group of academics in historic preservation and specialists in Japanese-style architecture to form a special panel in 2007 and draw up a restoration plan.

“We repaired the old building through traditional construction methods and file photos. To represent this Japanese-style house, we also imported building materials, cypress in particular, from Japan,” said Hu Tsung-hsiung, an architect who took charge of the major restoration work.

Now, all the exhibits inside the chateau – including clothes, pictures and documents belonging to Chiang and his wife – are replicas that the department had made based on borrowed originals.

File photos of the late ROC President Chiang Kai-shek are showcased at the Grass Mountain Chateau.Chateau director Huang said that the Yingho Hall will function as a dining area that offers two prix fixe menus. One set menu features Chiang’s favorite Hangzhou cuisine, and the other includes fruits and vegetables grown in the mountains of Yangmingshan National Park.

“The late president liked Braised Lion Head (Hangzhou-style braised meatballs) and chicken soup,” she noted. “We also provide apple tea and desserts because Madame Soong loved this fruit.”

Besides the fixed menus, the restaurant also has afternoon tea sets and light meals – such as sandwiches and pancakes.

Since President Ma Ying-jeou opened up Taiwan to Chinese tourists in mid-2008, the number of Chinese visitors to the island has skyrocketed.

Chiang Kai-shek’s legacy has also become a pilgrimage target for tourists from mainland China. The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Shilin Residence in Taipei City, as well as the Cihu Mausoleum (the late president’s temporary resting place) in Taoyuan, have emerged as tourist hotspots during their stays in Taiwan.

The Yingho Hall of the Grass Mountain Chateau offers set menus featuring Chiang Kai-shek’s favorite dishes such as Braised Lion Head (Hangzhou-style braised meatballs) and chicken soup.Mayor Hau notes that the Taipei city government offers Chinese visitors with a number of tour packages including the Shilin Residence, Grass Mountain Chateau and the Yangmingshan Flower Festival.

If You Go….
Grass Mountain Chateau
Free admission: From December 30, 2011 to March 31, 2012
Hours: 11:00am – 9:00pm Tuesdays to Sundays (except Chinese New Year’s Eve)
Telephone: (02) 2862-2404
Address: No.89, Hudi Rd., Beitou Dist., Taipei City, Taiwan
Website: www.grassmountainchateau.com.tw