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The US Military's Cold War Housing in Shanzihou and Tianmu

1. Yangmingshan's Shanzaihou enclave of homes built by the U.S. military is a little piece of idyllic suburban America. 1. Yangmingshan's Shanzaihou enclave of homes built by the U.S. military is a little piece of idyllic suburban America. 2. There are about 40 grand protected heritage trees, all native Taiwan species, hidden among the military-dependants residences.
In 1950 the US government, seeking to prevent the expansion of communist power in Asia, sent a large contingent of military personnel to Taiwan to assist the country. Extensive living quarters were constructed. Quiet and secluded areas high up on Shanzihou in Yangmingshan and in Tianmu, which were highly secure, became the first sites chosen. These structures, about a half-century old now, are witnesses to an important time of ROC-US amity and cooperation, and are of historical significance, playing a role in the internationalization of local development. The facilities were also source of the first exposure to Americans and American-style living for many local people, and source for many interesting episodes of interaction with the Americans.

Agricultural Area Transformed into US Military Housing Complex

3. The military-built single-family homes near Aifu 3rd St. feature pitched roofs, giving them a light and lively look.The Yangmingshan Shanzihou US military housing complex was built up during the 1950s, located near Taipei's Yangde Blvd., Chinese Culture University, and Taipei Hwa Kang Arts School. “Shanzihou” means “rear of the mountain.” There are a total of 217 residential structures, making this not only the largest settlement for military dependants in Taiwan but also the most complete US military settlement still in existence today. The presence of military personnel and their families created an exotic atmosphere for local inhabitants in days gone by, providing them with an exposure to the coffee and coke culture and an opportunity to practice English, eat Western foods, and experience Halloween and other traditions. The local rural folk, traditional and frugal, saw quite a change with the material wealth on display with the emergence of an associated commercial area stocked with exotic overseas goods.

Different in style from the narrow, cramped residences of early Taiwan, most of the US military-personnel homes are bungalows. The area for each is at least 1,420 sq. ft., and the distance between residences is 10 to 15 meters, following the American custom in towns and villages, giving consideration to light, air flow and to privacy. Yards have an open concept, with no fences cutting things off, creating a neighborly feeling and a kind of commonness for all to use for recreation and play. This community was the first instance of Americanstyle residential-neighborhood planned in Taiwan, demonstrating the concept of bringing people and nature together. Each home creates a sense of cozy back-home familiarity for their American occupants, far from home. Each has a fireplace; the Yangmingshan winters are cool and sometimes quite cold, and besides providing real warmth it also gave residents a warm feeling of nostalgia for their hometowns.

In the wood-built single-family homes near Kaixuan Rd., one finds a layer of hollow-brick walls inside and double-sloping roofs. The multi-level high-pitch design of th eroofs gives them a brisk, lively, unique look. The residences by Guanghua Rd. and Lane 61 of Kaixuan Rd. feature, for the most part, outer walls of gray-color washed stone and red brick facing, their colors exuberantly bright set against the surrounding verdant greenery. Turning left off of Yangde Blvd. and walking along Aifu 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Streets, you see clean whitewashed brick and stucco exteriors and grey-tile pitched roofs, with valuable Chinese cypress used as the wood for the roof timber. The facades of hollow brick feature split-groove joints for definition, nicely complementing the wooden casement windows with arched sills. Around Lane 20 of Gezhi Rd. are two-story semi-detached homes featuring blended styling, with brick facing and washed stone, materials familiar in Taiwan, used for decorative embellishment, and with two large chimneys on left and right used in many of the homes, giving them an unusual and attractive cottage-like visage. Residences located in the vicinity of Jianye Rd. , Zhongyong 1st Rd. and 2nd Rd. are, in contrast, constructed with a simple modernistic look, with geometrically symmetrical wall design, level roofs, and cruciform configuration, with abundant natural lighting.

Though at close quarters the homes in each area have their own distinctive style, the view from a distance reveals a key emphasis on green living. As the “Shanzihou Culture and History Workshop” points out, Shanzihou has about 60 protected heritage trees, with 40 situated among the military dependants' residences. Most are native Taiwan species, such as banyan, camphorwood, bishopwood, Taiwan acacia, green maple, and other types, their branch reach impressive and their foliage exuberant after these many tens of years of growth, a walk among them bracing and refreshing, the views much the same as if you had somehow suddenly transported yourself to a North American country road.

The Tianmu White House, Building a “United Nations Community”

During the period of US military assistance, a large number of military personnel and their dependants lived in Tianmu, giving rise to a forest of American-style buildings, restaurants, and shops. Later, with the building of the Taipei American School and Taipei Japanese School, many more overseas citizens were drawn to live in this area. In addition, many countries with which Taiwan had formal diplomatic relations decided to set up their embassies in Tianmu, and personnel also set up homes here. The military folk are now gone, but today Tianmu still brims with an air of international sophistication. 4. The Tianmu White House is a witness to U.S. military assistance to Taiwan in days of old, and is today the only structure from the original complex here, made a city historical site in 2004. 4. The Tianmu White House is a witness to U.S. military assistance to Taiwan in days of old, and is today the only structure from the original complex here, made a city historical site in 2004.5. The Tianmu White House features

Facing Tianmu Park is the Tianmu White House, in place half a century. Built in the 1950s, when US military personnel were stationed in Taiwan, it is located off Sec. 7 of Zhongshan N. Rd. near the Huang creek. It was used as the residence of US military personnel. There was originally a residential complex here, totaling 3600 sq. ft., but with Tianmu's energetic development what is left today is the White House building, with selected elements of its original appearance still intact. It was declared an official city heritage site in 2004. The single-family residence is a Western-style wood and brick structure with a mix of other stylistic elements, the exterior walls clad in clapboard siding, the roof clad in black Taiwan-style molded-cement roof tiles, a type of European-style chimney rarely seen, and exposed stone wall niches. The interior has numerous fireplaces, and outside is a courtyard garden brimming with luxuriant greenery. The scene is a classic one from an American suburb, in a spot far from the American suburbs.

The Tianmu White House was not just witness to the story of US military assistance to Taiwan; it played a key role in Tianmu's pluralistic development as a “United Nations community”. In the eyes of many of Tianmu's older generation, this is a physical record of their exposure to “the American life” in their youth. In those days shop signboards had Chinese and English side by side, and exotic imported American goods flowed into and out of shops in abundance. There were even American-style variety stores, American-style bars, and much else that was new and exotic and thrilling, with little left now of those wonderful scenes save the irreplaceable witnesses to history we speak of here.

Ownership of the Tianmu White House is now in the hands of Bank of Taiwan, which turned over management responsibilities to the city's Dept. of Cultural Affairs in 2008. Following a thorough renovation in May, 2010, the lovely site has been presented to the public as a new local attraction for cultural activities.

With the passage of time historical memories fade, slowly becoming indistinct. But the Yangmingshan Shanzihou US military housing complex and the Tianmu White House stand firmly proud and tall still yet, half a century after their birth, welcoming visitors and serving as clear records of a vibrant era in Taiwan's compelling history, evidence of a community existence that was unique and is now gone.

Yangmingshan Shanzihou US Military Housing Complex
Location: In area of Yangde Blvd., Chinese Culture
  • At MRT Jiantan Station, transfer to bus Red No. 5, Small 15, or 303, or catch bus No. 260 at Zhongshan N. Rd. and Zhongzheng Rd. On holidays take the Holiday Bus No. 109, 110, or 111.
Tianmu White House
Add: 23, Lane 181, Sec. 7, Zhongshan N. Rd. (facing Tianmu Park)
  • MRT Shipai Station, then transfer to bus No. 220.