• dinkus maximus

    ummmm…i’m not sure if i’m right here, but are you guys getting nostalgic over one of the ugliest stretches of architectural blasphemy in the city? i’m not sure i get it. if i remember right, that area is a huge eye sore and the faster they rip it down the better. this is almost as laughable as a small group of winnipegers who are lobbying against the destruction of their 60’s era airport.

  • robert neff

    I am with Scott and Robert on this. So much of Korea is disappearing under the heavy-hand of progress. It almost seems as if Korea is determined to wipe away its past while proudly spouting off about its 5,000+ (?) years of history. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and apparently Korea is blind.

  • http://www.tomcoyner.com Tom Coyner

    More than once I have aired my consternation with like-minded foreigners and my Korean wife as to how it seems at times only the foreigners get really uptight about the Koreans bulldozing their heritage into oblivion.

    After all, if the Koreans are not really all that concerned about their culture and preservation, who are we as foreigners to assume some kind of “know it better” attitude? Even if years from now we foreigners are almost certain to be proven right, given what Singaporeans and other advanced city dwellers have belatedly discovered following their blind rushes to modernize – and make lots of money, so what?

    As much as I hate to see this sort of thing happen, we foreigners need to reconcile ourselves with the fact that this is the Koreans’ country and if they want to screw it up, that’s their right. If not enough Koreans are willing to preserve their own heritage, they ultimately deserve what they get.

    So, take Scott’s advice to heart: enjoy it while they can before the Koreans destroy it forever.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Perhaps someone can provide a link as to why people should care about Pimatgol?

    Some background would be helpful.

  • dokdoforever

    So, is this that little alley off of Chongno where markets sprang up so that commoners could continue to do business while the royal procession went down the main boulevard? If so, there is some interesting history there. On the other hand, the section from Chongno 2 ga to Chongno 3ga is dominated by those slot machine gambling places and cheap hotels. I remember fleeing teargas back in 92 in that alley.. went to see a movie at the wrong time!

    They should keep the alley there for history’s sake and build around it. But let’s hope they put something nicer in than what’s there now.

    One of the odd things is that those crummy 1950s & 60s worn down buildings have survived as long as they have in the middle of downtown Seoul. One of the places where property value has got to be sky high and you have crappy little pseudo-panchinko parlors. Then over near LMB’s Chongechon are a whole neighborhood of bathroom parts outfits, displaying toilets and urinals out front. All in smack middle of downtown Seoul, home to 9 million. Why the owners of those little stores haven’t sold out to developers is a real puzzle.

  • mjw

    i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again:

    scott is right to be concerned about disappearing heritage. but there has to be a line drawn between protecting ALL and moving forward. i just don’t believe that pimatgol qualifies as cultural heritage anymore. despite whatever history it has, it is has now become a cockroach infested, smokey and smelly den where some hangers-on peddle grilled fish or makoli. no offense, scott, but your protests are so obviously linked to your own personal memories of the area. let it go. it’s long past time for that land to be redeveloped.

    now, if they started to tear down heritage properties like City Hall……

  • mjw

    As an aside, does anyone remember the internet cafe that used to be on the second floor of a building in the last stretch of pimatgol just before kyobo? it used to have a great bulletin board (physical, not virtual) for want-ads. in my opinion, that was the only true web-cafe that ever really existed here..the rest were just pc bang (remember those?).

  • mjw

    now that i think about it.. i say we start a campaign to stop all further closings of PC Bang. clearly a dying breed.

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    now, if they started to tear down heritage properties like City Hall

    The two are intrinsically related. Sure, Pimatgol had seen better days, but the same could be said for many historical and cultural landmarks. Prior to 1973, Bulguksa was a decrepit hole, too. That’s what restoration is for. I’m all in favor of urban renewal, but proper urban renewal is supposed to take advantage of a neighborhood’s history and culture, not completely destroy it.

  • http://askakorean.blogspot.com thekorean

    One thing though — I can understand if Koreans are not particularly interested in preserving them. I disagree, but I understand.

    When I was in college, my roommate and I were shopping for furniture in our new apartment. My roommate was a white dude from Alabama, and he had a penchant for retro stylings. For our kitchen table, he picked out a retro, very-50s formica table. I instantly vetoed it.

    I vetoed it because it was exactly the same as the table at my grandparents. Now, I really loved my grandparents, but they were poor folks. Every corner of their house — which they have had since the 1930s — reeked of poverty. It must be said that it was not as if my grandparents were poorest people in the town or anything; it was just that the whole town was poor.

    At any rate, that was the house that drove my father into his near-obsessive desire for success: he vowed that he will never, ever be that poor. My father hated everything about that house, and I kind rubbed off on me.

    Actually, I generally like retro stylings as well. I had a great time in Miami Beach, where all buildings were very art deco, very 1950s. But that is probably because I didn’t have a specific bad memory — even a vicarious memory — attached to it. I would imagine the decision makers in this area would be similar to my father, to whom Korea before 1970s was just a bad experience.

  • mjw

    I get what you’re saying, Robert. Really, I do. And I have respect for people who crusade about things like the destruction of pimatgol. because it is important and I don’t mean to belittle it.

    I just don’t think that pimatgol classifies as a cultural heritage asset that is worthy of protection, particularly when weighed against the much greater benefit that can be derived from redeveloping that area.

    in the best of all worlds, they would redevelop the area with some sensitivity to the goal of recreating pimatgol in some unique and interesting way that can satisfy both needs.

    i believe they made a sad attempt to do just that at that base of that huge officetel building they erected (le millieur..sp?).

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Here’s the thing, though, Tom — I don’t think it is just foreigners who get upset. When Seoul began knocking down part of the City Hall complex, for example, preservationists — let alone the National Heritage Administration — were outraged. Since 2004, over 400 properties have been registered as cultural properties, often by the property owners themselves, and you have groups like Docomomo Korea and National Trust of Korea working to document and protect historical sites. I don’t have any polling data, but I think if asked, most Koreans would agree it’s a bad thing to tear down history, even if overall consciousness is low. The problem, I think, is with developers and political authorities that take advantage of low levels of awareness — and even worse, play on nationalist sentiment — to implement redevelopment plans.

  • dogbertt

    Think of Pimatgol as a sort of Olvera Street, Wangkon.

  • seouldout

    If they’re looking for something to demolish might I suggest all those crappy buildings in the samgakchi neighborhood. Then move on to anything with mansion or castle in the name.

  • http://sungnyemun.org/downloads/no.php dda

    그리운 삼각지…

  • Mr. Myxlplyx

    I would be a lot more forgiving of the destruction of Pimatgol if the building(s) replacing it were any good. But the La Meilleur officetel that took the place of Pimatgol around Jonggak is one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen.

    That said, when it comes to preservation, a bunch of crappy 1950s redbrick buildings are not exactly at the top of my list.

  • R. Elgin

    The problem, I think, is with developers and political authorities that take advantage of low levels of awareness — and even worse, play on nationalist sentiment — to implement redevelopment plans.

    The current mayor of Seoul seems to be keen on tearing down much and rebuild. I can not tell if he wants to be like LMB or just make a money connection or both.

    There has also been talk of tearing down the Nakwon Building at Insa-dong, the *one* building that houses over ninety percent of all music related stores in Seoul and, if that building were to be redeveloped destroyed, there would be no place for these businesses to relocate to. It would cause more than a little inconvenience since the NEW building would be too expensive to return to.

    This cycle of disrupting and effectively destroying neighborhoods or creating a dead-zone of high rises that have no friendly, neighborhood ambience is a poison that has almost no cure since once the deed is done, there is no way to remedy such unless one bulldozes the poorly planned “mega-über-super–Xii-polis” obscenity and plan a real neighborhood from scratch.

    While the larger chaebol developers can create a fairly nice gadget-filled apartment, create some German-Latin-esque name to call it and transplant large pine trees (that will almost but certainly die from neglect), they have not the ability or talent to do urban design and neither does the current mayor of Seoul and too many who attempt such planning though Seoul City.

    I have seen how the mindless machinery that results from bureaucracy functions in both DC and here, but surely there are certain problems that could be avoided. As in Berlin, per an article on the urban design problem that is Berlin:

    Berlin is the perfect storm of urban planning gone wrong: too much government money, too much top-down planning, and too great a desire to build a tourist attraction masked as a symbol. So far, the top-down planning model has produced what is at best a tourist trap, at worst an outright failure.

    Perhaps that’s because Berliners have never seemed to want a traditional central meeting place. Berlin’s history reaches back 750 years . . . Berliners still had a strong degree of district pride, which was only strengthened by the city’s Cold War experience.
    . . . creating a common city center for all 3.4 million contemporary Berlin residents is impossible. As a major international city, it’s too big, too unwieldy, and too important to have just one bustling town square .

    “The idea was to turn this into a lively space,” (Potsdamer Platz) but Berliners have not moved there, and all the flats are empty. They don’t find this an attractive magnet.” Planners, he concludes, “created something artificially.”(sic)


    If there is no understanding or acknowledgment of the past, how can anyone build a future that has meaning?

  • yuna

    More than once I have aired my consternation with like-minded foreigners and my Korean wife as to how it seems at times only the foreigners get really uptight about the Koreans bulldozing their heritage into oblivion.

    I remember seeing this news item, and also way before that, my mum’s friend(Korean) was the first person to inform her of it. My mum and I think the dirty little grilled fish joints are quaint but a bit overrated, but all in all, I think the Koreans care as well, just not enough to overthrow their government headed by someone called “the bulldozer” with candles.

  • yuna

    I agree totally with R.Elgin, I have also wondered about the same about Seoul. It’s the worst for the “residential neighbourhoods”. The high rise apartment blocks with the funny names and the grotesque Greek columns, the Wedding Hall & motels with electric palm trees where kitch has lost its meaning, it all makes me wonder if there is a part of the collective Korean brain missing a part which can deal with visual aesthetics, and more importantly, have an ability for an independent judgment, not some “copy and regurgitate something which is their own terrible interpretation of what is acceptable from abroad”. Buckchon was lovely, and definitely should be preserved. I strongly believe one’s visual stimulus from one’s environment affects your psyche. It’s a vicious circle. People tell me it’s because the land is too small for the people, it’s better than earthquake-bound Japan where it’s just sprawls and sprawls of never-ending neighbourhoods . I don’t buy that.

  • dogbertt

    The Nakwon Arcade is exceedingly ugly and likely extremely unsafe.

  • Sonagi

    Koreans’ lack of aesthetics in its tacky modern architecture stands in sharp contrast to its wonderfully understated traditional styles. The Chinese seem to outdo both the Japanese and the Koreans in developing modern architecture with Chinese characteristics although China, like its neighbors, values development over preservation. There is also plenty of kitsch in China, too. The parents of one of my former students got rich by building gated communities with housing and common grounds that were cheap (in quality, not price) replicas of European structures. I guess China’s new rich wants to pretend they live in Paris or Prague instead of Shenzhen.

  • R. Elgin

    That may be so “dogboy” but if it goes, there are no replacements at hand and its function is greater and more important than most new buildings downtown. If it were to disappear, every musician, great or small, in the city, would feel that loss and that is a lot of people.

  • DLBarch

    First things first: the Pimatgol alley is and has been a dump for as long as I can remember. If there is an aesthetic or historical reason to preserve it, then that argument hasn’t been made convincingly here. It also sits on some of the most expensive real estate in Seoul. I say good riddance.

    Sonagi is absolutely correct…the lack of aesthetics in modern Korean architecture does indeed stand in sharp contrast to its captivating, if derivative, traditional styles. But a lot of the criticism of the Pimatgol destruction is folded into the larger narrative of Korea’s wanton destruction of its cultural heritage, as if all of this destruction is of equal concern. But preservation of crap is still crap, and Seoul has far more historically important neighborhoods that HAVE been preserved, much to the frustration of local homeowners.

    But Pimatgol? No, I think not. Let the bulldozers do their thing, all the way to Nakwon Arcade. Then let a thousand blossoms bloom.


  • R. Elgin

    Consider that it is not the loss of Pimatgol that is felt but the loss of such a social nexus and its function in the collective psyche. There will be no replacement and the neighborhood that was there will have changed into something that is very much artificial and devoid of meaning other than someone’s rent money paid for yet another 치과 office. The culture that such celebrates is money only and no one will miss it when it too is torn down.

    Sure, people can plant flowers that may bloom but no one can live amongst them.

  • yuna

    I also noticed tonight that Kangnam is going to get rid of those street peddlers in order to make the street into “somewhere one wants to walk 걷고 싶은 거리”. I think that’s good. People need to pay tax on their tukpoki business. I heard that in Hongdae, there is a famous Tokpoki stall where people call it “Jopok(yakuza) Tukpoki” because it’s the only one around for miles and the three men who serve it are very quiet. They sell 400 manwon a night apparently(exaggerated). I also want them to clean up the tacky shops in the metro stations especially those underwear shops with WTF mannequins with the humongous heads – as long as they do the right thing by the stall owners.