“Seongan: The Hidden City” Walking Tour

The third English-language Wondosim exploration walk (and 16th Wondosim Tamheom event under Jeju International Culture Exchange Association [JICEA]) on December 20, 2015, “Seongan: the Hidden City,” explored the hidden features of old Jeju City. Before the term “wondosim” 원도심 became prominent in the past 15-20 years, old Jeju City (comprising parts of Ildo-dong, Ido-dong, Samdo-dong, and Geonip-dong) was known more commonly as either “seongnae” or “seongan.” They are not native Jeju terms as both words mean “within the city walls,” a designation also used on the Korean mainland to distinguish walled settlements from the surrounding countryside. Nevertheless, many elderly rural people still recognize old Jeju City as “seongan” or “seongnae.” The wondosim has the unique quality of possessing the vast experience of Jeju’s long and turbulent history all within one place. Even as more people are now aware of the wondosim’s historical and cultural value, its many deep layers continue to yield more stories and secrets. The places that were included on the walk included sites clearly visible in plain view and significant to local memory yet rarely ever included on history walks.

Dongmun Rotary 동문 로타리: The area around Dongmun Rotary was once an important central commercial neighborhood with Dongmun Market, the city’s previous central bus terminal, motels for ferry passengers, and Jeju’s first department store. While one might see more tourists than locals in this area nowadays, only a few decades ago this was once one of the liveliest parts of the city. Many motels were established in this neighborhood during the 1960s boom of domestic ferry passenger tourism. Eventually this also brought in sex tourism. As the neighborhood fell into decline with Sinjeju’s construction – and its more upscale sex tourism – the area around Sanjicheon became denigrated as a red light district. The obelisk in the center of Dongmun Rotary commemorates Jeju marines, who were recognized for their remarkable bravery in the Korean War despite the extreme oppression of April Third. As Jeju was branded as a “red” island, many Jeju people – some as young as middle school age – enlisted in the marines and joined in Douglas MacArthur’s Incheon Landing as a means to demonstrate their loyalty. The memorial is a tragic reminder of Jeju’s violent past and extreme paradoxes.

Mudeungsan Motel 무등산모텔: The name “Mudeungsan” 무등산 actually refers to a mountain in the Jeolla region. Just as the owners of this motel are from Jeolla, many business people in this part of Jeju City are also from the Jeolla region to the point that some Jeju locals call the east part of the old city “Jeolla Dongsan” 전라동산. The motel and restaurant are relatively recent but the building itself is actually an important piece of architecture. The building was originally the factory and warehouse of Pyeongan Mokje 평안 목제, a construction material company during the 1950s and 1960s. “Pyeongan” refers to a province in what is now North Korea; the original owners of the building were from this building. The building was sold to the current Mudeungsan Motel. During the 1960s, when owners of Pyeongan Mokje became prosperous, they built their home on the third floor. A unique feature of this house is that it is a Korean adaptation of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935 Falling Water, which many consider a masterpiece of American Modernism.

Remains of the east walls 읍성 터/ Meteorological Administration 기상청: Most of Jeju City’s walls were destroyed during the Japanese colonial period as the city expanded. The stones of those walls were used to construct Jeju Harbor. This portion of the east wall where the Meteorological Administration building now sits was the wall’s highest point and was thus an important observation area for security purposes. The location became important for weather forecasting as the first weather station, Cheukhuso 측후소, was built here in 1926. Near the Cheukhuso (later renamed Gisangcheong) was the site of the Jungang Methodist Church (Jungang Gamni Gyohoe 중앙감리교회), which was first established in 1928 and a unique building of Jeju stone construction. Unfortunately, the Jungang Methodist Church was destroyed recently as the Meteorological Office expanded to update its facilities.

Gongdeok Dongsan 공덕 동산: At the end of the Joseon Dynasty, the neighborhood of Geonippo was tucked between a steep cliff and Sanjicheon. Geonnippo was historically a tiny port village at the edge of the city. As it lacked a road out of the city walls, neighborhood youths climbed over dangerous rocks and precipices in order to go out of the city. Because this caused injuries and deaths, a local man named Go Seoheung 髙瑞興 (1823-1899) worked for a full year and donated his accumulated 300 seok worth of rice for road construction. His philanthropy was honored here in 1877 with the memorial epitaph by these steps. This historic pathway became the center of a farcical controversy and public relations debacle when the local district government – without notifying the Jeju City government – painted the steps and street completely red out for a so-called “storytelling street” project. The street was shortly completely covered in green paint, but it is not clear whether this was because of the fallout and furor.

Dongmun site 동문 터 / Neighborhood market 골목시장: “Dongmun” literally means “East Gate.” Socially and economically, this was the most important gate in Jeju City. During the Joseon Dynasty officials and merchants arriving via the mainland came not through the tiny harbor of Geonippo but the historically larger port of Hwabuk. As they came to conduct their business in Jeju City, they entered through the east gate. The gate and the walls were destroyed during the Japanese colonial period, but a trace of one the east gate’s eight guardian dolhareubang figures still is visible and some of the roads through these neighborhoods are directly over the former walls. Tucked in this area is a genuine traditional neighborhood market used primarily by local residents. All vendors at the market are Jeju natives though came to Jeju City from different parts of the island from as far as Hangyeong at different phases of the city’s development. The market has been in existence for some 60 years, but was reduced in size due to the city’s construction of a new street that cut off a part of it.

Former Dongyang Theater (Cinehouse) 동양 극장 (시네하우스): Dongyang Theater was first opened in 1965 and was one of several major theaters in the old city. It was the product of the first attempts at urban redevelopment in the 1960s. A commemorative plaque at the front of the theater still exists with the name of Rear Admiral Kim Yeonggwan 해군소장 김영관, who was appointed Jeju’s governor during President Park Chung Hee’s military rule from 1961 to 1979. Though it has since been converted into a building for Dongmun Market’s fabrics vendors, the building still retains the structure of the old theater. Here was also Jeju’s first major department store. The Dongyang Theater building itself has a dramatic roof in the shape of a tidal wave. The theater’s shape was conspicuous for any who looked at the city from the sea and so it was for a time a signature building of the city to any who arrived via Jeju Harbor. It was designed Hwabuk native Kim Hanseop 김한섭, who was among the first generation of Jeju’s Modernist architects.

Sinseon Moru 신선모루: Sinseon Moru is a low-income neighborhood on the east side of Sanjicheon and directly south of Dongmun Market. Prior to Jeju City’s rapid urban expansion starting in the 1960s, Sinseon Moru – and its neighbor Sinsan Moru (after which Sinsan Park is named) – was largely open fields and graves. As it was left out of Jeju City’s rapid urban development for some time, it still retains the characteristic features of Jeju’s older settlement patterns with tight neighborhoods built into the landscape. Even as late as the 1980s, the neighborhood lacked plumbing facilities and depended on a village water pump. Due to its location, Sinseon Moru was the home to many of Dongmun Market’s vendors. Sinseon Moru is representative of Jeju’s earlier phase of modernization in the twentieth century. A collection of memorial tablets commemorating exiles once existed here, but they have been moved some decades ago. Though many people in this neighborhood moved in at different times, the majority are locals who migrated to the city in the midst of its varied stages of expansion. Because its layout and form has changed little over the past few decades, it is a window into Jeju City of the 1970s and 1980s.

Namsugak site 남수각 / Jeju Fortress 제주성: A stone arched structure once existed over a part of Sanjicheon where Garakcheon 가락천 flowed at the southern part of Jeju City’s walls. This structure was known as Namsugu 남수구 or Namsugak 남수각. Garakcheon 가락천 was known for having provided water even in times of drought. This stream had clean pure water until the early 1970s but as soon as large-scale construction began, the waters stopped flowing. Aside from the arched bridges over Sanjicheon and three primary city gates, old Jeju City was completely surrounded by a ring of walls. Parts of the southern walls still exist here today and have since been under various phases of restoration. The restoration may not be accurate, which may account for why they do not appear to match the existing wall remains near Nam Elementary School. Jeigak 제이각, which sits atop the wall tower, has also recently been restored.

Former Jeju National University Hospital: When Jeju National University Hospital moved to Ara-dong in 2009, the hospital building in the old city was included as part of a larger urban regeneration 도시재생 plan. Part of the building was first renovated and reopened as the Entrepreneurial Support Center 창업보육센터, a startup center for new entrepreneurs, and in October 2015 the other half became the Jeju General Cultural Arts Center 제주종합문화예술센터. Although this building is not very old, the history of this site is indeed long. This neighborhood was known as Iatgol 이앗골 貳衙洞 in reference to a much earlier administrative center that existed from the Goryeo (918-1392) to Joseon Dynasties (1392-1910). In 1910, the building became a “jahyewon” 자혜원 慈惠院, a charity hospital and welfare center. It later became the Jeju Provincial Hospital and then the Jeju National University Hospital.

Tamna Yeogwan 탐라 여관 and Dongyang Yeogwan 동영 여관: Tamna Yeogwan was one of the first tourist-oriented inns built when the first national tourism development plans were made. The Republic of Korea’s first Department of Tourism was established in 1954, but actual work commenced only toward the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. Tamna Yeogwan, a modest 30-room hotel, and the Seogwipo Tourist Hotel in 1959 were the first two tourist hotels. Tamna Yeogwan is also known among locals as the accommodations where the Republic of Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee (Yi Seungman 이승만), stayed in his visit to Jeju. The adjacent Dongyang Yeogwan predates it by some two or three decades. Dongyang Yeogwan is one of the last colonial era buildings in Jeju City to have Japanese ryokan-style architecture. During the colonial period when transportation around the island was still very inconvenient, it was a favored lodging place for officials. Dongyang Yeogwan originally had a Japanese-style front entryway, but it was destroyed in the late summer of this year for road expansion.

Mugeunseong 무근성: The name “Mugeunseong” can be translated to “old city” or “old fortress” and refers to the previous Tamna capital. Due to its proximity to Jeju’s previous administrative centers from the Goryeo Dynasty to the early years of the Republic of Korea, Mugeunseong was an important residence area for officials, businesspeople, and elites until the completion of Sinjeju in the 1980s. Mugeunseong’s fortunes declined as people moved to newer parts of Jeju City, but the neighborhood still features architecture representative of upper class residences. Housing during the 1970s and 1980s have the distinctive qualities of being largely of redbrick construction (with the occasional use of local Jeju stone) and incorporating Korean-style roofs and residential compound walls with gates. Parts of Mugeunseong also have tightly-clustered neighborhoods with narrow olle 올레. Before the land reclamation project for Tapdong in the 1990s, the northern edge of Mugeunseong once touched a broad rocky shore. A few buildings also feature distinctive patterns such as zigzags, shells, and flowers carved into the cement facades. Such decorations were more commonplace during the 1960s-1970s before construction became a thoroughly professionalized occupation and served as a mix of household adornment and the builder’s signature.