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'Star Villa' shines again in Taichung

TAIPEI -- A traditional Taiwanese courtyard house more than a century old was formally opened to the public after being renovated by the city government for several years.

The 6,600-square-meter compound, named “Star Villa” (摘星山莊) and located in Tanzi District, was commissioned in 1879 by Qing Dynasty military general Lin Chi-chung.

It later became known as “the best of Taiwanese residential houses” because of the dazzling carvings, calligraphy and paintings that can be seen around the premises and was designated as a historical site by the city at the end of the 20th century.

According to the city's Cultural Affairs Bureau, Star Villa was almost torn down in 1997 after the right side of the compound was badly damaged.

But thanks to the efforts of cultural and historical preservation staffers in the Taichung County government (which was later merged into the Taichung City government in late 2010), the villa was preserved and designated as a historical monument in December 1997.

The actual renovation of the grounds began in 2007 after the county bought the compound's land and structures, obtained funding for the project, and found contractors to do the work.

The renovation of the main structures was completed in 2010 and the compound's outer wall and parking lot were finished in 2012.

Since then, the villa has been open to visitors every Sunday on a trial basis, and the city finally decided recently to open the grounds to the public six days a week.

Mayor Jason Hu explained at the villa's opening ceremony that he wanted to renovate the historical compound so that the public could have access to the cultural treasure.

In the future, he said, private companies will be invited to manage the new tourist site under the “operate, transfer” model to boost tourism.

Also attending the opening was Lin Sheng-hsiung, a fifth-generation member of the Lin family. He said he was grateful to the city government and local residents for their help in renovating the old house.

The “Star Villa” was given its name by General Lin after he thought of the stars he gazed at during battles away from home, according to Hu.

Chang You-chuang, a Taichung official involved in managing the city's cultural assets, praised the villa's historical architecture and said it serves as a valuable research resource.

The wood materials used in its construction were all directly imported from China, he said.

Because the architects and workers invited to build the compound in the 19th century were among the best in their fields, the villa abounds with superb wood, brick and stone carvings and bas-reliefs and sophisticated koji ceramic pieces, Chang said.

All of the structure's architectural features were carefully preserved during the renovation, he said.

Star Villa is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week except for Monday.

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Taichung Mayor Jason Hu, center left, and guests pose for a photo in front of the front door of the 1879 traditional Chinese compound “Star Villa” in Taichung, yesterday. (CNA)

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