A building in Washington, D.C. that was once used as the legation building for the Korean Empire has been reacquired by the Korean government after 120 years.
The Cultural Heritage Administration and the National Trust for Cultural Heritage announced finalization of a contract for repurchase of the building from its current owners on August 21.
The former Korean legation building in Washington D.C., once the overseas diplomatic office for the Korean Empire, was recently reacquired after 102 years. Pictured are a view of the building in the early 1900s (left) and in 2012 (right) (photos courtesy of the National Trust for Cultural Heritage).
Built in 1877, the former Korean legation building is located in Logan Circle Historic District in Washington, D.C., a ten-minute drive from the White House. The three-story Victorian-style building was the only overseas diplomatic office of the Korean Empire, among the total four that were established in the U.S., France, China, and Japan, that still stands on its original site.
The building was purchased in November 1891 by the Joseon Kingdom for USD 25,000 and used as an overseas diplomatic mission until the end of the Korean Empire.
With the signing of the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905, also known as the Japan–Korea Protectorate Treaty or as the Eulsa Treaty in Korean, administration rights to the building went to Japan.
A view of the interior of the former Korean legation building during its use as a diplomatic office for the Korean Empire shows, among other things, pillows embroidered with taegukgi. The building was recently repurchased by the Korean government after 102 years (photo courtesy of the National Trust for Cultural Heritage).
Two months before the signing of the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, after which the period of Japanese imperial rule in Korea formally began, the building was sold to Japan and then resold shortly after to an American. According to the Cultural Heritage Administration, Japan acquired the rights to the building for only USD 5.
Today, the building stands as a testament to the efforts of the Joseon Kingdom to assert its sovereignty through the practice of autonomous diplomacy, independent of the competing influences of neighboring Russia, Japan, and the Qing Dynasty. Prior to the purchase of the building, the Joseon Kingdom and the United States had signed a “treaty of peace, amity, commerce, and navigation” in 1882.
In 1905, Rhee Syngman held meetings at the building with Congressman Hugh A. Dinsmore, Secretary of State John Hay, and President Theodore Roosevelt to voice his concerns regarding Japan’s acts of aggression and to request the support of the United States government in helping Korea to regain independence.
A view of the interior of the former Korean legation building during its use as a diplomatic office for the Korean Empire shows a large taegukgi draped on the wall. The building was recently repurchased by the Korean government after 102 years (photo courtesy of the National Trust for Cultural Heritage).
Due to the clear historical value of the old building, the Korean government as well as various Korean-American civil organizations have made various and repeated efforts to reacquire ownership of the building. Numerous fundraising campaigns were held beginning in 1997 by the Korean-American community, who also organized a petition in 2010, on the 100th anniversary of the first purchase of the building. Unfortunately, such efforts bore little fruit.
Success in the reacquisition efforts came following the Cultural Heritage Administration’s decision to pursue a private-public cooperative effort. The National Trust for Cultural Heritage, designated as the leading organization in charge of the reacquisition initiative, received sponsorship by Hyundai Card as well as assistance from local real estate specialists. Finalization of the arrangement for repurchase of the building came this year, on the 130th anniversary of Korea-US diplomatic relations.
An aerial view photograph shows the location of the former Korean legation building in Logan Circle Historic District in Washington, D.C. The building is the only overseas diplomatic office of the Korean Empire still standing on its original site (photo courtesy of the National Trust for Cultural Heritage).
After a thorough inspection of the building before the end of the year, as well as discussions with related experts and the Korean-American community, the administration plans to use the site as a space for promotion of Korean culture. On the occasion of this successful reacquisition, the administration also plans to expand policies for the preservation and reuse of historic buildings located outside the country.
More information on the activities of the Cultural Heritage Administration can be found at the official website. An introduction to Korea’s cultural heritage can also be found in the Culture and the Arts menu of Korea.net.
By Kwon Jungyun
Korea.net Staff Writer