By Kang Gahui and Sohn JiAe
Photos = Cultural Heritage Administration
The building that housed the Joseon legation in Washington, D.C., will now be transformed into a history museum, and a Taegeukgi national flag will be hoisted above the museum for the first time in 113 years.
The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) announced on May 15 that restoration work on the legation building, which it bought in 2012, has been complete and that it will open on May 22.
The Joseon government bought the building, just 1.5 km from the White House, in 1889, eight years after it established diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 1882. It cost almost half of the Joseon royal budget that year, which amounted to some USD 25,000. Joseon officials, such as the first minister plenipotentiary Park Jeong-yang, used this building for their diplomatic activities across the U.S. However, the 1905 Protectorate Treaty between Korea and Japan, known as the Eulsa Treaty, deprived Joseon of its diplomatic sovereignty, which stopped all legation activities.
In 1910 when Japan formally annexed Korea, the colonial power purchased the building against the Joseon government’s will for just USD 5 and sold it to a U.S. entity for only USD 10. The building then re-entered the full public spotlight in 2003, as that year marked the 100th anniversary of Koreans emigrating to the U.S., and the Korean-American community tried to get back the building, to no avail.
In response, the CHA invested USD 3.5 million in 2012, equivalent to about KRW 39.5 billion, from the National Trust for Cultural Heritage to purchase the building.
The CHA said that the building is of significant value as a cultural asset, as it is the only remaining building from either Joseon or the Korean Empire that retains its original appearance. It’s also the only one that has kept both its interior and exterior intact, among the other 19th-century diplomatic facilities that exist in Washington, D.C. This makes the building even more valuable, both historically and diplomatically, the CHA said.
The first and second floors of the former legation were restored based on written and visual records. The third floor will be used as a hall aimed to promote the historic relationship between Seoul and Washington, D.C., over the past many years. The outside area has been turned into a garden.
The museum will be open free to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it’s closed on Mondays.