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The Muak-dong neighborhood in the Jongho district of central Seoul, Korea, has been demolished. It is across from the Seodaemun Prison History Hall within Seodaemun Independence Park. Seodaemun Prison, constructed in 1907 during the Japanese colonial era (1910-45), was the country’s first correctional institution with modern facilities; prominent independence movement figures such as Kim Ku and Yu Gwansun were detained and executed there. Included within the urban renewal project, the site of the future high-rise Lotte Castle apartment complex, is an old, narrow alley lined with stained, old, low-rise buildings and dotted with shabby inns, but in the 19th and 20th centuries it contained dozens of inns which housed the families of prisoners, many of whom were jailed for their involvement in the independence movement against Japan, since inmates were poorly fed and ill-treated by the prison staff. Thus the street was called "Inn Alley" but also "Okbaraji Golmok" ("ok" means prison and "baragi" refers to taking care of someone; "golmok' is alley). As historian Fuji Takeshi remarked, “History is not just about special people. Without ordinary people who supported inmates at the Seodaemun Prison, fighting for independence would not have been possible. The Jongno District Office cited a lack of documentation as a major reason for permitting the project and alco claimed all the inns were built in the 1950s and ’60s and had little architectural value. The area's redevelopment association, mostly landlords who decided to raze the entire area with the consent of a majority of the residents, was established in 2010, took out a 26.5 billion won ($22.2 million) loan to support the relocation of association members and paid at least 200 million won in interest each month, but older residents say yongyeok ggangpae (criminal gangs disguised as legitimate businesses) were mobilized to forcibly remove them and have acted to discourage outsiders from visiting the area out of concern that they may find documents that could support its historial value. According to Park Kyung-mok, the director of Seodaemun Prison History Hall, there are no historical photos or documents about the alley, but Kim Tae-dong, a senior curator there, amplified on the remark, saying, “The story about Inn Alley has been handed down verbally by guards who used to work for the prison.” Kim Hong-nam, a former director of the National Museum of Korea, said, “A lack of documents can’t be valid grounds for permitting the redevelopment project. Interviews with people who know the area could be enough documentation.” Choi Ho-jin, the director of the National Trust Cultural Heritage Fund, pointed out that Seoul wants to be registered on the Unesco World Heritage List as a 600-year-old city, but the oldest wooden building between Gwanghwamun and Namdaemun gates is a monument located marking the enthronement of Gojong, the last king of the Joseon Dynasty that ended with the Japanese protectorate; on the major thoroughfare, nothing is older than 100 years old.
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