One of the earliest references to Korea getting a modern, dedicated association building was printed in an annual report for the year 1902 in which it was stated that funds from the United States, to be used for the site and building, would be granted on the condition that some would be raised in Seoul.1 This was confirmed the following year when members of the foreign community at Seoul met in the Seoul Electric Company office of Collbran & Bostwick. There, on March 18, Korean customs commissioner John McLeavy Brown presented a financial plan for the project. It stipulated that 24,000 yen would come from “friends in America” on the condition that 6,000 yen be raised locally.2 By April, it was reported that over $6,000 had been locally raised for the building, and by October it was reported that the endeavor was guaranteed to receive at least 50,000 yen.3 In the October meeting held for organizing the YMCA staff, even Henry Bauld Gordon, the architect of Severance Hospital, was present to vote on its matters. One of these “friends in America” funding the project was entrepreneur and department store pioneer John Wanamaker, who would eventually pay for over half of the Seoul association building’s cost.4
The construction of this building, as was often the case regarding Christian-funded structures in early modern Korea, was then indebted to the missionary community’s connections throughout the globe. Not only was the money to construct the Seoul YMCA main building partially financed from donors outside of Korea, but its architect — Percy Montagu Beesley (1875-1927) — had just become a part of this wide network.
Beesley’s name is not widely known, and while not as prolific a builder as others, his impact on China’s modern built environment was not insignificant. The British architect arrived in Shanghai around 1902, after a three-year stint working in Canada between 1899-1902.5 Once in China, he seems to have initially gone to work as an assistant in the architectural firm Atkinson & Dallas, a then young but important design office in Shanghai.6 Sometime between then and 1905, he began a partnership with another architect named Albert Edmund Algar (1873-1926), forming the firm Algar & Beesley where he worked as both architect and surveyor.7
Algar and Beesley designed a number of buildings throughout China, both individuals becoming involved in local affairs. Not only was Algar associated with the Municipal Council of Shanghai, but at the age of twenty-three was reportedly involved in planning the foreign settlement at Hangchow [Hangzhou].8 Under the name of their firm, Algar & Beesley maintained at least seventeen different properties in Shanghai.9 Beesley then became directly connected to the local YMCA in 1902 when he was listed as a member of the Shanghai association. As such, it was probably no coincidence that Algar & Beesley subsequently became the designers of the 1907 YMCA building at Shanghai.
One of the first architectural examples illustrating Algar & Beesley had the ability to draft such buildings came in the form of the Tientsin Club. Built from 1903-1905, it had, among other things, a multi-purpose board room, a billiard hall, and bowling alley. Mixed-use public buildings such as this were not common in China at the time, and YMCA building design would have been relatively novel in 1900s East Asia. Even in the United States, the athletic spaces that came to typify YMCA building design, such as gymnasiums and indoor swimming pools, were only popularized at the end of the nineteenth century.10 The Tienstin Club, along with other foreign club buildings, was then probably the closest thing to a YMCA-type layout in China at the time.
Beesley may have begun drafting plans for the Seoul association building sometime between 1903-1905, though the exact timeline regarding the preparation of it is unclear. By September 1905, a version of the drawings and plans for the Seoul building were reportedly submitted to the association’s International Committee in New York, the entity overseeing such matters, for approval.11 In March 1906, Beesley visited Seoul where he spent ten days in connection with the YMCA project, continuing to work on the new building plans.12
The cornerstone ceremony in November 1907 saw many of Seoul’s officials in attendance, its two cornerstones physically laid “above the principal entrance of the building” by Sunjong and Itō Hirobumi.* Its construction was then superintended by the former secretary of the Educational Department of the association’s International Committee, George A. Gregg, who would go on to play an important role in the establishment of the Seoul association’s industrial and technical workshops.13 The Seoul YMCA building was completed and subsequently dedicated on December 3, 1908 after about a year of construction work.14
The completed structure was a three-story neoclassical brick affair with Greek, modern, and compradoric characteristics — arguably presenting as a fusion of Algar & Beesley’s Tienstin Club and Shanghai YMCA while also bearing resemblance to YMCA buildings in the United States. The building contained, on the ground floor, a metal-working shop, the advanced carpentry shop, a machine shop, and stock room. There was also an auditorium within — a public hall that would go on to be used for concerts, memorials, lectures, and debates. The new building was well-admired by the foreign community, yet a significant portion of Beesley’s plan appears to have never been built. An entire wing, which contained a gymnasium and baths, was completely eliminated due to lack of funding.15 While the “gift” of a subscription (nominally) from Sunjong for the amount of 10,000 yen temporarily brought the construction of the gymnasium wing back into the realm of possibility, the addition never materialized when the main building was completed in 1908.16
By 1910 the main structure, which sat on a 30,000 square foot lot, had already become “insufficient to house the activities of the organization.”17 The association made use of four auxiliary Korean outbuildings — perhaps some of the same structures used before the main building was completed — two of which contained “a forge room, a lumber drying kiln, and a carpenter shop for beginners.”18 The association’s property also contained outdoor tennis and athletic grounds, and a hall for fencing and wrestling. The fencing and wrestling hall was eventually padded, with a “shower bath” installed on the grounds.19
The issue of the unbuilt gymnasium was revisited and a public fundraiser was held in 1911. However, changes in government policy meant it took “about two weeks of repeated effort to get permission” from the local police to hold the fundraiser for the gymnasium.20 Some 350 Koreans, 59 Europeans and Americans, 35 Chinese, and 12 Japanese were recorded as having made financial subscriptions to the gymnasium fund — the Korean donations making up almost half of the amount. Notable locals like Walter D. Townsend, an American businessman, and Harry Chang, a local Chinese builder, also donated significant amounts to the project. By February 1911, the gymnasium was said to have been successfully funded.21 While only about half of the locally subscribed amount was reportedly collected by October 1, 1911,22 an official association report for their year ending on September 30, 1911 indicated that the gymnasium, as well as a “boy’s building”, had received financial subscriptions from the North American YMCAs covering the cost of the buildings in full.23
The planning of the gymnasium and “boy’s building” expansion was not entrusted to Beesley, nor was Beesley’s earlier plan for a gymnasium wing used. Rather, the project went to a member of a different architecture firm that had just recently become the YMCA’s go-to company responsible for the design of many of the association’s buildings throughout America and Asia. This man was Harry H. Hussey, a Canadian partner in the Chicago-based architecture firm Shattuck & Hussey. Once Hussey was in Asia by 1911, he was to physically work there and send off plans to Shattuck in the United States.
It is important to understand that Hussey, who had an interestingly varied professional past, came to specialize in YMCA architecture after winning a design competition in the 1900s.24 His partnership with Walter F. Shattuck proved to be a fruitful one, for the two men “became quasi-employees, trusted to produce functional and low-cost buildings. Their understanding of YMCA building principals could be transferred from building to building, reducing risk for local building committees.”25 In other words, rather than solely using local architects, Shattuck & Hussey were meant to bring a certain standardization to association building design.
When the firm engaged in YMCA building work in China, however, their American-centric ideas were not always transferable abroad. Not only were cultural expectations of athletic spaces different between China and the United States, but some YMCA officials in China were of the opinion that the association’s reliance on Shattuck & Hussey was problematic. In a 1914 letter, one wrote “It seems to me that working drawings [blueprints or technical plans] could be better prepared in Shanghai if we had the proper person or persons and the necessary facilities. In every building so far erected it has been necessary to make quite radical changes of the plans submitted by Hussey, and I think in no case have we been able to follow absolutely the plans and specifications by them. The specifications have in every case had to be entirely rewritten in nearly every building, and in the case of the Shanghai building, changes in every feature of the building, including walls, foundations, footings, etcs., were necessary.”26
Hussey first traveled to China for YMCA architectural work in 1911. After visiting there, he boarded a train on the morning of March 10, heading through Tientsin, Mukden, Seoul, and Busan, with Japan as his destination. It was during this trip that he drew up plans for the Seoul YMCA building expansion. A report from this time written by Gregg was particularly enlightening, indicating that in addition to the gymnasium, “plans were prepared for a three story industrial wing 40 x 80 ft. in size, of standard mill construction, without plaster finish or permanent partitions, thus adapting it for such changes as may be called for from time to time. The plans as outlined above call for additions which will practically double the size of the present building, at an expense of some $18,000. [sic] more than is now provided for extension purposes.27 Hussey’s own memoirs, published in 1968, corroborates this report, writing of his time there in 1911: “In Seoul, I worked out the plans for several buildings and sent them to my Chicago office for completion.”28 The Korea Mission Field similarly wrote in April 1911 that Hussey had been there to assist the building committee in drawing plans, going so far as to say that he was “freely” giving his services to the cause.29 From there, the first building expansion project was carried out.
A report written by YMCA secretary Frank M. Brockman indicates that the industrial department building was actually built, placing its construction sometime after Hussey’s visit in 1911 but before Brockman’s report was published in October 1914.30 The industrial department was erected in conjunction with two new utility structures during this time: an electric plant and a steam dry kiln (for drying timber) — the kiln being a significant brick structure that was claimed to have been “the first building of its kind to be erected in this land.” All three buildings were constructed next to each other on the YMCA grounds, with the utility buildings necessary for the operation of the woodworking, metalworking, leatherworking, and commercial photography shops found within the new industrial building. Construction of the industrial building was reportedly entrusted to an unnamed Chinese builder who had studied technical architectural drawing with the YMCA itself, formerly having served as a head teacher there. The finished building was ultimately about 800 square feet smaller than originally planned by Hussey, reportedly built at 43 x 56 instead of 40 x 80.31 Why this change was made is unclear, however one wonders whether or not it was a result of the Chinese builder’s involvement since Hussey’s designs in China were often altered by local builders as well.32
With the industrial department building behind the main building, there was then a third building erected along the thoroughfare next to the main building. This was probably the “boy’s building” designed by Hussey, which seems to have included the gymnasium. Brockman’s report from October 1914 indicated that Gregg was, at the time, busy overseeing the construction of the third building, clearly referencing working on a “boys’ department and gymnasium.” It took up a significant amount of real estate, spanning much of the remaining street-front space between the original YMCA building and the former offices of Collbran & Bostwick. Its form and facade were very similar to the original building, though the windows on the upper floors were different and the roof contained mono-pitched dormers. The building was completed sometime between 1914-1919, however probably finished by 1916.33
Internal reports and correspondence, when taken as a whole, suggest that the Seoul association’s growth was due to demand by locals for practical learning. The industrial department building may have been completed before the gym in order to meet this demand, and by instituting a focus on industry instead of purely athletics, the Seoul YMCA was able to make itself more locally relevant. To be clear, however, the association was arguably riding the coattails of others who perceived Korea as in need of industrial education, becoming an important player in the education of locals that was in a way in competition with the Japanese education system. With the both the Methodist mission in northern Korea and the Japanese government in Seoul engaged in industrial education by 1907, the YMCA was the next player to engage in such “practical” industrial work.34
Percy Montagu Beesley continued to work in China until his death in 1927, the main building of the Seoul YMCA being his only known commission in Korea.35 Hussey, too, spent decades in China, his most-remembered project being Peking Union Medical College while the work he personally called “the most successful building I ever designed” being his own type of functional mud and reed hut that was built for more than 9,000 displaced Chinese refugees at the request of the Red Cross.36 The YMCA buildings at Seoul are currently the only identified works Hussey was involved in on the Korean peninsula. However, there might have been others. In his autobiography, he wrote of making plans for “some interesting buildings in India, Korea and Siberia” in collaboration with the architect in charge of his Peking design office, Joseph Herman.37 Hussey’s book appears to indicate this was in or after 1919. And while it is entirely unclear what Hussey was working on, one wonders whether or not it was related to discussions of further YMCA expansion for the Seoul association in the 1920s.38 There are, however, no known records of another wing or building being added to Beesley’s and Hussey’s buildings on the Seoul YMCA grounds.
Beesley and Hussey were not the only professional architects named in connection with the YMCA in Korea. William Merrell Vories, a prolific yet eclectic architect in Japan, was mentioned in a 1916 report as consulting on the cost of building YMCA residences in Korea.39 Being involved in the YMCA in Japan, it is little wonder his name sometimes appeared in the association’s correspondence and reports. Residences for YMCA secretaries in Seoul were frequently discussed in the 1920s, the decade when some were finally built. In 1922, Vories was mentioned again within the context of all YMCA residences across Asia in which he was called the “best architect in Japan”, perhaps being considered the way Hussey had been when the association sought architectural standardization a decade earlier.40 Whether or not Vories did, in fact, design YMCA residences in Korea remains unclear. He was, however, involved in other buildings in Seoul.
The three Seoul YMCA buildings stood for decades until the Korean War undid much of Beesley’s and Hussey’s work. The structures were bombed out in the 1950s and subsequently demolished. Yet it is important to remember that prior to this they functioned as an important hub for the Western community. They were a center for foreign architectural involvement and a reflection of the YMCA’s growing internationality at the time, allowing for personalities from all walks of life to become involved in its construction in Korea. The works of Beesley and Hussey in Seoul no longer remain, but the association still lives on today.
Footnotes and Citations
1 Points of Progress in the Young Men’s Christian Associations of China, Korea, and Hong Kong for the Year 1902 (1902), 2. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
2 The Korea Review, Vol. 3 (Seoul: The Methodist Publishing House, 1903), 130.
3 The amount of $6,000 was probably in gold, however not specified. The Korea Review, Vol. 3 (Seoul: The Methodist Publishing House, 1903), 167 and 461.
4 “The Y.M.C.A. Building,” The Korea Mission Field, vol. 3 no. 12 (December 1907), 189.
5 Beesley’s background in architecture probably began in the 1890s. He was listed, in connection with a number of students, as a probationer, with the Royal Institute of British Architects in April 1895. The Builder, vol. 68 no. 2725 (April 1895), 311. Located in American Libraries and Getty Research Institute.; Beesley appears to have been a practicing architect by 1898 when his work on a building in Earlestown, UK, for the Industrial Co-operative Society was listed in a trade journal. The Building News and Engineering Journal, vol. 74 no. 2247 (January 28, 1898), 150. Located in Canadian Libraries.; Currently, only one specific report of Beesley’s building projects in Canada has been discovered. In the Canadian Architect and Builder, he was described as both architect and superintendent over the Methodist church at Moose Jaw, the church built in an “early English style of Gothic architecture”. The Canadian Architect and Builder, vol. 12 no. 10 (October 1899), 213. Located in Canadian Libraries.; Beesley’s name was also found in the Moose Jaw Herald Times, his services humbly listed in a small section showing that he was working in Canada by August 1899. Moose Jaw Herald Times, August 4, 1899, 4. University of Alberta Libraries.
6 The Directory and Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Straits Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, the Philippines, and etc (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Daily Press Office, 1902), 752.
7 The Directory and Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Straits Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, the Philippines, and etc (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Daily Press Office, 1905), 847.
8 Arnold Wright, Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China (Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Co.: 1908), 632.
9 According to a 1911 land assessment schedule, Algar & Beesley were the registered owners of twelve properties in the northern section of the foreign settlement, and another five in the central section. In addition to these, the men were also separately listed as individual owners of different properties, with Algar having many more than Beesley. See Shanghai Municipal Council Land Assessment Schedules (1911), which is compiled along with Land Regulations and Bye-laws for the Foreign Settlement of Shanghai, North of the Yang-King-Pang (Shanghai: North China Herald Office, 1907). See pages numbered 1, 35, and 36. Cornell University Library.
10 Liu Pinghao and Zhu Wenyi, “A Study on the First Public Gymnasium in China — Shanghai YMCA Sichuan Rd Club,” International Journal of Culture and History, vol. 1 no. 2 (December 2015), 123.
11 The Korea Review, Vol. 5 (Seoul: The Methodist Publishing House, 1905), 355.
12 The Korea Review, Vol. 6 (Seoul: The Methodist Publishing House, 1906), 119.
13 1911, Among Young Men in the Middle Kingdom: A Report of the Work of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of China and Korea (Shanghai: General Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of China and Korea, 1912), 27. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
14 A Year’s Progress: The Work of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Korea and China during 1908 (Shanghai, General Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of China and Korea, 1909), 20. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
15 “The Y.M.C.A. Building,” The Korea Mission Field, vol. 3 no. 12 (December 1907), 189.
16 It was revealed that this “gift” was actually brought about by Ito Hirobumi, who “induced the Korean Government to provide” money to the YMCA. Note that Terauchi, according to Gillett’s report, also dedicated funds to the YMCA. P. L. Gillett, “Annual Report for the Year Ending September 30th, 1910,” Annual Report of Secretaries in China and Korea to the International Committee (1910), 157. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
17 P. L. Gillett, “Annual Report for the Year Ending September 30th, 1910,” Annual Report of Secretaries in China and Korea to the International Committee (1910), 155. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
18 P. L. Gillett, “Annual Report for the Year Ending September 30th, 1910,” Annual Report of Secretaries in China and Korea to the International Committee (1910), 155. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
19 It is unclear as to whether this report implies that the “shower bath” was part of the fencing and wrestling hall, or that the members simply enjoyed using it and it was located elsewhere on the property. “Annual Report of P. L. Gillett Y.M.C.A. Seoul, Korea for the Year Ending Sept. 13, 1911,” The Korea Mission Field, vol. 8 no. 3 (March 1912), 92.
20 P. L. Gillett, “Annual Report for the Year Ending September 30th, 1911,” Annual Report of Secretaries in China and Korea to the International Committee (1911), 242. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
21 “How the Lord Sent Money for the Y.M.C.A.,” The Korea Mission Field vol. 7 no. 2 (February 1911), 54-55.
22 “Annual Report of P. L. Gillett Y.M.C.A. Seoul, Korea for the Year Ending Sept. 13, 1911,” The Korea Mission Field, vol. 8 no. 3 (March 1912), 89.
23 F. S. Brockman, “Annual Report for the Year Ending September 30, 1911,” China YMCA: Foreign Secretaries’ Reports, 1900-1929 (incomplete). Found on page 1 of Brockman’s report; this compilation of reports has no master page numbering system. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
24 It is also important to note that Harry H. Hussey’s birth name appears to have been William Henry Hussey, but he was always referred to as Harry H. Hussey as an architect. Jeffrey W. Cody, Building in China (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2001), 70-71.
25 Paula Lupkin, Manhood Factories: YMCA Architecture and the Making of Modern Urban Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 146.
26 Letter to Fletcher from C. W. Harvey, March 6, 1914. Copy, compiled and located in the Building Records portion (undated and 1911 – June 1924) of the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
27 Geo. A. Gregg [George A. Gregg], “Annual Report for the Year Ending September 30th, 1911,” Annual Reports of Secretaries in China and Korea to the International Committee (1911), 258. Located in the Annual and Quarterly Reports of the YMCAs in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
28 Harry Hussey, My Pleasures and Palaces (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1968), 169.
29 The Korea Mission Field, vol. 7 no. 4 (April 1911), 96.
30 A report in April 1911 stated that the Seoul YMCA was “speedily going forward with the addition to their present building”, another indicator that Hussey’s visit in the previous month was fruitful. The Korea Mission Field, vol. 7 no. 4 (April 1911), 102.
31 Frank M. Brockman, “A Trip Through the Industrial Department of the Seoul Young Men’s Christian Association,” The Korea Mission Field, vol. 10 no 10 (October 1914), 316-317.
32 In addition to the letter in footnote 26 of this essay, the name of a Chinese-born American-trained architect named Poy Lee altered Shattuck & Hussey’s designs on the ground in China. Paula Lupkin, Manhood Factories: YMCA Architecture and the Making of Modern Urban Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 152.
33 The Chosen Bank (Bank of Korea) published a pictorial book in 1919, featuring a mirrored photograph showing all three YMCA buildings, meaning the third building was completed by the time this book was published. See the above figure from Pictorial Chosen and Manchuria. Also, a reference in a dissertation to an annual report written by a Barnhart suggests the gymnasium was newly built by September 1916. See Lee Yeon-seung, “Between Nationalism and Internationalism; Yun Ch’i-ho and the YMCA in Colonial Korea,” dissertation (Boston University, 2011), 395.
34 The government Industrial Institute, built sometime in the 1900s, probably around 1907, still stands today in Seoul at 서울 종로구 대학로 86 한국방송통신대학교 역사관. See the last section of this essay on Colonial Korea for a little more about this building, The Influence of Giyōfū Architecture and 19th Century Japan on Early Modern Korea.
35 One of the firms Beesley would go on to work for was Palmer & Turner in Shanghai. The Directory and Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Straits Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, the Philippines, and etc (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Daily Press Office, 1920), 1433.
36 Harry Hussey, My Pleasures and Palaces (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1968), 230-233.
37 Harry Hussey, My Pleasures and Palaces (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1968), 245.
38 For example, see Letter from D. Willard Lyon to F. S. Brockman, September 21, 1925. Located in the Correspondence and Reports (September 1925 – July 1926) portion of the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
39 Loose memo entitled “Residences” with notes on China, Japan, India, and Turkey. Note that Seoul, whose residences were being discussed, is classified as being part of Japan in this document. Located in the Building Records portion (Residences, undated and 1912, 1916-1926) of the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
40 “Report of William D. Murray on Visit to Far East,” September 1921 to February 1922. Located in the Correspondence and Reports portion (September 1921-1922) of the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
* “The Y.M.C.A. Building,” The Korea Mission Field, vol. 3 no. 12 (December 1907), 189. I’ve been informed that multiple Korean language newspapers indicate the cornerstone ceremony was November 14, 1907.
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