This project started with the goal of answering, at least partially, the question of What’s up there? that inevitably arises while riding the subway, and Yeongdeungpo-gu Office was always one of the most What’s up there? stations for me, as my first year in Seoul I lived in Gangseo-gu, near Songjeong Station, and transferred here countless times on my way to a night out in Hongdae. I passed through almost every weekend, sometimes more, but never bothered to answer the question. And now, here we are.
So what did I miss? Honestly, not that terribly much, as the area is a nice, though largely unremarkable neighborhood. Exit 1 or 2 drops you off right by the small but pleasing Dangsan Park (당산공원). This carefully manicured park fills about a quarter-block with a walking path that winds between well-tended flower beds and past benches where small groups of pensioners sat in the shade. Quite new playground and exercise equipment is available, and there’s also a studded foot-massaging walking path on which one old guy was laying down taking a nap when I passed by.
A small tower near the main entrance displaying the time and temperature read 31 degrees, and not far away about a half-dozen kids were beating the heat by running around in the park’s splash fountain, one jet of which shot water a good 20 feet straight up. It looked like fun, though someone might have wanted to explain to a couple of them that wearing a raincoat defeated the purpose a little bit.
Southwest of Exit 6 the neighborhood was filled with apartment towers, so instead of walking around through there I made a U-turn and went west down Yangsan-ro (양산로), past a man selling watermelons from a cart and past several auto-body shops, before arriving at a couple of very incongruous buildings. Up ahead on the left was the Southern Seoul Labor Employment Branch Office (서울남부고용노동지청), a huge red brick structure, half of which looked like a run of the mill Seoul brick tower, the other half of which looked like some cheap European knockoff with ornamental cement balustrades.
Around the corner on Seonyudong-1-ro (선유동1로) was more poorly thought out knockoff architecture in the form of the Yeongdeungpo District Tax Offices (영등포세무서), whose misfired attempt at prestige just left the faux-European structure looking out of place.
The rest of the area was a pretty regular collection of mid-size apartment buildings and small, mostly independent businesses. Of particular interest, especially to the expat community, is the presence of a Costco Wholesale, most easily reachable by making a U-turn out of Exit 3 and taking the first right, Dangsan-ro-31-gil (당산로31길), and following it straight ahead for a couple blocks.
One of the things you’ll notice about the area around Yeongdeungpo-gu Office is how the neighborhood has changed and continues to change over the years. Yeongdeungpo used to be a major industrial area, with all sorts of factories churning out the raw goods that went a long way toward Korea’s post-war economic boom. As Korea, and Seoul in particular, got wealthier most of these factories moved out of the city, to suburbs and nearby towns where land was cheaper. Recent years have seen sleek skyscrapers built and developments like Times Square move in, but many parts of the area still bear telltale signs of Yeongdeungpo’s blue collar past. Alongside steel and glass high rises, mostly bunched around the intersection of Dangsan-ro (당산로) and Gukhoe-daero (국회대로), you’ll see older buildings with cracked and peeling paint or bricks that are crumbling away. Walking east down Yangsan-ro from Exit 5 will eventually bring you a clearer picture of the district’s past, as here there is still a strip of haphazardly organized wood and plastic and repair shops. If you stand at the southeast corner of the Dangsan-ro and Gukhoe-daero intersection and look up you’ll even spot a weatherworn street sign using the old style Romanization system and translating 영등포구청앞 as Yŏngdŭngp’o-gu Office.
The neighborhood east of Dangsan-ro looked to be a fairly working-class area, with standard brick apartment buildings and small businesses. A U-turn and quick left out of Exit 4 went through a stretch of several streets full of no-nonsense bars and restaurants. The area, despite its slightly gruff initial appearance, had one whimsical touch that gave it an entirely more jovial feel though. All along this street the electricity poles had each been painted with a different cartoon face – one in shirt and tie, one coyly hiding her face – like stolid, ever-good-natured neighbors.
More formalized art is found at the Yeongdeungpo Art Hall (영등포 아트홀), which you can reach also via Exit 4. Walk straight to the intersection and turn right onto Gukhoe-daero. The hall will be a short ways up on your right. The place won’t be confused with some of Seoul’s finer art spaces, but if you’re in the neighborhood it gives you the chance to catch the occasional jazz, classical, or traditional Korean music concert.
Dangsan Park (당산공원)
Exit 1 or 2
U-turn, right on Dangsan-ro-31-gil (당산로31길)
Yeongdeungpo Art Hall (영등포 아트홀)
North on Dangsan-ro (당산로), right on Gukhoe-daero (국회대로)