By Jhoo Dong-chan

The nation’s first movie theater, Dansungsa, which is 108 years old, will be transformed into a multi-purpose office building, officials said Tuesday.

The theater, located in Jongno 3-ga, central Seoul, declared bankruptcy in 2008 after failing to pay back a 15 billion won ($1,390,000) bank loan, due to years of dwindling profits and accumulated debt.

The building had looked for a new owner since then.

Lee Sang-yong, a businessman in South Chungcheong Province, took over Dansungsa and put it up for auction last year

The theater was then sold for 57. 5 billion won to Young An, a hat production company last month, according to the Korea Deposit Insurance Company Monday.

Dansungsa was first built as a two-story wooden building in 1907 with the collective funds of local merchants in Jongno and Dongdaemun. Shortly after that, film producer Park Sung-pil took over the theater

Since then, the theater has marked many significant events in the nation’s film history.

It screened the first Korean-produced film, “Fight for Justice,” in 1919, as well as the earliest local sound movie, “The Story of Chun-hyang,” in 1935.

In 1926, “Arirang,” one of the nation’s earliest films, was also screened at the theater

Dansungsa’s heyday came after the liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

Whenever newly released films were introduced in Korea, Dansungsa had always been the place to screen them first, before other movie theaters.

In those days, there always was a long line of movie fans three or four hours before the film started, and scalpers were everywhere around the entrance of the theater

Also, Dansungsa was the first movie theater to attract 1 million customers with the movie “Seopyeonje” in 1993.

Entering the 2000s, however, the emergence of the multiplex cinema prompted the decline of Dansungsa

In order to catch up with trend, Dansungsa underwent renovation in 2001 to transform itself from a single-hall theater to a multiplex, screening up to 10 films simultaneously.

It reopened in 2005 and partnered with Cinus, operating as Cinus Dansungsa

However, overspending in the renovation and a failure to compete with rivals backed by big businesses CGV, Megabox and Lotte Cinema, saw it record 11 billion won in losses in 2007.

SOURCE: The Korea Times