Two mysterious unrelated murders happened in Itaewon in 1997 and 2001. One was famous. The other was forgotten. Part two of our History of Itaewon covers Itaewon’s rise as a trendy hotspot, its rapid demise, and its future.


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Top of Gyungridan (1970s)

Top of Gyungridan 1970s


Map for reference

Japanese map
  • Some clarifications from last time
    • (1906) The Japanese forcibly relocated Itaewon and Dunjimi villages 
      • Resettled in the area currently around the Hamilton Hotel and Itaewon Market and renamed that area “Itaewon”
  • (1997) First area designated as a tourist zone
    • Myeong-dong and Dongdaemun followed
    • Meant that multilingual police were stationed there
    • Subway ***
  • Famous crimes
    • Burger King murder
    • Jamie Penich murder (St. Patrick’s Day, 2001)
      • This is a good summary
      • Jamie was a 21-year-old student spending a semester in an exchange program in Daegu
      • Mysterious that other students at the goshiwon didn’t hear much beyond a struggle
      • Korean YouTube podcast about it
  • (2010s) 맛집 movement started by Hong Seok-chon and Vatos and the craft beer movement– made it more local friendly
    • Became a place where Koreans could experience world cultures without a passport
    • JYP (Park Jin-young) and Yoo Se-yoon‘s hip hop duo UV released the song “Itaewon Freedom” in April 2011
    • (~2012) Development behind Hamilton Hotel
      • Knocked down buildings and connected roads, opening it up
      • Foreigners pushed out by Koreans and corporations
        • Stalwart foreign-owned businesses closed down or moved away
          • Three Alley Pub, Le Saint-Ex, OK2
          • Replaced by Korean-owned and Korean-friendly pseudo-foreign restaurants
        • Overhead: “Itaewon would be great if there weren’t so many foreigners.”
    • Gyungridan-gil
      • Named after 국군재정관리단 Armed Forces Financial Management Group
        • Some still call it Jeonggyeongdan
      • Consists of the area around Hoenamu-ro from the AFFMG to the Hyatt Hotel
      • Mostly farmland until the Hyatt was built (1970s)
      • Jeil Market
        • Since Korean War
      • Mainly residential area for foreigners
      • The Craft Beer explosion
        • (2010) Craftworks
        • (2012) Magpie
        • (2013) The Booth
      • Explosion
        • X-ridan-gil entered the vernacular
          • Mangridan-gil (Mangwon), Jungnidan (Jungnim-ro, Jungnim-dong), Yongridan-gil (Sinyongsan Station)
          • Busan: Harridan-gil (Haeundae), Beomridan-gil (Beomeosa-ro), Jeonridan-gil (Jeonpo-dong)
      • When base started moving, buildings opened up for commercial purposes
        • Corporations and celebrities bought up buildings
          • Celebrities get better real estate info than the general public
            • “Where there is gentrification, there are celebrities”
              • Heavy real estate investors because of their unstable careers
            • (2012-2014) Buildings snatched up by celebrities from Hangangjin, Itaewon, Gyungridan
              • Psy, Gong Hyo-jin, Maya, Tae Jin-ah, Jo In-seong, Park Ji-yeon, Jang Dong-gun
          • Gil Yong-woo’s son (Gil Seong-jin, married to Hyundai Motors chairman)
            • (2015, five days before Lunar New Year) Gathered the owners of eight stores to greet them as the new building owner and told them they would be evicted
            • Became Namsan Chemistry 
    • Collapse (2017 to now)
      • Closure of base
      • Poor parking
      • Building owners raised the rent, sold it, and left
        • Not really gentrified. Just gutted. No improvements were made, and it wasn’t turned into an upscale yuppie area.
      • Coronavirus
      • Whole buildings lie empty
      • Itaewon Class
  • Future plans
    • Dragon Hill Lodge will remain
    • Yongsan Base will be turned into a park
    • The U.S. Embassy plans to move down there
    • The celebrities who have bought the buildings may be biding their time, waiting for the park to be built
    • In the meantime, the area will decline
Future development