淡水公會堂 or Danshui Public Meeting Hall was somewhat of a mystery to the locals, possibly because this building was used exclusively by the elite, mostly Japanese, during the early Japanese colonial era. It was not a true "public" forum until perhaps the early 1940s when the Pacific War raged on and local supports were needed.
According to the history of Tam-Kang High School [see http://dns.tksh.tpc.edu.tw/historyhouse/p-6-11.htm]:
"...淡水稅關長成為淡水層級最高的官員，加上官署的優越位置和行政資源。淡水稅關長成為淡水官方儀式，節慶、文化活動的中心。稅關官員組了「五十會俱樂部」和 地方官員、台銀和日本商社社員、地方士紳，主催了日治時代早期淡水的社會文化活動，如「淡水俱樂部」的組成、公會堂 ( 今文化中心 ) 和淡水海水浴場的建設等，甚至全台第一的台灣高爾夫球場，就是透過稅關和臺灣銀行社員穿針引線，而在淡水設立的。此時，埔頂的稅關舊官邸，自然就是淡水最浪漫的賓館了。" [Note: The residence of the chief of the Customs Office was across the street from the high school.]
The principal sponsors for the Meeting Hall were then the Chief of the Customs Office and the General Manager of the Bank of Taiwan (Danshui Branch) with the co-sponsorship of the Japanese officials and merchants, and the local gentry. The picture above shows 淡水公會堂 (both the Japanese and the western structures) which was managed by an older Japanese lady from 廣島. Its address was 台北州淡水街砲台埔 No 38.
Not seen in the picture, lateral to the western meeting hall were two shrines, 淡水稻荷社 and 淡水社 [砲台埔 No 28]. And according to this site:
"...根據昭和18 (1943) 年由臺灣總督府社會課編印的「臺灣に於ける神社及宗教」的記載，日治時期於台北州淡水郡淡水街淡水字砲臺埔二八番地ノ一建有「淡水稻荷社」[明治39 (1906) 年11月15日鎮座，社，祭神為倉稻魂命、猿田彥命、大宮女命，例祭日為每年的3月10日及10月10日]，但該社現址不詳..."
淡水社, established in 1911, was smaller in size but higher in rank than 淡水稻荷社. It was the predecessor to 淡水神社 (dedicated in 1939).
According to another site: ''... 公會堂是淡水最早的「文化中心」，它是由淡水稅關日本官吏的「五十會俱樂部」以及日商「在淡水商船會社俱樂部」共組成俱樂部後，為推動文化休閒所建的活動場所。於1909年4月完工使用，提供了聯誼、進修、撞球、棋藝、食事、圖書新聞閱覽和藝文活動的場所。是淡水最著名的賞景點，昔日不少風景照和畫作都得以此。可惜戰後荒廢倒塌，改建今日文化大樓時居然面壁背著「山光水色」。"
The general activities were indeed culturally oriented. However, the opening date of the building was put at April, 1909, close to that of the 淡水稻荷社 (1906), but very different from the ones listed in the Danshui town history:
1918: 興建淡水公會堂 (即今淡水文化大樓所在地)。
Most likely, the construction had been on and off or in different stages; in fact the two buildings were quite different in both style and construction.
In any case, the meeting hall did host art exhibitions, for example:
Also, the chief Shindo priest of 淡水神社 was 小笠原清禧. One of the main benefactors of the 神社 was 三卷俊夫. One of the principals of 滬尾公學校 was 小竹德吉. And the mayors of Danshui淡水街街長 included 多田榮吉, 鳥井勝治, 中原薰, and 小副川猛. These are the few known Japanese names associated with Danshui around that period.
And what had happened to the two buildings? By the 1950s, the western-style meeting hall was left with only an empty shell, 4 walls with a collapsed steel beam, and the other building had also disappeared. Some locals recall the destruction of the meeting hall by fire (not from neglect and disuse as described in one of the quotes above). This site is now occupied by 淡水文化大樓; both 稻荷社 and 淡水社 were long gone.
Anyone out there who knows more about 淡水公會堂, 淡水稻荷社, or 淡水社, please leave your comments.
Here is more, from a long-time Danshui resident: After 1949, 淡水公會堂 was turned into a rooming house for the Air Force personnel and their families. The seaplane port, or more accurately the weather station at the airport was run by this group. 公會堂 was indeed burned down in the 50s (cause unknown). And the families were relocated to Taipei. However, both 淡水稻荷社 and 淡水社 had already disappeared by that time. Most likely both of which, as fundamental religious sites of Japan, were demolished in 1945 or soon after.