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Construction begins to restore former Korean legation in Washington

Construction began Monday to restore a historical building that housed the Korean legation in Washington more than a century ago, before it was forcibly taken over by Japan following its colonization of Korea.

In 2012, the South Korean government bought the red brick, three-story building in central Washington from an American individual for $3.5 million in an effort to preserve a symbol of diplomacy of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

On Monday, CVMNEXT, an American construction firm commissioned by South Korea, launched work to restore the building, and the project is scheduled to be completed in September, the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation said in a statement.

The building's first and second floors will be restored as much as possible based on diplomatic documents, photographs and other historical data, while the third floor, which has suffered extensive damage, will be used an exhibition hall. The basement will be used as an archive and for management purposes, the foundation said.

The foundation said it hopes the building will serve as a bridge of friendship between the two nations.

In 1891, King Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty and the first emperor of the Korea Empire, bought the building, currently located in the Logan Circle Historic District, some 10 minutes' drive from the White House, for US$25,000, a huge sum at that time.

The Korean Empire was the name of the Joseon Dynasty during its final 13 years.

The Victorian-style building was used as home for the Korean legation in the U.S. until 1910, when Japan took over the ownership of the building for just $5 as soon as Korea went under its colonial rule, and sold it to an American for $10.

It is the only former overseas establishment of the Korean Empire that still has its original shape.

The building has great historical value as a symbol of the Joseon Dynasty's pursuit of an independent diplomacy to escape from rising pressure from China, Russia and Japan to open up after the Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed with the U.S. in 1882.

"This is a scene of our historical independent diplomacy and the cradle of Korea-U.S. friendship," said O Soo-dong, head of the foundation, during a press briefing. "This is a symbol of us overcoming the shameful history and realizing a proud Republic of Korea."

O said the foundation plans to formally open the facility to the public in early 2017. (Yonhap)