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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, March 29, 2019

entry arrow9:03 PM | The Built Heritage Around Dumaguete

Part 10 of the Dumaguete Heritage Series

Last January 18, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law that mandated the conservation of the Gabaldon school buildings found nationwide, which sought to preserve “the architectural, historical and social significance” of these heritage school houses. The Gabaldon buildings were built around the Philippines from 1907 to 1946. In Dumaguete, the most famous example is the main building of the Negros Oriental High School, which was established in Dumaguete in 1902 [in the spot where the City Hall and the East City Central School buildings are now], but was later transferred to its current location along Kagawasan Avenue at the Capitol Area, where its Gabaldon building stands proud as beacon for local education.

These school buildings were designed by the American architect William Parsons, and are so named because their funding was made possible through Act. No. 1801, authored by Isauro Gabaldon. Including the one in Dumaguete, there are about 1,446 Gabaldon buildings all over the country—and under the new law, they are recognized as “built heritage,” and thus are included as part of cultural properties determined by the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

The new law requires local government units that have Gabaldon school buildings under their jurisdiction to “adopt measures for the protection and conservation of these structures,” with the aid of several government institutions, including the Department of Education and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. From the ABS-CBN news report on the passage of the law, Sen. Loren Legarda, the bill’s author, is quoted as saying that “these structures symbolize the first foundation of the Philippine public school system during the American period, in which each Filipino child, even from the most remote areas of the country, had access to formal education.”

It is that symbolic nature of these buildings that make them important—although most people do not readily see that about architectural structures, which leads to an ironic point: they are often the most visible kind of heritage in any town or city, and yet their importance as “heritage” are often unseen by people in the locality. They are often just perceived as “old buildings,” often dilapidated, and often fall victim to razing or demolition, always in the name of “progress.” Just a few weeks ago, the beautiful—although sadly neglected—Luis Rotea heritage house in Bais, which occupied a prime location in the city, is now gone, apparently to make way for a McDonald’s.

Built heritage, needless to say, is a most important cultural asset because it embodies the historical layers of our built environs made of materials such as cement, brick, wood, stone, and metal, even plaster—which make up the physical evidence of our cultural development. Built heritage thus includes houses and hotels, museums and markets, cathedrals and cemeteries, factories and fences, as well as plazas and streetscapes. It includes a wide range of historical and familiar landmarks that are vital in forming—and sustaining—a robust sense of belonging and affection to our community.

So quickly now, what are some of the other built heritage we can find around Dumaguete City besides the campanario and the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria?

The Locsin heritage house at the corner of Locsin Street and Sta. Catalina Street is one of the most important heritage houses in Dumaguete City. Legend has it that Jose Rizal once visited the house. But its true historical importance is that this was the venue for the election of officers for the Provisional Revolutionary Government on 25 November 1898. It had belonged to the Teniente Cornelia Yapsutco, and later became the property of the Locsin family in Dumaguete. It still stands intact.

The ancestral house of Ramon Teves Pastor at the crossing of Real Street [now named after him] and Dr. V. Locsin Street, popular known as the White House, is a testament to one of the most important figures in Dumaguete life and politics. Ramon Teves Pastor was mayor of Dumaguete from October 1912 until October 1916, and under his watch, M.L. Quezon Park was inaugurated a hundred years ago, on 20 September 1916, which paved the way for free nightly shows at the new Dumaguete landmark. The plot was donated by the Pastor family and the Patero family. The construction of the Rizal Boulevard breakwater was also done during his term, which makes him one of the major shapers of the Dumaguete environs we know and love today. The house still stands intact.

The row of beautiful, sometimes ornately designed, houses along the Paseo de Rizal or the Boulevard—stretching from the fringes of Tinago down to the corner of Silliman Avenue—are called by locals as the Sugar Houses, so named because these were the city residences of sugar plantation owners whose haciendas were mostly concentrated in Bais, Tanjay, and Manjuyod towns. For most of the life of the boulevard, these houses became the beautiful windows to the genteel air of Dumaguete, each one competing with each other with their disparate architectural details, and their singular grandness. Most of these houses over the years have been transformed into the various hotels and bars and restaurants that now dot the stretch. The grandest among them that still remain largely untouched is the magnificent, formerly green-tinged Serafin Lajato Teves Mansion at the corner of Rizal Boulevard and Burgos Street.

Of the school buildings aside from the Gabaldon structure of NOHS, we have Silliman Hall, named after Horace Brinsmade Silliman, the philanthropist who gave the initial donation to start the school that would become the university that it is now, is located right at the bend that leads to the sea-side Rizal Boulevard. Its sight is quite distinctive in the Dumaguete landscape, and it is perhaps the structure most iconic of the City besides the campanario. The three-story structure—held together by wooden arches stemming from cast-iron columns, its design complete with gables and intricate carpentry—is the first and the oldest building in campus. Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard, the school founder, was responsible for sketching out how Silliman Hall was supposed to look: his design represented American architecture of the stick-style, which dominated colonial buildings in the early days of the 20th century. The blocks used to build Silliman Hall were made from corals, and the components of the iron ceiling were shipped all the way from New York, from an old theater. Silliman Hall has served as classroom, dormitory (the future Philippine President Carlos P. Garcia stayed there when he was a student at Sillliman), library, faculty hall, and function hall—and in the early days of Silliman, it served as venue for recitals, plays, and convocations. Much of the building fell into disrepair and its first floor was converted to office spaces—until the late 1990s when Architect Manuel Almagro spearheaded efforts funded by USAid that restored the building to its original glory. The structure stands restored and intact.

Guy Hall in Silliman campus was built as a dormitory for boys. Construction began in 1918, with donations from Mr. William E. Guy of St. Louis, dedicated and named after his wife Kathryn Lemoine-Guy. Mr. Guy had met Silliman Institute benefactor Dr. Horace Silliman and pledged $15,000 to make two dormitories for boys. Instead of having two separate buildings, plans were made to change it to one with two wings—a more economical approach. Construction continued until 1927. It was made the general headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Forces during the duration of the war in Dumaguete. It still stands intact, and recently restored.

Among the government buildings, the City Hall—now referred to as the Presidencia—has the happy turn of being restored to its old glory. The Presidencia was built in 1937, and was designed by the great Filipino architect Juan M. Arellano who also designed some of the greatest pre-war buildings in the Philippines, including the Manila Post Office and the old Senate building, which currently houses the National Museum of the Philippines.

The Negros Oriental Provincial Capitol, located along Kagawasan Avenue around the city’s Freedom Park, was built in 1924 from designs made by architect and urban designer Daniel Hudson Burnham, which was based on the U.S. Capitol. (Burnham also designed the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C.) The design for the Negros Oriental Capitol, borrowing heavily from Greek architecture, symbolizes courage and strength, and the white paint symbolizes purity. It still stands intact—but needs restoration.

Public art and utilities, too, are part of the built heritage. The sculpture and fountain in M.L. Quezon Park was designed by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti, who made it right around the time architect Juan M. Arellano was building the Presidencia in 1937. Monti stayed in the Philippines from 1930 until his death in 1958. During his stay, he worked with local architects and sculptors on major projects commissioned by the government and private individuals. Several of Monti’s sculptures are part of Metro Manila’s landmarks. His statues can be seen in front of public buildings or plazas, while his relief work decorate many exterior and interior walls in heritage buildings. It stands intact.

Built heritage is not just about beautiful or significant historic buildings. It also includes small and modest buildings of the commercial sort, including ones that reflect the social conditions of working families and local business titans. Of the heritage commercial buildings around downtown Dumaguete, my favorites are the few remaining Art Deco buildings mostly around Perdices Street, as well as Surban Street. Most of them are in various state of disrepair or use—and these include Park Building and the Uymatiao Building, as well as the Uypitching Building along Colon that blends Art Deco with Chinese motifs. Art Deco, also called style moderne, was a movement in the decorative arts and architecture that originated in the 1920s and developed into a major style in western Europe and the United States during the 1930s—formed with the “intention to create a sleek and anti-traditional elegance that symbolized wealth and sophistication,” according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, its “distinguishing features [being] simple, clean shapes, often with a ‘streamlined’ look, ornament that is geometric or stylized from representational forms; and unusually varied, often expensive materials.” Most of these buildings remain intact, but their style have been “diminished” by outer structures, or bad paint jobs.

Cathedrals and churches are some of the most beautiful—and preserved—examples of built heritage, but so are cemeteries. The Dumaguete Memorial Park is the most recently conceived, and utilized—but the smaller ones are more of interest to me. The Bogo public cemetery is within the embrace of the Memorial Park, and provides an interesting study of contrast. I used to love the Bagacay public cemetery for its chaos—but it has since undergone a facelift of sorts. The Daro Chinese cemetery is interesting for how it commands a lonely stretch of road within that barangay—but a small and separate cemetery within it is of utmost significance. The American Cemetery is one of the least well-known spots in Dumaguete, owing perhaps to the kind of grim reminder it brings about mortality, but also perhaps because of its secluded location inside the Chinese cemetery. It no longer has internment space, but the place still “charms” the occasional visitor with its wrought-iron gate beautifully covered by pink cadena de amor, and grounds shaded by full-grown mahogany trees and indian trees. Among the Americans buried here include a host of missionary teachers from Silliman University, such as Henry and Margaret Mack, T. S. Dodd, W. M. Baugh, Ila Smith-Munn, Cal Reed Cole Sr., Elena A. Cole, Cal Reed Cole Jr., Charlie Bell Cole Sr., Rev. Lapsley Armstrong McAfee, Robert Sherry Matheson, and Elliot Thomas Bell.

Are there any built heritage within Dumaguete City that gives us a reminder of World War II and the Japanese occupation of the town between 1942 and 1945? Nothing much remains in Dumaguete indicative of the occupation during that war, except one. The “pill box,” or defensive position, in Tugas is a remarkable piece of that historical time—easily seen by pedestrians as this strange “pyramid” while traversing Hibbard Avenue. It mostly puzzles people though. How many times have I gotten this question: “What is that?” And admittedly, for the longest time, I did not have a clear answer to give. The pill box is located about four blocks in-land from Lo-oc, near the North City Elementary School in Piapi, on the right hand side of Hibbard Avenue going north. It is located on private property, and it is not a preserved historical site.

Built heritage is a key to the understanding of our shared history in the community. It defines our origins. It enlightens us about who we are today. It gives us a sense of place, which in turn helps establish identity for the community—because they contribute to a sense of our connectedness to each other, which inspires community pride and a confidence of Dumaguete as “unique.” Most of all, when our local built heritage is properly preserved and promoted, it can stimulate interest about Dumaguete’s past, which can enrich the daily lives of Dumaguetnons.

To be continued...

[A significant source for information about built heritage for this article is the Office of Environment and Heritage website of New South Wales, Australia]

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