TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHY: Kaycie Gayle
People usually come to Baguio to visit the scenic parks and sites that this pine clad city has to offer. Probably you have been to this place several times and went to its popular landmarks to have your picture taken on each. However this time why don’t you try to revisit and have heritage tour on its old colonial structures that have influenced and has been part of the city’s development. And find out for yourself that Baguio is more than just a tourist destination for its well-known cooler climate, but it is also rich with history.
Baguio was once known as Kapaoay or Kafagway Village when it was still a grazing ground for cattle, and a bustling settlement of cattle herders and farmers. Eventually, the Americans decided to build this city. Developed during the colonial period by the Americans when the Philippines was under their rule and having it declared by them as the Summer Capital of the Philippines in 1903 for having a cool temperature, it became the place where Americans used to transfer government operations from Manila to escape the summer heat. They built this sanatorium for the heat-oppressed, for those who are getting sick of tropical diseases and wanted to recuperate from illness. Since the weather in this chilly height of Benguet Province was perfect for rehabilitation of the soldiers.
Almost bare Baguio
Photo courtesy: Facebook|Randy Saingan
Ideally built as a colonial hill station of the Americans, in which were meant to reproduce the home country for homesick soldiers. Thus Baguio became the official residence and recreational hub for American officials, soldiers and traders. Eventually, by 1909, the place was transformed into an American town, and has been designed by the American architect Daniel Hudson Burnham and have built parks and roads which were named after significant American personages in the city’s history. Also, they have built camps and bases such as the Camp John Hay, teacher’s camp, and the Navy Base. Some buildings were also built, hence the architecture that you see such as on its government buildings, some summer cottages, are testaments to the influence of its American founders. Indeed, Burnham designed a village that was transformed into one of the most beautiful cities in the Philippines.
Currently, the city is lucky to still have some American structures remain unflawed despite that it has suffered massive destruction twice, first when it nearly destroyed by bombs in World War 2 in 1945 and was devastated once again by a major earthquake on July 16, 1990.
Gone are the days when the city was under the full control of the Americans but how they shaped the city’s history is etched in its architecture hence, join Miss Woman as she walks around the city center to session road to find some old colonial structures. And realize how it has survived and was reinvented, to still function and stand still in the city of pines. A brief historical journey of Miss Woman on this Little America will show you some landmarks that remained the same and surpass the test of time and some structures that have been transformed for various purposes, yet always a repository of memories.
1. Heritage Mansion
The Heritage Mansion which is formerly the Muller Mansion was used to be an ancestral home of the Muller family in the early 1930’s. This old Colonial Revival Style mansion was built in 1934 by John Muller, who came to the Philippines as a 16-year-old soldier in the U.S. Eventually, the Mullers set up a mining concession and as their fortunes grew, they settled in the city and built the family mansion. However, during the Japanese occupation, the mansion became the headquarters for Japanese officers as the Mullers were forced out from their home. Meanwhile, in the 1950’s it was converted into the Muller Hotel. It survived the carpet bombings of World War II and the major earthquake that struck in 1990.
Currently, it is one of the best-restored structures in Baguio, as it appears very much the same way it did as the day it was originally constructed. The refurbished mansion was converted into a boutique hotel and is now open to offer a fancy accommodation to every business and leisure traveler, tourists, business travelers, and families.
2. Baguio City Hall
The old Baguio City Hall (above) was built in 1910, however, it was destroyed during World War II in 1945. Currently, the City Hall that you see now was reconstructed in the same place in 1949-1950 and was built on a combination of concrete and wood.
3. United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)
An old building for UCCP is also iconic in Baguio. UCCP traces its roots to the American missionaries, and has started on a simple chapel in the early landscapes of Baguio City from the 1920s to the 1930s, and was transformed into a Gothic church in 1928. However, on March 15, 1945, the Americans bombed Baguio, and the church was not spared. But it was one of the first buildings to rise in the postwar landscape and was rebuilt on the original foundations of the Protestant Cathedral.
4. Juliana Apartments
Juliana Apartment along Otek Street is century old three storeys building which was previously the Cine Real. Walking distance to Burnham Park in the heart of downtown Baguio City.
5. Bayanihan Hotel
This 1930s-era building is among the oldest pre-war structures in the city. It is used to be known as Filipinas Hotel and Baguio Hotel and eventually was named Bayanihan Hotel in the 1960’s. It is a three-level art deco structure and a concrete and wooden building. This used to be Baguio’s five-star hotel in the 1930s and 1940s. However, some spaces in the hotel were rented out to businessmen and put up stores that were rented out to Chinese traders. In addition, this hotel building also served as a Japanese garrison during World War II.
It gradually accommodated a variety of shops through the years, and Bayanihan stopped operating as a hotel in 2006. Nowadays, used clothes vendors started leasing spaces and stalls are side-by-side on every floor of the building hence it became a hub of secondhand items shopping.
6. Burnham Park
A dedication to the effort of Baguio’s master planner – the legendary premier American architect, Daniel Hudson Burnham lies in a park named after him – the Burnham Park. He was one of Chicago’s greatest architects and urban planners, whose works include the masterplan of Manila, Roxas Boulevard (formerly Dewey), in San Francisco, Chicago and many famous buildings such as the Flat Iron Building in New York. Burnham laid out beautiful parks in the high mountain regions with the cool temperatures of the area despite its sloping landscape. He ‘forced’ a splendid geometric pattern amid rolling hills and winding roads, which is what we know now as Burnham Park, around which the rest of the city was built. Hence he contributed to how the region was urbanized piece by piece – little by little.
7. Casa Vallejo Hotel
Century-old Casa Vallejo or Vallejo Hotel is a property that dates back to 1909 and was built before Baguio was established as a chartered city by the Americans and even before it’s founding anniversary in 1910. Hence it is one of the 10 oldest institutions and considered as the oldest hotel in the City. It is another notable American structure that was built out of wood, galvanized iron and sheets of woven bamboo strips called “sawali”. It three storeys deep, though its façade gives the impression that it is a simple bungalow.
Built in 1909 and was initially referred to as Dormitory 4. It housed American workers who helped build and develop the mountainous area of Baguio into a city when the American colonial government began populating Baguio. Then it became a German soldier-Prisoner of War detention center during the first World War in 1917. In 1923 it became a hotel when a Spanish soldier, by the name Salvador Vallejo took interest in the place and leased it from the government, renovated it and converted it into a hotel which turned out to be Baguio’s first hotel. It was called as Casa Vallejo having it named after Don Vallejo. Eventually during the World War II, in the early 1940’s it became a British and Indian refugee center. It also survived the Japanese carpet bombing in 1941 hence became one of the only two establishments that survived World War II in its original form aside from Baguio Cathedral thus making it as part of the city’s historic heritage. Then after WW II in 1945, it served as a temporary site of the Baguio City High School. And then became a hotel again in 1997 as a quaint hotel then was improved as an impressive boutique hotel now.
This road is the city’s major thoroughfare where all the other roads in Baguio lead. It has been part of the city’s development even from the time of American colonial period and has served as one the important roads in Baguio.
These old heritage architectures are a testament to the influence of the Americans in the city which complements the natural nature of Baguio, hence adding to its charm and defining its character that we are lured of.
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Happy Travels! 💛