Calesa Tour at the Heritage District of San Fernando

TEXT & PHOTO: Kaycie Gayle

SAN FERNANDO, PAMPANGA – While walking around the streets of this heritage district, I have seen a few queuing horse-driven carriages which the locals call as ‘Calesa’  waiting for passengers. Since I have spare time to tour around that afternoon I have thought of having a short adventure by riding a ‘calesa’ to explore the area.

San Fernando in Pampanga is known to have some century-old Hispanic houses along Tiomico and Consunji Streets. Most of the houses are well preserved and still being dwelled by the descendants of the family, while some are just being maintained by the caretakers, and some are still intact but have been vacated. Since these are all private property you cannot enter on a regular day though you can look at it from the outside. Should you have a chance to see the current dwellers, you may request them to allow you to enter to have a look inside or you may visit during the National Heritage Month every May when the occasional open house tour organized by the government is conducted.

2018-06-17_21.02.14Pampanga Lodge in San Fernando Downtown; Gateway to the Heritage District

Since I went here on an ordinary day, the houses were closed for public viewing, and riding the ‘calesa’ was a good alternative for me to enjoy in exploring the area. As I have hailed a passing calesa, an old coachman or what is locally called as ‘kutsero’ have stopped in front of me and helped me ride the carriage. Upon seeing that I have already sat comfortably, he has pulled the reins to cue the horse to move forward and the nice bumpy ride has begun while our perfect pacing allowed me to look around. During the ride, I was entertained in listening to ‘kwentong kuchero’ which translates to coachman stories as the ‘kutsero’ shared his life about being a coachman, the changes that take place in the demand of riding the carriage and the frequency of passengers. In a while, our topic has switched to local tourism and the heritage structures in the area, which made me realize that coachmen can also be good tour guides. For a moment, I have thought It would be nice if they can be trained by providing them further information about the place, so they can explain it further among tourists. With this initiative, and by finding a better repurpose for them the need for carriage riding can be prevented from being extinct. Calesas maybe our main means of transportation before, but we can still take advantage of it today by utilizing it in experiential tourism. Listening to ‘kwentong Kuchero’ may it be about the coachmen’s lives or them telling about historical details or even the bygone years ‘gossips’ about the different sites being passed by during the calesa ride is a good way to give anyone an authentic encounter in discovering the local culture and will amplify the heritage tour experience as well.

Meanwhile, though, calesas are not specifically used for tours in San Fernando, they are still used for public transportation, hence, the purpose of calesas in this place is still intact though the demand has lessened over the years. In perspective, this could be the source where the district draws its charm being a place where traditional transportation goes together with the modern vehicles, both seen in the streets,  having their own right while following traffic rules. It is an area where some of the locals still prefer to ride calesas to bring them to their homes or nearby places. As for me, since my home is away from here, I have hailed a calesa to go from one place to another with the ultimate reason to tour around downtown. From this ride, I deemed that Calesas ultimately complement the heritage structures that can be seen along this district. which would enable touring the downtown heritage district more interesting.

2018-06-17_20.10.34Old coachman 

As we trudged in the corner of Lazatin and A. Consunji Street, I have seen the Lazatin House which is a grand Bahay na Bato architecture prevalent during the American colonial period. The house was built in 1925 to serve as the residence of the president of San Fernando Electric Light & Power Company whose name is Serafin Lazatin y Ocampo and his wife Encarnacion Singian y Torres. Eventually, it was sequestered by the Japanese Imperial Army to serve as a residence of its 14th Army Commander, General Masaharu Homma during the Second World War. Currently, it is still owned by the Lazatin family.

2018-06-17_20.51.53Lazatin House 

Next to it is Consunji House which was the residence of the 1892 San Fernando gobernadorcillo named Don Antonio Consunji y Espino who eventually was removed from office by the ruling Spanish government because of his attendance when Jose P. Rizal visited the town in June of that year. However, during the Philippine Revolution from 1898 to 1899, he became the Presidente Municipal of San Fernando. Interestingly, he is also the man who’s behind the name Consunji Street where most of the heritage houses in San Fernando are located.

2018-06-17_20.23.27The front window of Consunji House

2018-06-17_20.27.34Consunji House and its vintage style rusted gate

Beside it is the Tabacalera House which was originally owned by Don Ramon Lopez but was actually built for Tabacalera who was a cigar manufacturer. The first floor of the house has been used by Tabacalera as his office hence its name. Eventually, Simeon Ocampo had purchased it but then was appropriated by the Japanese authorities to serve as the headquarters of some ‘kempeitai’ or military police of the Japanese Imperial Army from 1943 to 1944. As of writing, it is said to be owned by the Lazatin family.

2018-06-17_20.55.19Tabacalera House

Located at the corner of General Hizon Avenue and A. Consunji Street is the Pampanga Hotel which was initially the residence of Asuncion Santos and Andres Eusebio. In 1908, it became the first site of Pampanga High School when it first opened and eventually became the site of Harvardian College and later became Pampanga Hotel and Panciteria then was changed to Pampanga Lodge and Restaurant. Currently, it still houses a restaurant on its ground floor.

2018-06-17_20.59.29Pampanga Lodge & Restaurant

Most of the houses here are named after the Hizon family surname, hence would give anyone an idea that it was and some are still owned by the family. Initiated by San Fernando gobernadorcillo Anacleto Hizon and Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo, the ancestral and heritage houses of the Hizons in San Fernando have branched out through their children. The first residence of Anacleto Hizon and Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo is the Hizon-Ocampo House. This was inherited by their daughter Leoncia Hizon who was married to Basilio Ocampo, a previous gobernadorcillo of San Fernando. Among their children was the famous Filipino architect Fernando H. Ocampo.

2018-06-17_20.41.22Hizon-Ocampo House

2018-06-17_20.44.04Entrance door of the Hizon-Ocampo House

Close to it is the Bahay na Bato called the Hizon-Singian House which was constructed in 1870. This heritage house was also built and dwelled by Don Anacleto Hizon with his wife Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo and was eventually inherited by their daughter Victoria Hizon y Singian. In 1986 it was occupied by Spanish General Antonio Ruiz Serralde and has served as a military hospital and barracks from 1943 to 1944 when it was arrogated by the Japanese Imperial Army. Then it has also become the headquarters of American General Walter Krueger of the 6th American Army during the liberation period until the end of 1945.

2018-06-17_20.47.30Hizon-Singian House

Just almost across the street is the Victorian-style house called Santos-Hizon House. Originally, built as a residence of Teodoro Santos and Africa Ventura, it was then later purchased by another offspring of Don Anacleto Hizon and Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo named Maria Salome Hizon who was a volunteer of Red Cross during the Philippine Revolution. Eventually, the property was acquired by her brother Ramon Hizon and gave the house to his son Augusto Hizon as an inheritance.

2018-06-17_20.02.33Santos-Hizon House Gate


Santos-Hizon House view from the street

Meanwhile, still in A. Consunji Street, but from a different district is the Dizon House which was the former residence of the couple Luis Wenceslao Dizon and Felisa Hizon. The latter is also a daughter of Don Anacleto Hizon and Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo and was a member of the Junta Patriotica de San Fernando. This house was completed in the mid-1930s and was designed by architect Fernando H. Ocampo, who was her nephew from her sister Leoncia Hizon. Currently, it is used as the Archdiocesan Chancery after being purchased by the Archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga.

2018-06-17_19.59.06Dizon House

On V. Tiomico Street is the Henson-Hizon House which was built by Saturnino Henson y David, a previous gobernadorcillo of San Fernando from 1882 to 1883 and 1896 and the first tesorero municipal or municipal treasurer from 1900 to 1902, and his wife Maria Lacson. It was inherited by their eldest daughter Juana Henson y Lacson who was married to Florentino Hizon, son of Don Anacleto Hizon and Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo. The house was then passed on and inherited by their son Vicente Hizon y Henson who was married to Concepcion Dizon y Dayrit, then inherited by their son Vicente Hizon y Dizon who was married to Anastacia de Los Reyes. The house was eventually purchased by the couple Pablo Panlilio y Dayrit and Dolores Argüelles.

2018-06-17_20.31.31Henson-Hizon House

2018-06-17_20.36.19Henson-Hizon House sideyard

Another spotted heritage house is the Hizon-Paras House which was owned by Ramon Hizon a sugar haciendero and his wife Maria Paras. The former is also a son of Anacleto Hizon and Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo. This house is still standing strong despite the challenges it trudged along the years. In 1950, a fire gutted this house in the middle of the night due to faulty wiring. Moreover, this has been abandoned for some years after the family has moved to Hacienda San Agustin and built a sprawling bungalow-type house away from the noise of the fast-growing town. Eventually, this house has been inherited by Eloisa Hizon Gomez, who preferred to stay in the house even other family members have moved to the new house. However, in 1995 she also has to move due to the floods caused by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo wherein the ground floor of the house was soaked in water and turned into a fish pond. This house has been restored in the late 2010 and took after a year and a half to complete and was formally reopened in 2014. Currently, from the street you can only see a fraction of the house because of the setback that was built to shield it from street noise, although you can still see it being a ‘Bahay na Bato’ which is a house made of stone and wood with capiz windows. At present, it serves as a venue for family reunions and some cultural and religious events.



Hizon-Paras House with its setback

The calesa ride in San Fernando and passing the heritage houses has definitely provided me a glimpse of the yesteryears. It enabled me to trace back the connection of the families through the ownership of the heritage houses and guided me to imagine how it might have been before.  Most of it was owned by the known wealthy families of the town hence their intricately designed architecture, yet most of it has also been appropriated and occupied by the Japanese army but was restored. These old structures have certainly stood the test of time and still standing to where they were originally built therefore allowing us to appreciate it even up to this age. Truly they are the heritage of the bygone generation to us.

2018-06-17_20.20.08Calesa on the streets

Both the old edifice and the calesas complement each other. The heritage structures are reminiscent of the dwelling place of the people from the previous generations, while the calesa is the remainder of the main means of transportations from the yesteryears. The calesa ride has provided me an architectural, historical and cultural tour that enabled me to have a closer imagination on how the area was before when these houses were still in fashion and when the calesa was the only vehicle that used to pass over the city’s old streets. Though it may not look exactly as how it was before, somehow it has a resemblance of how it would have been before. It made me imagine those days when the air was fresh and you hear nothing but the horse step sounds on the road and you can look from the calesa’s window to see people walking on the streets and these big houses. Compared to the cars that provide faster mobility, the calesa is slower and higher hence allowed me to better appreciate the heritage district of San Fernando. Certainly, the calesa ride enabled to enjoy having social and cultural tourism by experiencing ‘kwentong kutchero’ first hand, as well as architectural tour by allowing me to appreciate the heritage houses on a different perspective. Unequivocally, the calesa ride experience is like a trip down to memory lane that leaves you with a feeling of nostalgia.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. All expenses were paid by the author.


Acknowledgment to Wikipedia and lifestyle.inquirer.

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