Metropolitan Cathedral of Tuguegarao

  • Location: Tuguegarao, Cagayan
  • Completed:
  • Architect:
  • Style:
  • Design:
  • Significance:
  • Status: Centuries-old brick convento totally demolished and replaced by ugly hollow-block multi-purpose hall and commercial stalls.

This was a sad story for the town of Sasmuan. Although what is visible here are the changes to the church, what people don’t see is the drama behind the unceremonious removal of the remains of prominent citizens of the town that used to be interred at the left wall of the church. Since the current church is a totally new structure (only the facade and belfry was spared), the wall housing the remains was demolished as well. Among those interred there was the town hero, Don Monico Mercado. Without informing the families, the parish priest collected all the bones, including Mercado’s, and threw them into a common grave! When the family found out, it was too late. Obviously, identifying which was Don Monico’s was close to impossible.

Let’s not forget as well the fact that the priest built an oversized dome on top of the church which looks more like a flying saucer especially when it is lit in the evenings. Please take note that the parts painted white are the original features of the church and the concrete ones are those added.

Church of Santa Lucia

  • Location: Sasmuan, Pampanga
  • Completed:
  • Architect: Augustinians
  • Style:
  • Design:
  • Significance: The old town church of Sasmuan, Pampanga, it is one of the few, if not the only church in the country where the single belfry is sandwiched in between the church and the convento.
  • Status: Renovated in 2003 under Fr. Ted Valencia, Parish Priest

The exterior of the Tiwi Church was very-well preserved until recently. The present municipal building built in 1919 had already been renovated by Mayor Naomi Corral in 1990. And now the church.

It was currently undergoing “uglification” when the HCS visited in June. The adobe facade was being plastered with a layer of cement (see the belfry at the top of the facade) with accompanying fake lines. An oversized portico in front of the church was also being constructed, one which would completely ruin the facade. This despite the fact that the Bicol Heritage Program at Aquinas University had already talked to the bishop who agreed that no more old churches would be defaced. Construction was already halted a month before but the parish priest was just too stubborn.

Church of San Lorenzo

  • Location: Tiwi, Albay
  • Completed: 1829
  • Architect: Franciscans
  • Style:
  • Design:
  • Significance: Old town church of Tiwi, Albay
  • Status: Renovated in June 2006 by Fr. Jun Barquez, Parish Priest

This charming American colonial period municipio was one of the most elegant local government buildings in Central Luzon. That was before it was renovated beyond recognition last year. From a stately government building, it was transformed into a structure that looks more like a house, no longer exuding the elegance that it once had.

Municipal Hall of Moncada, Tarlac

  • Location: MacArthur Highway, Moncada, Tarlac
  • Completed:
  • Architect:
  • Style:
  • Design:
  • Significance: The Municipal Hall of Moncada was among the few remaining American colonial government buildings still standing in Tarlac
  • Status: Renovated in 2005 under the administration of Mayor Estelita M. Aquino

It is but proper that the first entry in this hit list be the demolition of the Jai Alai Building along Taft Avenue in Manila. As one writer notes, “Like a thief in the night, Mayor Atienza snuck in 60 workers to secretly chip away at the historical Jai Alai building from the inside.”

Jai Alai Building

  • Location: Taft Avenue, Manila
  • Completed: 1940
  • Architect: Welton Becket, a friend of Hollywood celebrities and designer of the homes of such screen legends as James Cagney and Cesar Romero, as well as of Los Angeles airport
  • Style: Art Deco
  • Design: The Jai Alai’s sleek, cylindrical glass front was said to evoke the velocity of the game, in which pelotaris use curved scoops to hurl a rubber ball at speeds of up to 200 km an hour against three walls of a court
  • Significance: Among the jewels of that period was Taft Avenue, a mini-Champs Elysee, with grand homes, sparkling movie houses, colleges and spectacular Art Deco buildings. One of the finest buildings was the Jai Alai stadium, opened in 1940 as a home for the Basque game of the same name and quickly adopted as a playground by the rich and glamorous.
  • Status: Demolition began on July 15, 2000 on the orders of Mayor Lito Atienza

Remember the Jai Alai?
By Augusto Villalon
MARK the 15th of July on your calendars.

On that date in 2000 began the demolition of the Jai Alai, one of Asia’s finest Art Deco buildings, a structure that was to have given way to a new Hall of Justice for the City of Manila.

Its demolition was one of the “defining moments,” as Inquirer columnist Bambi Harper called it, in the uphill battle to preserve Philippine architectural heritage.

Public protest was loud. Conservationists negotiated with city officials to save the building. But the Jai Alai building went down anyway.

The Hall of Justice was never built.

How far has heritage preservation gone since then?

Today, five years later, construction looms in both Mehan Garden and the Arroceros Forest Park located in central Manila close to the site of the former Jai Alai.

Both sites are designated as nationally significant archeological sites by the National Museum. Furthermore, Arroceros has the added value of being the only full-grown inner city forest in Manila. Just think of its contribution to the city’s stressed ecology.

Construction excavation is underway at Arroceros. Tempers continue to fly on either side of the issue and negotiation is near deadlock. Compromise does not appear to be on the agenda of either side.

Although there are hard and fast rules followed both in preservation as well as in development, agreement might be reached that satisfies the requirements of both sides.

Who knows? An innovative solution might be reached that provides the smallest construction footprint to maximize open space in Mehan Garden or the Arroceros forest. Buildings and nature can be designed to coexist.

Countless architectural and environmental possibilities exist. It is just a great pity that none of these possibilities were given the opportunity to be talked about and tested.

The Philippines sorely lacks a model of how preservation and development go hand in hand. With the Jai Alai, Mehan Garden, and Arroceros Forest Park, we missed the opportunity to construct such a model. However, I still am hopeful that such a model will arise in the near future.

When all sectors of society join to complete a conservation project where all issues are discussed before the design of the structure is completed, then we will know that the Jai Alai building was not a senseless loss.

27 July 2000
Waiting for the demolition domino
“After Jai Alai building, what’s next?”
By Alfred A. Araya Jr.

Last Saturday, close to a hundred protesters could only watch helplessly outside the compound of the Jai Alai building on Taft Avenue, Manila.

Repeated pleas to stop the demolition fell on deaf ears. The wrecking crew, using a backhoe, a mean-looking machine equipped with what looked like a huge hammer, continued to pound on the concrete wall of the old structure. Some tried to reason with the man controlling the machine, but to no avail. They were answered by loud methodic thuds produced with every pounding that tore up portions of the wall.

Manila Mayor Lito Atienza ordered the building torn down to give way to a 12-story Hall of Justice for Manila that would house 100 courtrooms and prosecutor’s offices, now packed into the nearby City Hall. The project, expected to cost P500 million, has the blessings and financial support of Malacañang,

The building had seen better days, and better treatment.

‘Game of a thousand thrills’
The old building was where jai alai, the Basque game of handball, was played. Almost every night, at the peak of the game’s popularity, the building and its premises attracted not just aficionados of what was touted as the “game of a thousand thrills” but hundreds, sometimes thousands, of bettors pinning their hopes on the winning combinations.

Its famous Sky Room drew the city’s elite as a place for receptions, ballroom dancing and other social affairs. It was at the Sky Room, too, that well-heeled patrons dined and wined while watching the game.

But Atienza, rejecting calls for the retention of at least the building’s façade, had said: “We want the new structure to represent respect for justice and rule of law, not promote memories that tend to venerate gambling.”

Art Deco design
The demolition drew the ire of artists, students, urban groups and others concerned with protecting not just an old structure but something they strongly consider as “pamana ng bayan (national heritage).” The building was held up as an example of the Art Deco style, popularized during the Commonwealth era and the early years of the Republic, and therefore worth preserving for present and future generations.

Expectedly, the protesters’ anger was directed mainly at Atienza, whom they accused of wrecking a part of the country’s architectural heritage.

Bambi Harper, president of the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) which headed the protest rally, accused the mayor of lying, saying he had promised not to tear down the building in a meeting a few weeks back, and reneged on his promise. The HCS is a non-profit organization advocating the protection of the country’s historic buildings, districts, and sites.

The promise turned out to be “lista sa tubig (written on water),” said HCS legal counsel Attorney Rose Beatrix Cruz-Angeles said Filipinos should realize that a structure like the Jai Alai building is part of their culture. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone [forever].”

‘Manifestations of history’
Backing up Harper, sculptor Carlos Celdran described such structures as “physical manifestations of our history.” Destroying them is like destroying one’s culture, “the very foundation of society,” he said. “You cannot be united as one people unless you have a culture.”

The conservationists are worried that the destruction of the Jai Alai building could happen to other historic buildings in the country. “After the Jai Alai building, what’s next?” asked one banner held by a protester.

Warning of “a domino effect”, Celdran said: “If the Jai Alai building goes down, another one will later go down, and then another. The demolition of historical buildings should be stopped now. If not, all will eventually be lost.”

The past as pictures
Or all will be reduced to just being pictures in coffee table books, warned Gigi Salome of Dakilang Pamana Project, a group doing a photo-documentation and inventory of architectural structures around Metro Manila that are considered part of the national heritage.

At the rate cultural relics are being ruined, she said, present and future generations wishing to see structures of the past may later have to make do with looking at souvenir photographs.

Why destroy the Jai Alai building when it can be restored? the protesters asked. They made it clear that they were not against Atienza’s plan of putting up a justice building. But they said there’s nothing wrong with preserving the building’s façade.

To Atienza, however, a preserved or restored façade would only serve as a reminder of the building’s “negative past, when it gained notoriety as a place of game-rigging, syndication and other forms of cheating, and as a place where people’s lives were ruined due to addiction to gambling.”

And so the demolition continued
Several elderly people who joined the protest appeared to cringe with each pounding of the mechanical backhoe. What used to a very popular landmark in their younger years was now being reduced to rubble.

Gone were the days when the four-story building was “the place to be in.” It was built in 1939 just before the outbreak of World War II and designed by the American architect Welton Becket.

‘It was always elegant’
“It was always very elegant,” Sister Christine Tan, who came with members of the urban group Alay Kapwa, said of the Sky Room. “I remember the dancing. My parents went there to see jai alai. It is heartbreaking to see it demolished.”

Even before the demolition started, the Jai Alai building was already not much to look at, some observers said. Old and dirty, it hardly appealed to those who knew nothing about its history.

But those in the know say it was the government that allowed the structure to deteriorate. “In 1986, that building wasn’t like this,” Harper said. She disclosed that when the government sequestered the building and placed it under the Presidential Commission on Good Government after the Edsa Revolution, it became neglected and soon became a haven for squatters.

Angeles said this only shows how the government hardly gives any weight to the national heritage. Instead, she said, it allows the putting up of structures that “do not conform with the historic fabric of the area,” citing as an example a newly built mall near City Hall.

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Bye-bye Jai Alai