January 29, 2023

Nonnette C. Bennett

We would love to bring back the old Baguio City of our childhood days but it is gone and whether we like it or not, this 49-square kilometers area is converting every inch into other spaces except for pine trees. Only those born from the 40s to the 70s would have part of these happy or hungry images in their stock knowledge. Effren Chavez’s watercolors have kept these memories for us to relive such times.

Of late, the Baguio Cathedral has removed some of the roof coverings on the walks and stairs and the image of the Cathedral can be viewed from Session Road again. Those who went to the Saint Louis Girls High School would have climbed up and down those stairs at least once every daybefore the access was finally closed with a wall.

In Chavez’s painting, he captures the old steps and the two Baguio landmarks, the Rural Bank of Baguio and Tom Sawyer’s. If you walked down the main road, you could not miss the bank which is now a fusion restaurant. Tom Sawyer’s was the first restaurant that served Japanese cuisine in the city, if memory serves me right. Tempura and tonkatsu were my favorites then.

The era of bottled water and mineral water services is well-documented in the painting with Isla water prominently jutting out of a wall billboard. Unsure if this is a view of Carantes Street, only the jeepneys remain as contemporary elements and Cocobank. Even the buildings have changed in this corner of the city except the Baguio Cathedral that overlooks the business hub.

Abanao Street has evolved too and the Empire Building is the last icon of the 60s that remains steadfast in the changing needs of economics. The Abanao Fuji Center has changed its name although it is still there but the landscape is now replaced with taller structures and varied architecture. The cars were box type then and Volkswagen was still a practical car.

Plaza Cinema and the double cinema program was one of the popular movie houses then because this meant that your money gave you at least three and a half hoursof action pleasure with the local movie stars.

Back then, if you wanted to stay for the next three hours, no one would ask you to vacate your seat. One question lingers, where are those artists who used to make those cloth streamers that advertised the movies. What did they do after printing posters took over the role of the artists. This space is now a series of stalls selling dry goods. D’Lens studio has remained through the decades and so with Silvertone Hotel. Metrobank has changed location.

In terms of architecture, the Mido Hotel and its art deco type building still stands at the bottom of Session Road. This “art deco style focused on luxe, geometric details. Art deco sprang up in Paris in the 1920s, specifically with the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Decorative Arts. Soon, its luxe, geometric details could be viewed in towering buildings around the world, like the Chrysler Building in New York,” according to Google.

We too had these building styles in the city in the early 50s. The newsstand called Maci’s is no more but Mercury Drug remains at the same corner.

Bombay Bazar and La Suerte studio were part of daily lives in that era. Bombay Bazar was popular as the source of sporting apparels and clothes. Portraits were taken at La Suerte for graduations or special occasions because cameras were expensive and not easy to buy. When we had film to be processed into photographs, we needed to go the photo shops for the service. The smart phones have run these establishments out of business. Those old photographs that have turned to sepia are still good six decades after.

The Triple 7 Restaurant is another landmark now. This part is not in my stock memory. I am not even familiar with this part of the city and don’t know what the cuisine was even if it says international dishes. The familiar images are those of the vendors and the typical basket or winnower used to display the goods placed atop the lard cans that are recycled as water carriers and storage for goods. On scrutiny, one thinks that this eatery has closed shop because the vendors block the entrance.

What is striking in many of Chavez’s watercolors are the perfect signages of San Miguel Pale Pilsen. This detail is prominent in most of the watercolor paintings, likewise, Fuji Films. Given this notice, Chavez should be made part of the history of these businesses when they write their stories.

Chavez is not only known for his watercolor paintings but recently he has dabbled in painting ceramic plates. For now, this old lifestyle of Baguio is preserved, thanks to this artist.