Friday, July 07, 2006

Pampanga: Protecting San Fernando's architectural heritage

The past three days have been dedicated to meetings and surveying of the heritage sites of San Fernando. We are one in a rare breed of cities in the country which are agressively pursuing heritage conservation. On Wednesday, we met with representatives of the San Fernando, Pampanga Heritage Foundation, Filipino-American Memorial Endowment, American Chamber of Commerce, Battling Bastards of Bataan and the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor regarding the plans of the city to restore the San Fernando Train Station and to open a Death March memorial and museum in the site.

For those who are not yet aware of the significance of the said train station, it was the ending point of the long 102-kilometer walk from Mariveles, Bataan in April 1942. At the station, thousands of Filipino and American POWs were stuffed like sardines into box carts and transported to Capas, Tarlac. Anyway, expect more updates but the biggest hurdle is the slow response of the Philippine National Railways Corporation which is the owner of the said property.

Yesterday was my rest day. I spent my 27th at home sleeping. Hehe! I decided that the best way for me to celebrate was to give myself the rest I badly needed.

Today, a survey team of the National Historical Institute arrived to inspect more houses for possible declaration. San Fernando is trying to increase its number of declared structures and glad to say, all the other house owners have already given their consent and are excited about the possible declaration. For one, the city will soon be granting real estate tax exemptions to all heritage house owners to encourage them to preserve their homes.

Among the strongest contenders is the Singian House which was built in the mid-19th century. It could in fact be the oldest surviving house in San Fernando. The house is very well-maintained by its current owners. If it was indeed built in the 1850s, I suspect its original owner was Don Bernardino Singian de Miranda, a former gobernadorcillo of San Fernando from whom many of San Fernando's prominent families trace their roots. Don Bernardino is the grandfather of eminent pre-war surgeon Dr. Gregorio Singian.

Beside the house is a really large camalig which is very well-preserved also. Structures like these form part of the industrial heritage of the city and are a rarity nowadays.

Another strong contender is the charming Victorian-inspired Hizon House along Consunji Street. It was built by Don Teodoro Santos, Jr. and Dona Africa Ventura and later purchased by Maria Hizon who served as a nurse in the Philippine Revolutionary Army. It is currently owned by the heirs of her nephew, Don Augusto Hizon.

There are more candidates in the list. But it's all up to the NHI Board which has the final say. This however may take longer than it used to since I heard the board rarely convenes for meetings. Sigh!

I guess that's it for now. To learn more about the heritage sites in San Fernando, click here.
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