KNOWN as the “tiangge” capital of the Philippines, San Juan City is considered a shopping haven especially now that the famed Greenhills Shopping Center has upgraded the unique retail experience with refurbished bargain spaces. What hasn’t changed at this playground for best buy-hunters, of course, is the myriad of merchandise—from pearls to trendy clothes, toys to electronics, and native furniture to foodstuff among many others.
But there is more to San Juan City than shopping. While it stands as the smallest city in Metro Manila with a land area of 5.94 square kilometers, San Juan looms large in terms of economic progress, tourism potentials and historical significance.
Among the city’s treasured historical landmarks are its heritage homes, and according to Mayor Guia Gomez, they also serve as some of the most significant old houses in the Philippines.
Her government is actively preserving these cultural treasures, and in fact is in the process of acquiring for the city the remaining heritage homes that are either rotting away or are in danger of being turned into commercial buildings.
On top of her list are the home of literary figure Paz Marquez Benitez, the vintage home on P. Paterno St.; the Munarriz residence on F. Fernandez St.; and the handsome vintage Café Ysabel of well-known chef Gene Gonzales, which has long been a San Juan city destination for fine dining.
“These houses are treasures of San Juan that should be preserved, and by doing so will allow us to push an initiative to promote the city as a historical destination both for locals and visiting tourists,” the mayor expressed.
A celebration of heritage
In July, San Juan City mounted its first official historical tour dubbed “A Celebration of Heritage.” The project was spearheaded by Elyse Go, daughter of City Councilor William Go, with the full support of Mayor Gomez.
“This is a pilot run of an appreciation tour of San Juan’s historical places and classical eats with Mayor Guia G. Gomez who offered to host and join our final tour dinner,” Go informed The Sunday Times Magazine.
The tour group was comprised of representatives from the city’s diverse sectors, as well as graduates of a leadership program by the Organizational Change Consultants International Inc. (OCCI).
Go further explained that the tour is part of the Emerging Leaders Innovate Across Sectors (Elias), a global innovation and learning community that focuses on regional platforms for facilitating multi-stakeholder innovations across entire systems. Elias was co-created by the Presencing Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) CoLab and the MIT Leadership Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
“This is prototype for the initiative to promote San Juan through tourism,” added Abby Bacani who helped Go organize the project.
The half-day tour started at 12:30 in the afternoon. The first “Celebration of Heritage” headed out from the historic Club Filipino where the participants gathered and boarded the new San Juan City bus, which fittingly bore a colorful collage of the most important landmarks in the vicinity.
Club Filipino, as tour guide Penny Sy related, is the first exclusive social club in the country founded in 1898 by Spanish mestizos and members of the native aristocracy.
Allenmarie Lheng del Castillo-Alejo, San Juan City’s tourism officer, added that Club Filipino is also known as a meeting ground for Filipino political progressives and the site of several political events throughout Martial Law and beyond the Edsa Revolution.
Thus the promising historical city tour of San Juan began.
San Juan Bridge. A short distance from the club, the bus passed the Greenhills Shopping Center, the premiere shopping destination, which today boasts of some 2,000 stores.
From there, the bus headed to Wilson Street, which bustled with concept restaurants as well as established brands like Alex III and Gloria Maris.
This was the route to the historical San Juan Bridge, which also passes by St. John the Baptist Church or the Pinaglabanan Church. First built by Architect Luis Arellano in 1896, with the help of Mariano Artiaga and Martin Ocampo, the original structure was torn down during the war. It was Ramon Fernandez who rebuilt it at the end of the conflict, and again extended and renovated in 1951 by Parish Priest P. Hernando Antiporda and Architect Otilio Arellano.
Of course, a photo opportunity was a must upon arriving at the famous San Juan Bridge where both the 1896 revolution against the Spaniards and the Filipino-American War in 1899 began. It is also a stone’s throw away from Plaza San Juan where monuments of national heroes Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto proudly stand.
Aling Banang’s. A break at Aling Banang’s followed the first part of the city tour. The 80-plus-year-old Banang’s is considered as one of the oldest restaurants in San Juan and is famous for its flavorful pansit and halo-halo.
Battle of Pinaglabanan Monument. Back on the bus, the group headed off to another historical destination, the Battle of Pinaglabanan Monument, which was erected in honor of the Filipino Revolutionaries fought for freedom from Spanish oppression.
Pinaglabanan Memorial Shrine. The San Juan City Hall was also included in the bus tour in Barangay Corazon de Jesus. Quite impressive, this four-storey building even features a helipad on the top.
Adjacent to the city hall is the one-hectare historical Pinaglabanan Memorial Shrine, built to commemorate the first ever battle of the 1896 revolution against 300 years of Spanish oppression. This was known back then as El Deposito, the underground water reservoir built during the Spanish era to supply water around Manila.
Museo ng Katipunan. Museo ng Katipunan is the first and only museum specifically built to showcase the contributions of the Kataas-taasan Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Highest and Most Honorable Society of the Children of the Nation). This is the revolutionary movement founded by Andres Bonifacio in 1892, who is celebrated as the nation’s “Supremo.”
Café Ysabel. With a vivid history lesson of the great revolution, the tour culminated with a sumptuous dinner at Café Ysabel hosted by Mayor Gomez, who ordered her favorites—a menu of Caesar’s Salad, Paella Valenciana, Pancit San Juan, Fish Fillet Spanish-style, and Chef Gene Gonzales’ famed Crepe Samurai.
The mayor promised that though “short and sweet,” the “Celebration of Heritage Historical Tour” is just the beginning of future expeditions the San Juan Tourism Office will offer in their prosperous city.
“This is just the beginning,” she enthused. “Once we’ve readied the notable San Juan houses, there will certainly be so much more to see in this historic and culture-filled city of ours.”