LIFE IN PARIAN NOW
Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
First published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2008
The first time I saw the building in Parian, Cebu, which I inherited from my mother, I wept. The three-story building was in terrible condition, just like many of the rundown structures in the old area of Cebu. The building needed a fresh coat of paint; the grounds needed cleaning up. I felt a wave of despair but deep inside I also felt an emotional attachment to this property which had belonged to my mother and to her mother before her. It is not easy to disregard such matters.
Keeping a stiff upper lip, I checked out the neighborhood. Even though I had grown up in Cebu, it was the first time I had walked around the Parian. I noted that my property was half a block from the Heritage Monument of Cebu and the 1730 Jesuit House (Ho Tong Hardware). The historic Yap-Sandiego house, Casa Gorordo and Rafi Building were also nearby. My property was walking distance to the Santo Nino Basilica, the Cathedral, Fort San Pedro, and historic Colon Street. From my building rooftop, I had an excellent view of the Cathedral, Cebu’s hills, city, and port.
It may seem farfetched to compare Cebu to Los Angeles and Paris, but I will mention here that seedy parts of these two great cities underwent gentrification to accommodate the growing population and to address transportation problems. In downtown Los Angeles specifically, many warehouses were turned into artists’ lofts and condominiums, with accompanying development of chic restaurants and shopping centers. I could see that the Parian had the potential of gentrifying as did these two places.
In the 1990s my mother, Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra, had hired Architect Abella to build a Deco style building on her Parian property. I had seen and admired it then. The building was solidly built with handsome details such as wrought iron balconies. The property did not flood, a common problem in the Parian. Recalling the building as it first looked encouraged me to convert the upper units of the building into my Cebu office/residence. I used a Mexican Spanish Colonial theme for colors and furnishings. I had the rooftop painted and decorated with potted plants, bamboo tables and chairs. I was delighted with the Old World effect which was in keeping with the history of the place. The rooftop in particular turned out to be a magical place, especially at night, with its magnificent view of the Cathedral’s steeple lit up in green and the city’s sparkling lights.
My family’s roots in the Parian date back to the late 1800s; documents indicate that my Great-great-grandmother Juana Lopez had bought land in the Parian area. At the turn of the century Juana’s daughter, Remedios Diosomito and her husband Mariano Albao Cuenco lived in a two-story house in then-fashionable Colon Street. There they raised their children and ran the Imprenta Rosario. Their second son, Mariano Jesus married Filomena Alesna from Carcar, and for a few years they lived in the Colon Cuenco house. By this time, Mariano Albao Cuenco had died and Remedios herself ran the Imprenta Rosario, becoming the first woman publisher in the Philippines. She ruled over her children, one of whom became an archbishop, the other a senator, the third a congressman, the fourth (woman), a writer. At some point, Mariano Jesus, Filomena and their family settled in a house in nearby Norte America. It was during this time when my grandmother Filomena bought land in Zulueta Street. It was this land that fell into my hands.
As history buffs know, the Parian is one of the oldest and most historic places in the entire Philippines. In the late 16th century, Chinese traders had settled here; the area developed into the commercial hub; by the early 1900s the Parian was the residential headquarters of Cebu’s wealthiest families, and it also became a publishing center. World War II and the subsequent destruction of Cebu changed the area drastically. Unfortunately, the wealthy families did not rebuild their Parian homes but fled to newer housing developments. The Parian declined, with many buildings turned into warehouses or low cost residences.
As I fixed my building, I developed a better appreciation of the Parian. I could easily walk to the Cathedral, Santo Nino Basilica, City Hall, the Malacanan of Cebu, downtown stores, bank, three internet cafes, LBC, hardware and building supplies stores. Transportation was easy to find. It was convenient to live here. A visiting American Fullbright Scholar, Dr. Michael Cullinane, chose to live in the Parian for the same practical reasons. There is also a Frenchman and his family who reside in the Parian, no doubt for the same reasons.
These are what I find charming about living in the Parian:
- looking out my balcony in the evening when the traffic has died down and the barbecue and food stalls have opened and people promenade up and down the street, talking, laughing, catching the sea breeze;
- seeing the Yap-Sandiego house all dolled up;
- walking down Binacayan street and catching a glimpse of the old Jesuit House’s gate;
- discovering traces of the 1730 Jesuit House in the Ho Tong premises;
- hearing the tooting of ships as they sail past the nearby port;
- sitting in my butaka chair with the windows wide open and enjoying the sea breeze zipping in and out;
- having Old Cebu lovers over for dinner and listening to them talk about Cebu events and personalities who had lived in the Parian a century ago;
- walking around the area and feeling as if I’m back in time, 1908 perhaps when my own grandmother herself walked along Mabini, Colon, Lopez Jaena, Logarta Streets.
It has its charm, the Parian. It is still depressed, but if you look at the Parian with the eyes of a lover, you will find secret gems tucked away. You can still sense its historic past. In fact, I detect a heightened consciousness among Cebuanos to preserve the rich heritage of Parian. Consider these events that are now happening in the area: Misa de Gallo procession in December, Sinulog festivities in January, Gabii Sa Kabilin in May, Independence Day festivities in June, the Parian Fiesta of San Juan Baustita on June 24, ongoing events and exhibits at the Casa Gorordo, the Cathedral Museum, the Santo Nino Museum, and Fort San Pedro. Tourist Police now patrol the area daily.
Who knows, perhaps historic Parian may experience a revival. In the meantime, I pray to the Santo Nino, and afterwards I buy bibingka in front of the basilica, and back home, I make myself chocolate-e and partake of these Cebuano delicacies just as my mother and her mother before her had done. And I thank them, these women ancestors of mine, for this historic gift.
Life in Parian Now
Cebu's 1730 Jesuit House
The Secret Hall of Angels
A Story of Hope
Finding Jose Rizal in Cebu
Lola Remedios and her Sayas
Lunch with F. Sionil Jose
Pre-Colonial Gold in Cebu
tags: Cebu, Philippines, Parian, history, Spanish Colonial, travel, tourism