Saturday, May 13, 2006

Calle Real: A Living Museum of Iloilo’s Glorious Past

A multi-sectoral forum is scheduled on May 25 at the Iloilo Grand Hotel to discuss various ways to revive Calle Real (J.M. Basa St. today). Spearheaded by the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council (ICCHCC), the forum will be participated by representatives of the Iloilo City government headed by Mayor Jerry Treñas, Canadian Urban Institute, the local business sector, urban development experts and other groups. All the participants will be expected to give their inputs on how best to restore the “glory that was Calle Real.”

The “Save Calle Real” project involves the rehabilitation not only J.M. Basa St. but includes the entire “old quarter” of Iloilo City, which tumandoks (oldtimers) normally refer to as the “downtown” area. The project also includes Aldeguer, Mapa, Guanco and Iznart where most of Iloilo’s stylish Art Deco buildings are located.

Calle Real during the early 19th century was known as the “Escolta of the South.” The entire Western Visayas back then was in the midst of the sugar boom and Calle Real was the epicenter of the sugar import trade. It was where you can find all the wealthiest sugar trading houses, most elegant offices, trendiest bars and restaurants, and the leading shopping bazaars of the era. For Filipinos back then, Calle Real was the most “happening” place south of Manila, sort of like Ayala Avenue meets Malate-Adriatico. And because of its proximity to the bustling Muelle Loney port, it was relatively common to see British sailors on shore leave, American sugar traders, Scottish engineers and Chinese merchants strolling along its sidewalks.

The Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council would like to make things happen again for Calle Real. But in my view, the project has to overcome several obstacles for it to become successful and sustainable.

One, how do you alter people’s perceptions in order to again draw them to Calle Real? Nowadays, young Ilonggos feel it is not “hip” to be seen in Calle Real. They prefer to shop at airconditioned malls and party at restaurants located along the General Luna-Diversion Road strip. Even if the Iloilo City government can source foreign funding for the project, Calle Real suffers from an “image” problem which may affect the long term viability and sustainability of businesses along that part of the city.

Iloilo City planners may wish to look into how Manila revived its Mabini-Malate-Adriatico area, long regarded as Manila’s red light district. Today, that area in Manila is littered with the trendiest coffee shops, restaurants and bars, and is a favorite hang-out of Manila’s intelligentsia and foreign tourists. Tourists, both foreign and local, are forever searching for new and unique experiences and Calle Real could easily capture that “old world” ambiance that Malate is famous for.

But with the Iloilo City government announcing plans to sell and develop the Mandurriao airport into a new Commercial and Business District (CBDs), a second obstacle would be how to generate enough capital and investor interest to develop both Mandurriao and Calle Real simultaneously. Prospective investors and existing locators in Calle Real might become hesitant to plow in more money in the project if they see a new and more modern commercial area being developed in Mandurriao. Also, the local market might be too small to sustain multiple commercial districts in Iloilo. Office buildings in Makati and Ortigas, for example, are currently suffering from low occupancy rates because of the “over-construction” of the early 1990s.

In the past, Calle Real flourished because of its proximity to Muelle Loney which acted as the clearinghouse for the region’s sugar importation business. Businessmen chose to set up their businesses in that area because it was near the center of the “action” – the lucrative sugar trade. In fact, during those times, business establishments were judged based on their location vis-avis Muelle Loney: the farther you are from Muelle Loney, the less prestigious your office. But with the sugar gone and Muelle Loney operating more as a domestic terminal rather than an international port, Calle Real must find another reason for its existence.

Calle Real is a living museum, a surviving testament to Iloilo City’s glorious past. It is a mirror, an indicator of Iloilo City’s economy. When times are good, Calle Real is abuzz with economic activity. When times are hard, Calle Real is a sleepy strip. If given a choice, I would prioritize the rehabilitation of Calle Real over the development of Mandurriao. Calle Real gives Iloilo City its distinct character and unique identity whereas Mandurriao would make our city look more and more like any other city in the Philippines. Take out Calle Real and Iloilo would not look and feel like Iloilo. Develop Mandurriao into another mall complex and Iloilo would look and feel more and more like Manila or Cebu. Let us just hope that development of the old Mandurriao airport would take several years so as to give Calle Real enough time to resurrect itself.


Mike Advento said...

They should do to Calle Real what Manila Mayor Lito Atienza did to old time Roxas Boulevard formerly Dewey Boulevard. The dirty boulevard then was transformed to a tourist attraction now.

Iloilo City needs the best urban planner to bring back its old glorious name "THE QUEEN CITY OF THE SOUTH."

Go Go Iloilo City Boy! Keep it up!

Nereo Lujan said...

Would you like to have an MP3 player by simply letting your voice be heard?

All you need to do is review the draft Iloilo City Downtown Central Business District Heritage Conservation Guidelines, email your comments and suggestions, and get a chance to win an MP3 player. Your email serves as your raffle entry.

An Acrobat PDF copy of the guidelines can be downloaded for review from, the website of the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) Philippines.

Five MP3 players will be raffled during the forum ''Save Calle Real'' on May 25, 2006, 1:00 P.M. at the Iloilo Grand Hotel on Iznart Street.

Only one email per sender can be eligible for the raffle to be held at the close of the forum which is expected draw together policymakers, urban planners, architects, businessmen, students and members of the arts and culture community.

Comments and suggestions should be sent starting today until May 24, or one day before the forum, to, the email address of Jose Roni Peñalosa, chief of the Iloilo City Planning and Development Office (ICPDO).

Emails should have the subject ''Save Calle Real'' and should contain the sender's complete name, mailing address and contact numbers, either landline or mobile phone. Comments and suggestions should be considerably substantial and relevant.

The cultural heritage conservation guidelines cover conservation, restoration and development measures for heritage buildings and sites in Iloilo City, particularly Calle Real, which originally refers only to J. M. Basa Street but has evolved as a nomenclature for Iloilo City's central business district.

The district, which is home to Art Deco-styled commercial buildings built during the 1920s up to the 1950s, consists of the streets of J. M. Basa, Aldeguer, Mapa, Guanco and Iznart. It has been declared as the Iloilo City Heritage Zone under the Ordinance No. 00-054 otherwise known as the Local Cultural Heritage Conservation Ordinance.

The forum, part of the National Heritage Month celebration, which culminates in Iloilo City on May 31, is organized is by the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council, the body responsible in advancing cultural heritage conservation and promotion in Iloilo City, in cooperation with CUI and the ICPDO.

For more information, you can call Jose Roni Peñalosa at 3351334 or Jay Presaldo of CUI at 3367827, or visit the CUI Philippines website at

chYmera said...

Hello followed the link from IloiloOnline, this is a nice and interesting blog you have here :)

Anonymous said...

I hope they make a good conservation of Calle Real too, I too think that there are a lot of obstacles to the project's success.

In my opinion, the "image" problem that you mentioned Calle Real is now having isn't something that can't be fixed and not absolute to affect the long term viability and sustainability of businesses along that part of the city. A good implementation of the project will simply fix that since the "image" is mostly tied to the physical structure of Calle Real. Calle Real can still be "hip", hehe ...

Calle Real is already too crowded for its capacity and I think the development of Mandurriao will make its conservation easier.
Decongestion will eliminate some of the problems that Calle Real is now having like traffic, pollution, etc and will give the ICCHCC more flexibility in implementating their projects.

Even with the decreasing activity, there will still be (sustainable) business left in Calle Real because most of gov't agencies in Iloilo City (the Administrative Capital of Region 6) are located in Calle Real or is surrounding the area and the reinvention of Calle Real as a well-developed tourist destination will open a lot of new businesses in the area like the ones you mentioned (cafes, restaurants, bars etc..), which suit and will uplift Calle Real's image.

One of the reasons why Iloilo City is not growing as fast as it should (or compared to other urban areas in the country) is because there is little room for development so I think it would be a detriment if the development of Mandurriao is delayed just to give Calle Real more time to mature.

Iloilo City Boy said...

To Anonymous:

Thank you for your comments. We all share the same desire: to see Calle Real come alive again. But as they say, the devil is in the details.

It is probably the Ilonggo in me that makes me conservative when it comes to big development ventures like this. I just wanted to point out that development of Mandurriao and Calle Real should be coordinated since one would have an impact on the other.