Calle Real

PERHAPS it was just a whimsical notion, a touch of nostalgia, and it somehow became this column.

And it seems like a good day to start the week with some nice positive vibes.

It’s not often one is asked about how one thinks or feel about a particular place…an area commonly known as “Downtown Iloilo” likewise being referred to as a local.

I suppose I qualify as a “local”, having been born and raised and studied in Iloilo City, that is, until the last 30 years. I’ve been away satisfying my wanderlust but now I’m sort of back.

So thru the eyes of a genuine dyed in the wool local here’s what I think of “Downtown Iloilo”:

Growing up in Iloilo City we’ve always referred to “Downtown Iloilo” as Calle Real (Royal Street in Spanish).

Officially named J.M. Basa Street, it is a historic street in the old downtown district (Iloilo City Proper) of Iloilo City.

The street is often referred to as the “Escolta of Iloilo.” It is home to several fine examples of historic luxury American era neoclassicalbeaux-arts, and art deco buildings.

The street has been famous since the Spanish Era. However, its importance has dwindled and the street has become less maintained; yet recently there have been efforts to revitalize the street, which include the restoration of heritage buildings along the street and beautification projects.

I’ve had fond childhood memories of Calle Real, catching the latest films in the movie houses along J.M. Basa Street and Guanco Street and having snacks in nearby cafes with my parents and siblings, and later on as a teenager going on dates in these places.

The Art-Deco buildings and other structures along the street deteriorated but remained to be a shopping hub of the city.

Calle Real as a district consisting of Aldeguer, Guanco and Iznart, J. M. Basa, and Mapa streets was declared an Iloilo City heritage zone by the virtue of Ordinance No. 00-054, also known as the Local Cultural Heritage Conservation Ordinance which established the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council (ICCHC).

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared Calle Real as a district and a heritage zone in Aug. 8, 2014 with the unveiling of a historical marker outside the Villanueva Building. Its current restoration has been a public-private partnership between the government and the Iloilo Cultural Heritage Foundation, Inc. (ICHFI).

With the advent and development of a new business and leisure district, more popularly known as the Iloilo Business Park or Megaworld, it is but inevitable that the city is unofficially divided into the new “Iloilo Nuevo” or “New Iloilo” and the old “Iloilo Viejo” or “Old Iloilo.”

And this works just fine for both the visitors and locals alike, you have a combination of the “old” and the “new”, of modern and the historic, and the testament of the Ilonggoheritage, the best of both worlds.

For most of the descendants of the original families of Iloilo City, Calle Real is a testament to a time of the genteel and laidback lifestyle of Iloilo’s elite and rich Spanish heritage. You know, there was a time in the past when all business establishments in Calle Real had their billboards and adverts written in Spanish, including the ones in Chinatown.

Although Hiligaynon was the widely spoken common dialect, the Lingua Franca was Spanish amongst Iloilo City’s diverse population of Peninsulares, Insulares, Mestizos, Chinese, and Indios.

After all, in the late 1800s, Iloilo City was known and was given the title “La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad de Iloilo”, which means as “Most Loyal and Noble City.” This is an inscription in the Coat of Arms from the Royal Decree of 1896 in recognition of the local people’s loyalty to the Spanish crown.

As a local, born and raised in Iloilo City, I am proud of “Downtown Iloilo” or Calle Real as much as I am proud of my Hispanic heritage, although I am just speaking for myself. Without a doubt the tumandoks or genuine dyed in the wool Ilonggosshare my sentiments. ([email protected]/PN)

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