The City of Pines has been my second home. A month doesn’t go by without me having to enjoy its cold climate and its city lights. Nothing beats having to enjoy a nice steak meal at Sizzling Plate or finding my way inside the Baguio Public Market. As I struggled to find an interesting travel topic to blog about, I came across an article that there was once a proposal to declare certain spots and areas of Baguio as a heritage structure and/or area. The list included the city’s iconic street - Session Road.
Session Road is THE most popular street in Baguio City. It has been a major business area of the city from the time that the city was chartered by the Americans until the present. It is a major stage for the city’s events from the annual Panagbenga Festivities to its Weekly Sunday Market and Street Performances. But probably unknown to many is the historical value of Session Road that makes it worthy to be considered as a heritage zone of the city.
Site of the First Philippine Commission
A historical marker tucked conspicuously along Governor Pack Road tells us how Session Road got its name. The site where the Baden Powell Inn is located was once the venue of the session of the Philippine Commission that officially declared Baguio City as the country’s Summer Capital. The name of Baguio’s famous street was in reference to this historical session. This official government meeting marked the start of the development of Baguio.
Unfortunately, the Baden Powell Inn is no longer in operation. Its American Colonial design remains intact against the backdrop of Baguio’s downtown area. Looking in from the outside, I guess there are some sections in the inn that offer a panoramic view of the city. I really hope that the local government can invest resources that will preserve its structure together with the rich history of the place.
Established in 1904, Casa Vallejo is considered to one of the oldest institutions in the city. It was first used as a dormitory, assigned as dormitory 4, for workers who were helping build the city before being converted into a hotel in 1923. It survived the carpet-bombing during World War 2 preserving its American-colonial architecture that we still enjoy until today. It is recognized for its historical value with it own NHCP Historical Marker that was unveiled in September 2019.
I remember, during my younger years, of passing by the unoccupied Casa Vallejo. It looked creepy and haunted that it added chills to the already cold weather of the city. I thought that it was a perfect set for a horror film with its old wood architecture in its dilapidated state. Fortunately, the development in the area gave the casa a new lease as a hotel, the oldest in the city.
Today, Casa Vallejo is now a popular food tourism destination with its Hill Station Restaurant. It offers good food with its rustic ambiance. The hotel is also fully functional with its cozy old-Baguio style lodge. Casa Vallejo’s location is an ideal as it is close to most of the attractions in the city.
Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral
One of the main attractions in the City of Pines is the Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral, more popularly known as the Baguio Cathedral. This Cathedral by the hill distinctly stands out with its pink color exteriors and two spirals that dominate the city skyline. The church was completed and consecrated in 1936 and was dedicated to the Our Lady of Atonement.
Unknown to many, the church became a refuge to Baguio residents in World War 2. It was one of the few structures that survived the carpet-bombing saving hundreds of lives. In fact, history remains intact within the church’s grounds where the remains of the thousands of people who died during the liberation are interred. A small memorial serves as reminder of the location and the tragic event.
The church stands out from the city skyline because of the two spiral belfries and its pink exteriors. The stained-glass windows that adorn both the interior and exterior of the church is an attraction that is worth admiring. The flower-shaped stained-glass window is a feature unique to the Baguio Cathedral. The wood interior design of the church gives it a homey and rustic vibe.
The church grounds are connected to Session Road via a 104-step staircase. The removal of the roof structure gave the staircase its original beauty. You get to be amazed by the city view as you walk down the steps of the staircase. A view of the staircase from the base gives Session Road that romantic vibe.
Session Road is the central business district of Baguio City. The hillside road is home to many local and homegrown businesses and offices. It is lined with a wide selection of food establishments and shops that you can choose from to dine or shop. There is even ukay-ukay shops where you can get good and branded finds at bargain prices.
Session Road played a huge part in the history and development of Baguio. It served as a major artery that connected the center of American governance, located at Upper Sessions, with the local center of commerce. It was a no brainer that development would spur along the area. Some structures along Session Road were proposed to be considered to form part of its heritage area. You can check out the Laperal Building which is reminiscent of old Manila apartments. Further down the street, you have the PNB Building, the MS Building, and Pines Arcade.
Session Road comes alive during Sundays and during the annual Panagbenga celebration. The road strip is closed on Sundays to traffic, giving pedestrians an opportunity to enjoy the stretch with shops, cultural shows, and performances from local artists and cosplayers. A portion of the street is also closed for artists and artists-at-heart for their chalk artworks. Session Road is also the main stage of city’s activities from the float parade of the Panagbenga to the Lantern Parade during the city’s Christmas celebration.
Session Road is a vital road link in the city playing a huge part in the city’s history and development. It also a main stage to most of the city’s activities. It can easily shift from a bustling business area to a romantic road side to a festive stage that celebrates the colorful culture of the Cordillera.
Malcolm Square is another stage for the city’s cultural exhibitions. During the earlier years of the city, it served as the local’s dog market. A swamp separated the market from the stone market.
The square is now an open park and venue. It sometimes hosts activities and fairs that feature cultural shows and trade fairs. It forms part of the business district since it is sandwhiched by Session Road and the public market. Two structures being considered to be part of the heritage site of Session Road are Plaza Theater and Arevalo Building.
Maharlika Stone Marker
The original Stone Marker of Baguio City’s old Stone Market is mounted on one of the pillars in front of the Maharlika Building. The site where the building now stands was the original location of the city’s market. Originally called Javjavan, the stone market was built by German prisoners in 1917. It was re-constructed in 1958 but was totally destroyed by fire in 1970.
It was in the 80’s that the present structure was built and only the Eagle Stone Marker of the market was preserved from the original structure. The marker and a brief of the market’s history are now on display in front of the Maharlika Building. The market has expanded and has become a tourist attraction of the city. Maharlika, on the other hand, has remained to be the home of local businesses including shops that sell souvenir items.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Baguio City is a favorite weekend destination because of its climate and proximity to Metro Manila. It has continually reinvented itself as a destination with a good mix of the old favorite spots and new attractions, not to mention, having a wide selection of food spots that will surely give you a good fill mentally and physically. But beyond the shine and the glam that go with its popularity is the sad reality that it needs to really focus on preserving the rich heritage from its humble beginnings. It needs to invest in keeping the old alive despite the changing landscape of the city. This way it ensures that the future visitors, both new and returning, are able to enjoy the uniqueness that made the city a summer capital.
Keeping our heritage intact despite the changing landscape of our local destinations can be a huge challenge for local governments. It is always presumed that it is a tug between preservation and development. What needs to be done is to look for the balance between the two. Preservation and development can co-exist but there is a need for all shareholders to cooperate in finding a viable solution. That’s where the challenge lies.
Getting there: There are regular trips from Manila or Pampanga to Baguio City where two of Luzon’s major airports are located. The trip takes about 4 to 5 hours from Manila. There are also regular trips from other major cities in Northern Luzon. Philippine Airlines will start direct flights to and from Cebu City on December 2022.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.