From Historical Landmark to Cultural Hub

| Written by Arlyn VCD Palisoc Romualdo

Main Building. That’s what it’s called. A name that’s both nondescript and imposing. It doesn’t say much about the structure. It’s not named after a person, an office, or unit. Yet being called “Main Building” carries that air of supreme importance.

But what’s in a name, really?

One look at the neo-classical, Art Deco-influenced structure is enough to inspire awe. It stands out among the buildings inside UP Visayas’ (UPV) Iloilo City campus. Two large human sculptures representing law and order act as intimidating guards by its arched entrance. At the back, there’s a balcony that will make you think of that famous scene in Romeo and Juliet. Inside are high ceilings and walls decorated by reliefs, big solid wooden beams, chandeliers, and iron grill doors with the letters “IMB” in the middle. Look up at the beams in the atria and notice that their ends are actually sculpted dragon heads.

Story of the name, history of the building

It’s called Main Building for a simple reason: it was where UPV was born, where UP established its presence in Iloilo. It was the first building when UPV didn’t even exist. UP still wasn’t a university system of constituent universities and the Iloilo campus then was considered a branch of the University. It was a resolution in December 1945 by Mayor Fernando Lopez and the City Council that paved the way for that Iloilo branch, which was later endorsed in Congress by legislator Oscar Ledesma.

It was known as the UP Iloilo College and it formally opened its doors on July 1, 1947.

Fast forward to 36 years later when UPV was created. It would focus on fisheries and ocean sciences and Miagao, Iloilo was identified as the location of its main campus. The city campus remained and the Main Building housed the College of Arts and Sciences.

As far as UPV history goes, even the name on the building’s facade has evolved. It went from “UP Iloilo College” to “UP College Iloilo” to “UP in the Visayas” to “UP Visayas,” which is what it still says. Only the text below those names never changed: “University of the Philippines.” Prof. Martin Genodepa, Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Culture and the Arts, told the UP Forum, that they couldn’t find a clear or near enough photo of the building prior to 1947 that could tell them if there was something written else on the facade before “UP Iloilo College.”

Why would that be of interest? Because the building was constructed not because of or for UP. It was meant to be the Iloilo Municipal Hall.

 

main building library

main bldg dragon beams

The beams with sculpted dragon heads at one of the atria the library, and Prof. Martin Genodepa describing the plans for adaptive reuse. (Photos by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO)
The beams with sculpted dragon heads at one of the atria
the library, and
Prof. Martin Genodepa describing the plans for adaptive reuse. (Photos by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO)

 

Conceptualized by Iloilo Municipal President Rosauro Jocson in 1908, coincidentally the year UP was created by law, nothing concrete came out of the idea until December 1928 when Municipal Vice President Pablo Nava presented a plan to the Municipal Council. Two months later, philanthropist Juliana Melliza donated 10.8 hectares for the project.

Architect Juan Arellano, who also drafted the city’s urban plan, was the main consultant, with Architect Alfred Eugenio as local consultant. Sculptures in the building were by Italian Francesco Riccardo Monti with Iloilo craftsmen Juan Siendo, and Pedro and Cirilo Sabiano. Construction began in 1933 and by 1934, it was touted as the largest building in the Visayas and Mindanao. It was inaugurated in December 1936 with much celebration as Iloilo had just been elevated from a municipality to a city.

So from the original Iloilo Municipal Hall it was intended to be, it became the Iloilo City Hall at the time of its launch. Genodepa surmised that the “IMB” on the iron grill doors found throughout the building’s interior stood for “Iloilo Municipal Building.”

It had only been occupied by the city government for around five years when Japanese troops occupied Iloilo during World War II. The Iloilo City Hall was turned into a garrison and the area around it, a concentration camp. It was abandoned upon the liberation of Panay Island in March 1945. And, as previously stated, the end of 1945 saw the city resolution for the establishment of a UP branch in Iloilo.

Bringing it back, making it better

While it’s a standout, the Main Building, like some septuagenarians, is showing signs of age. Structural changes had been made to accommodate the use of its rooms. Some original features were removed, covered, or added to. It also has a “hodge-podge” of tenants, Genodepa said—library, archives, galleries, clinics, offices, etc.

But things are about to change for the building that was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) in 2009.

Plans are underway to restore the structure back to its original look and form. It was UPV’s proposal for adaptive reuse that convinced the NHCP to approve and undertake the Main Building’s restoration.

For now, UPV calls it a future culture and heritage center, Genodepa said. One side will be devoted to art and the other to ethnography. This is in keeping with UPV’s thrust of preserving and promoting local and regional culture and heritage, he explained.

From the current tenants, only the Committee for Culture and the Arts and the Center for West Visayan Studies and its affiliated units will remain. There will be areas for performances and changing exhibits, permanent museums, a cafe, art storage, preservation and restoration facilities, and a black and white photography and printmaking studio.

And even bigger plans are in store, not just for the Main Building but the campus itself, which was developed in relation to the Main Building.

UPV is revisiting its land use plan and pushing for compliance. It means ensuring that the Main Building is the focal point of the campus—that it is the first thing to be seen upon entry, together with the Oblation, just like the other UP campuses. That, in turn, entails not only establishing the main entry point of the campus but transferring the Oblation as well.

The next few years will see the changing landscape of UPV’s Iloilo City campus—one that puts heritage, tradition, and culture at the forefront.

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Email the author at upforum@up.edu.ph.