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Save the Gotiaoco

/ 08:08 AM February 23, 2012

News has come of late that  Cebu City’s  Office of the Building Official (OBO)  has deemed the Gotiaoco Building behind  Cebu City Hall worthy of demolition after it suffered cracks due to the Feb. 6  earthquake and that to save the building by rehabilitating it is far too costly for the cash-strapped city. Alarm bells were immediately rung among heritage circles about this news.

Built in 1914, the Gotiaoco Building is named after Pedro Gotiaoco, an extremely successful late Spanish and early American period Chinese trader whom many suspect fathered Don Sergio Osmeña, something one of Gotiaoco’s grandchildren, John Gokongwei Jr., denies. The Gotiaoco Building was, by the early 1930s, home to the local branch of Heacock’s Department Store, boasting of having the first elevator and airconditioning in Cebu. Its top floor, a penthouse of sorts by today’s standards, was home to Cebu’s first AM radio, the kzRC (renamed after the war as dyRC). Its station manager, Harry Fenton, would later become a famed (and later hated) guerrilla leader who had to be reined in and arrested by Col. James Cushing, commander of the anti-Japanese resistance in Cebu.

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I had twice written about how  this grand, old building or the equally grand Fernandez Building (once home to Compania Maritima) behind it would readily serve as home to a maritime museum. For all its unassailable distinction as home to most of the country’s ship-owning families, Cebu is missing this kind of museum—something that Mayor Michael Rama hopefully can also  make out of the abandoned Malacañang sa Sugbo, the former Customs House. Alas, that dream is about to turn into a nightmare for the Gotiaoco Building if the demolition scenario prevails. Well, building a park over it is probably a good way of making palatable the idea of destroying one of the city’s last reminders of pistaym—those brief but progressive years between the 1898 Revolution and the Japanese Occupation, when Cebu City effectively wrested from Iloilo the title “Queen City of the South.”

This building once lorded it over all the rest, with its four stories dwarfing every building in Cebu. It is very much an essential witness, nay, a participant in the leaps and bounds that the city underwent. Its location, right at the reclaimed portion of the pre-Spanish beach of the Sugbo that Magellan and Legazpi set foot on, is testament to its primal character in the island’s commerce and trade. While the rest of its neighbors lining the old Calle Commercio were but warehouses, it was home to the best that life had to offer as long as one could afford it. Gotiaoco was the Ayala Center or the SM Northwing of its time.

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Our generation and the one before it hold no memories of those years, unfortunately. But that does not give us license to forget this building. Please help save the Gotiaoco.

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The University of San Carlos Museum in cooperation with the Sumitomo Foundation of Japan is holding a one-month exhibit titled, “Japanese Ceramics: From Imari to Cebu” at its Institutional Gallery. The exhibition features contemporary Imari ceramics from the ancient pottery-producing centers of Arita, Yoshida, Imari and Hasami in Saga Prefecture, Japan. Thirty-three photographs of our Japan field trip to 17th century porcelain kilns and modern ceramics factories taken by Fr. Jun Rebayla, SVD, photography buff and USC’s vice president for finance, are also exhibited courtesy of Canon Philippines.

Dr. Takenori Nogami of the Arita Folk and History Museum graced the inaugural ceremonies the other day and delivered a lecture on the export of Japanese ceramics all over the world in the 17th century. He returns to Cebu courtesy of the Japan Foundation.  It was Dr. Nogami who confirmed the discovery of the country’s first-ever complete or whole Japanese porcelains (three pieces) dating to around 1650 during our 2009 excavations in Boljoon. These three porcelain wares were exhibited briefly courtesy of the Boljoon Parish Museum, brought to the venue by the Cebu Provincial Tourism and Heritage Council and returned promptly to Boljoon later that day. Sherds or broken fragments of Japanse porcelain recovered from Plaza Independencia during the 2008 monitoring of the SRP Subway Tunnel Project are on exhibit for the duration of the event. Our “Kabilin” episode on Japanese ceramics, which aired in November last year, is also shown courtesy of Sugbo TV Channel 14. Explanatory panels discussing the history of Japanese ceramics and their presence in Cebu are also part of the exhibition, which is open to the public from 8:30 am to 5 p.m.

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Museo Sugbo, the Cebu provincial museum, will be opening in early March its 12th gallery with the exhibit “Lagang: The Lost Art,” showcasing a fine collection of cut pieces of the chambered nautilus shell made into flowers inside shadow boxes so popular in Dalaguete and Argao in the 1920s. This will coincide with the soft opening of a treasured collection of santos and other ecclesiastical art from a family that shall remain anonymous for the moment or until the exhibit is unveiled.

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TAGS: “Japanese Ceramics: From Imari to Cebu”, “Lagang: The Lost Art”, demolitions, Earthquake, Gotiaoco Building, Museo Sugbo, Pedro Gotiaoco, Sumitomo Foundation of Japan, University of San Carlos Museum
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