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Fuente Osmeña and the Arc de Triomphe

/ 09:08 AM November 17, 2011

Mayor Michael Rama’s recent pronouncements to expand Fuente Osmeña and turn it into something like the Arc de Triomphe brings to mind William E Parsons’ original plan for the development of Cebu beyond the old Spanish quarter.

In 1912, Parsons, the consulting architect at the then Bureau of Public Works, presented his master plan for the expansion of Cebu beyond what was then called the Cebu Burnt Area, a swathe of land from Sanciangko and Colon down to M.C. Briones streets and the waterfront, sections of which had been burned during the 1898 revolution against Spain and then again about five years later. This area had remained decrepit, with streets so narrow that the American colonial administration decided to create a new section of the city, beyond Sanciangko.

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In his plan, Parsons designed six diagonal avenues leading to a central hub, in this case the Fuente Osmeña Rotunda, which he originally designated as the site of the new Cebu Capitol. Unfortunately, except for Osmeña Boulevard, Maxilom Avenue and B. Rodriguez Street, the two other broad avenues, supposedly radiating on the western side of the rotunda, were never realized. Parsons left in 1914 and probably never bothered to check whether his plans for Cebu ever saw the light of day. The failure to add those two broad avenues is one missed opportunity in the urban development of Cebu that now gives Mayor Michael Rama some headache vis-a-vis his plan to close off Osmeña Boulevard from public utility vehicles and taxis.

Parsons’ plan for Cebu is of almost the same pattern that one sees with Paris, like spokes on a wheel with the Arc de Triomphe right at the center. This is also the pattern of the four broad avenues of Quezon City (aptly called North, South, East and West avenues) that radiate from the Quezon Memorial Circle, also a rotunda.

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Modesty aside, I was privileged to have twice visited Paris and I can understand why the good mayor wants to turn Fuente into something like the Arc de Triomphe and Osmeña Boulevard akin to the Avenue des Champs Elysees. The Champs-Elysees is a 1.9-kilometer, eight-lane road considered the most expensive thoroughfare in the world, with equally the most expensive cafes and luxury shops, on both sides. It is lined with trees, uniformly trimmed and regal, along pedestrian and bicycle lanes as wide as the avenue itself. One of the top tourist destinations of the world, it is there where one finds the Arc de Triomphe, which serves as the starting point for 12 avenues (including the Champs Elysees) that radiate from it and out of central Paris.

I think it is not that the good mayor wants to build an arc right at the rotunda and do away with the venerable old fountain. Rather it is to spruce up this rotunda and give it its due historical value and significance the way Parisians and all of France revere the Arc de Triomphe as a monumental symbol of their triumphs in history. And the mayor is not incorrect in this approach. When it was inaugurated in February 1912, it was to mark the beginning of clean potable water and the end of cholera as well as the devastating fires that blazed out of control in the downtown area. More than this, however, this fuente or fountain marked in fact the triumphant collaboration between the young Don Sergio Osmeña and Gov. Gen. William Cameron Forbes. It was their decade-long alliance that brought so much development to Cebu such that within the second decade of the 20th century the title “Queen City of the South” had been appropriated out of Iloilo City by Cebu as its infrastructure—and its economy—grew by leaps and bounds.

Given its pivotal significance in our history, how Mayor Mike will spruce up this fountain and its boulevard, both named after the Osmeña patriarch, most certainly merits everyone’s and not just some politician’s attention.

* * *

My good friend Celso Pepito will be holding an art exhibit called “Homage – 2” at the SM Art Center tomorrow at 6 o’clock in the evening. This is his 34th one-man show and follows in the wake of “Homage – 1,” which he did last August at the SM Megamall in Mandaluyong. (I was pleasantly surprised that my name was listed first among the guests of honor but he explained that this was because the listing was alphabetical.) In this exhibit, Celso pays tribute to his mentor, Martino Abellana as well as to his Christian roots. Please be there at the exhibit and, of course, buy his artworks. It is never too late to support Cebuano art.

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TAGS: Cebu City, Construction, Fuente Osmeña, Infrastructure, Mayor Michael Rama
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