From Negros we jump to the northern end of neighboring Panay for the next in our continuing series on Philippine plazas. We visit Roxas City, the capital of the province of Capiz. One comes to this place to feast on the seafood that it is famous for, but it is also blessed with a lovely plaza defined by wonderful examples of conserved heritage.
Capiz, as a province, was established in 1901 under the American colonial government. Its main town of Capiz was already an established port and trading center in the Spanish period, given its location by the sea and the Capiz River, which winds over a hundred kilometers inland from there. Aside from the seafood, it is known for the shells from which it gets its name. Capiz shells were used for centuries in lieu of glass for windows.
The town grew steadily as the Commonwealth era dawned and independence saw it move forward despite the destruction brought by war. The town turned into a city on May 12, 1951. It also saw its name changed to honor the first post-war president of the country, Manuel A. Roxas, who called the place his home. His ancestral house is not far from the city plaza and is a tourist attraction.
The center of the city is marked by its expansive plaza. The 1.5-hectare space is defined by eight heritage monuments, landmarks and structures. This is more than the average found in Philippine plazas today. The plaza also fronts the Capiz River, which is of good width and is clean compared to most in Philippines cities.
The church is the oldest of these landmarks. The Immaculate Conception Metropolitan Cathedral is the religious center of the city and its parish, which was founded in the early 1700s. As with most churches, the original structure was a simple one actually located fronting a nearby street. The foundation of the current church was laid in 1870 and it was completed in 1877.
Moving clockwise, we come to the well-conserved Capiz Provincial Capitol Complex, which was built in 1915. Historian Rene Javellana S.J. gives us its brief history, “The Capiz Provincial Capitol is one of a number designed by the American architect William Parsons. Born in Akron, Ohio in 1872, and educated in Yale, Columbia and the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, France… he was connected with the Bureau of Public Works from 1905-1914.”
Fr. Javellana describes the elegant building’s architectural attributes:“…the capitol belongs to the California-style inspired by the California missions, characteristic of Parsons’ earlier design. Although elements of Classical architecture are evident in the central portal, and the generous use of Roman arches for windows, the capitol lacks the temple-like look of Neo classical capitols and municipal hall ...”
Javellana continues, “All told, the style is a modern and simplified interpretation of Spanish-Filipino architecture of the 19th century. The building is integrated into a trapezoidal lot and takes full advantage of the limited space...”
The capitol has a forecourt, which hosts a Rizal monument. The American-era statue is set on a tall plinth that relates well in scale to the capitol building. It is unfortunate, however, that the space between it and the capitol is a parking lot. The statue’s setting could be consolidated with this space to read as one spatial entity. The urban design of the forecourt could allow access for VIP official drop-offs when necessary.
The fourth landmark is the Capiz Bridge, which is from the Spanish era but was improved in 1910. Now known as the Roxas City Bridge, it connects the city to the main highway leading south. The elegant bridge blends well with the relatively clean river and revetments on both sides, which are lined with colorful bougainvillea. There is an opportunity here for a riverside esplanade that could link the city center with points east and west. Possible river tours could carry tourists down the lengthy waterway and back.
At the center of the open space is a fountain and rotunda, the fifth landmark of the site. It is the “kilometer zero” of Capiz, the point of reference for all destinations in the province. Accounts date the fountain’s construction to 1925, about the same time as the next landmark, the gazebo.
The elegant octagonal gazebo is a neo-classic masterpiece that complements the other elements of the plaza. It was designed in the 1920s by architect Jose Roldan, the founding director of the Capiz school of Arts and Trade (today the Capiz State University). He or a contemporary most probably designed the fountain too.
While the gazebo has remained intact, the fountain has been altered a number of times. A decade ago, city officials apparently went overboard by adding four kneeling figures to support the central basin. Public outcry led to the reinstatement of the original design a few years ago.
The seventh landmark of the plaza is the President Manuel Roxas monument. It was erected after his death and presides over the western end of the plaza. It is currently undergoing renovation.
The eighth landmark is the Panubli-on Museum. The unique cylindrical building started life as a water tank in 1910. It reportedly collected rainwater from the original munucipio roof. The tank survived the Second World War. In the 1950s the city water system did not need the tank so offices, were built around the tank, completely covering it. In the 1990s as a new city hall complex was built, the tank was “rediscovered” and converted into the city museum.
I give the Roxas City plaza a high rating of 8.5 out of 10. It is well conserved, and so are most of the heritage structures and landmarks that define it. It has succumbed to some traffic though, but I believe that some urban design interventions could bring back more space for pedestrians and integrate the four major sections of the plaza into a more cohesive whole.
* * *
Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Museum image and information on the gazebo’s history courtesy of Norberto “Peewee” Roldan of Green Papaya Art Projects.