Bringing Baguio’s Heritage Street to Life

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COMMUNITY HUNTING PLACE Cosplayer Charlane Alec Subido, 23, shows off his arcade game character Mika at a mall on Luneta Hill that overlooks downtown Session Road in Baguio City. Every Sunday, this historic street turns into a pedestrian mall that comes alive with cosplayers and stalls of local entrepreneurs and artisans. —EV ESPIRITU

BAGUIO CITY—Every Sunday in the Summer Capital, a 1.7-kilometer road, around which downtown Baguio has grown and flourished for more than a century, turns into a park and a mess for residents and tourists eager for this laid-back weekday.

Car traffic is kept away from downtown, where buskers and other performers entertain families and visitors to Baguio.

After Sunday Mass on October 4, residents gathered around board game kiosks set up by contractors dressed in cowboy outfits. Youngsters took selfies from benches surrounded by cacti and effigies wearing Stetsons.

NOT JUST ANY STREET History was made on Session Road, where civic parades took place, where the Baguio version of People Power took place in 1986, and where major festivals are still held. For the average resident, this iconic strip is also where it all comes together, based on the daily volume of people and vehicles there. —PHOTOS BY EV ESPIRITU AND CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

weekend tourism

In November, Sunday Session Road featured Baguio’s other title as the country’s first “creative city.”

A number of stalls selling woven goods and handicrafts made by local artisans as part of this year’s Ibagiw festival line the same stretch of road.

The pedestrian Session Road (or simply “Session” to locals) has helped revive weekend tourism in Baguio.

In June and July, about 50,000 visitors drove into the city and up to 30,000 tourists continue to visit during the monsoon season, according to Baguio tourism operations supervisor Aloysius Mapalo.

But for former Baguio residents, the visitation session has helped them relive where Baguio history was made.

Baguio was designed, built, and opened for settlement by the American colonial government in 1909.

A historical marker, often referred to as the Session Road marker, honors the original Baden Powell Hall between Session Road and Governor Pack Road, where “the Second Philippine Commission held its first session from April 22 to June 11, 1904”.

Also called the Taft Commission after the country’s first American governor, William Howard Taft, this assembly established the Philippine bureaucracy, as well as its judicial system, in the early 20th century.

Session Road takes its name from those meetings “and is part of our (Baguio) history,” says planning officer Donna Tabangin.

Members of the Taft Commission rode through Session and marched to Baden Powell, which is now a hotel, she said.

FESTIVAL STAGE Session Road has also become the stage for the annual Baguio Flower Festival. —EV ESPIRITU

‘Our history’

The families who lived in Session helped shape its legacy. The road hosted Japanese bazaars in the 1920s and 1930s, says Ompong Tan, a professional photographer and named one of Baguio’s 2022 Outstanding Citizens, who grew up in a hardware store there.

The session was nearly wiped out in 1945 when the Americans bombed Baguio to liberate it from the Japanese.

After World War II, the families of Baguio’s early entrepreneurs like Johnny Tan Heng, Tan Yu Ang, Ram Sharma, and the Cid and Punjabi families rebuilt the economic center of the city, which survived crisis after crisis, including the entrance of shopping mall giants. than the coronavirus pandemic.

Tan says his father, Johnny Tan Heng, moved from Manila to Baguio in the 1950s to build a home and businesses that continue to thrive. His family has expanded throughout the city, but still owns the two-story MS Building, where he grew up running a family hardware store.

It is perhaps one of the oldest structures in Session, alongside the F. Lopez Building, Laperal, Antipolo, and Patria de Baguio, owned by the Catholic Church. La Patria still stands beneath Baguio Cathedral, which survived the 1945 bombings.

According to Tan, his fondest memories of Session date back to the 1960s and 1970s, when “policemen in blue uniforms knew everyone and visited every store every morning.”

AWAY FROM THE CROWDS Members of the Philippine Commission walked through what is now Session Road
for their first meeting in April 1904 during the American colonial era. A marker that commemorates this event
is barely noticed at one corner of Governor Pack Road. —VINCENT CABREZA

Community

Session was known for its bakeries, photography studios, tool shops, grocery stores, and “good tailors and barbers,” he says.

Session was “a community, and heavy American cars like Fords and Chevys parked diagonally because few residents had vehicles and were serviced by small jeepneys that carried eight passengers to and from town,” says Tan.

The low skyline gave Session Road kids the chance to fly kites on the rooftops of buildings and raise pigeons that circled Baguio every morning, Tan recalled.

Session’s skyline has changed since then, when hotels and fast-food chains have replaced more than 50% of the area’s original businesses.

The session was significant during the Edsa people power revolution of 1986. Residents of the city center watched as a small contingent of soldiers and police drove down the main thoroughfare to seek refuge at the church after defecting from the deceased dictator Ferdinand Marcos, says Tan.

In the 1990s and early years of the 21st century, a movement grew around a public call to convert Session into an exclusive pedestrian zone in downtown Baguio.

Session is about to undergo another “revitalization” makeover. The entire stretch would be equipped with large night lights, street benches accompanied by portable bookcases, temperature gauges and cycle paths.

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