Mapping Downtown Cebu City’s Built Heritage

Finally, Google Street View is now available in Cebu City. We have been waiting for this time to come -- given that we have left the city for almost two years now. It gave us an opportunity to go around the city and check what are the downtown’s heritage buildings when there is no time, or resources to do so.
Over the weekend, we have done a rapid assessment or mapping of several of these built cultural properties within “downtown” only. That means, this is just scratching the surface. Kinahanglan pa gyud og verification ug further studies (this needs further research) such as history and digging into records of the City Hall.

When we say “Downtown Cebu” in this write-up, ako ra i-limit sa area nga traditionally mao ang “downtown” para sa hunahunang Sugbuanon. Mao ang area sa Colon, Carbon, nya gibutangan og limitations o mohon:
  • Sa bahin sa norte: Ang Dalan P.Del Rosario, N. Bacalso, ug Imus Avenue mao ang nagsirbi nga boundary sa norte. Sa unahan ni, mao ang “Midtown” ug “Uptown,” labi na ang padung Jones Avenue ug Capitol.
  • Sa kasadpang bahin: Ang suba sa Guadalupe.
  • Sa sidlakang bahin: Ang karaan nga baybay sa Sugbu, di naglakip sa reclaimed area.
Obviously, those are not on our list as we are here just to present how much of the downtown’s (or sometimes colloquially called “Colon” or “Carbon” depending on where in the area) old buildings remain, and what are some certain observations seen architecturally, geographically, culturally, and historically. Here were some observations:
Despite being the “oldest street” in the country, Colon doesn’t have much heritage buildings. A handful like Vision Theater still stands on to this day.

Colon's Vision and Eden Theaters. (Image by Google)

Cebu City has a lot of heritage buildings in downtown Cebu, though like Manila, it is spread all throughout. However, there is a great concentration of these, not in Colon, but near the coast: Carbon Area, Magallanes, and near the City Hall.

There is a concentration of surviving heritage buildings, not in Colon, but in Carbon, City Hall, and Magallanes areas.

Some of the heritage buildings between F. Gonzales and City Hall. This block hosts one of the biggest concentration of pre-War and post-War edifices in Cebu City. It is a complete street scape.

Most of these buildings were built post-colonially or post-War, especially the “Streamline Moderne” and International Style buildings. Perhaps there was a boom in construction after the war and perhaps by then Cebu was picking up to become the country’s second city.

Most of downtown Cebu City's heritage buildings are of Post-War era. Most of these features those Streamline Moderne and International Style. Of course, this write-up still needs some updating and further research.

Aside from the landmark Spanish colonial era edifices such as Magellan’s Cross, Basilica Minore de Santo Nino, Metropolitan Cathedral, and Fort San Pedro, there are only few buildings from that era. Houses such as the Yap-San Diego, Casa Gorordo, Jesuit House, Cathedral Museum are some of the only ones surviving on to this day.

Yap-San Diego House and a pre-War building at Parian District. Despite it being the oldest established settlement from Spanish colonial times, Cebu seems to have only very few surviving structures from that era, except of course with the churches and landmarks such as the Basilica of Santo Nino and Magellan's Cross.

The block of Gonzales, Jakosalem, Magallanes, and MC Briones Streets seems to have the greatest number of pre-War and post-War buildings. The block is almost a complete complement to the adjacent Plaza Sugbu. Currently, they serve as commercial spaces. One building only has the facade remaining. Gonzales seems to be an extension of “Carbon Area.”

F. Gonzales Street is hidden from the mainstream and tourist eyes. The block hosts one of the largest concentration of surviving heritage structures in downtown Cebu.

The downtown area has a great number of old warehouses, perhaps manifesting the maritime and trading tradition of Cebu since then. Some of these still exists and others were said to have been “adaptively reused.”

A Pre-War warehouse near the docks of Cebu City.

As opposed to Colon, Carbon has numerous numbers of heritage buildings, mostly built after the war. Like Divisoria or Recto of Manila, it is tucked hidden from the mainstream or tourist eyes. However, the locals seem to be oblivious of it -- understood because you go to Carbon to buy things.

Somewhere in Carbon area, not just the market.

Again, this mapping is just “scratching the surface.” In other words, it needs further verification and research. However, this somehow just graphically and spatially represent how much of downtown Cebu City’s heritage buildings remain. It brings more questions and at least hope for appreciation on how to save these buildings from urban grime, blight, and perhaps malimtan sa mga pipila nga mga Sugbuanon kay tungod di na gyud moadto’g Carbon kay samuka nga lugara kunuhay. These are part of the cultural fabric that makes up Cebu -- not just the churches, tourist destinations, and not just the new buildings in the uptown. Maayo kay adunay mga aktibidad nga nasugdan na para sa mga molupyo aron maappreciate ang kaanyag ug kaanindot sa kasaysayan ug kulturang Sugbuanon.

You can access the map by clicking here. Again, this still needs further research.

(Disclaimer: The writer is not an architect or a “heritage conservation professional” per se. He’s more of a heritage advocate, a cultural worker, a history and geography student. He wasn’t born a Sugbuanon, but was raised here for his first three years in his life, worked here for several years, and chose to be a Cebuano as part of his collective identity as a Filipino and a human being.)