Casino Español de Iloilo: Abandoned and Ruined
Long before Smallville in Mandurriao was crowned as Iloilo City’s nightlife center, Ilonggos are already used to nocturnal parties and gala. During the height of the sugar boom, the elite usually converged around Muelle Loney and Fort San Pedro for their business and recreation. At the tail end of Calle Real, near Plaza Libertad, stands General Hughes and its side streets – once the center of the elite’s luxurious living. A remaining testament to the street’s lavish life is the ruins of Casa De España, also called Casino Español.
Located at Sto Rosario at Barangay Duran, the ruins of Casino Español lies quietly – like an old lady overseeing the once busy street she called home. All the grandness and the luxury that the structure had witnessed in its heyday were all gone. But nevertheless, even in its dilapidated state, it still speaks of its beauty and the lost grandeur. How could this be that the former playground of the elite now abandoned and almost destroyed?
Casa De España was erected in 1926 (as etched on its facade) by the Spaniards still living in Iloilo during the American Era. It was a private club whose patrons include foreigners and the Ilonggo rich and famous who frequented the place to party, mingle with the alta de sociedad, transact business with each other and discuss the latest issues (contrary to its name, it’s not used for gambling). Of course, all of this are done in Spanish (the language of the elite, English is for the masa as the Americans made every effort to teach their subjects the mother tongue). Casa De España saw its climax before World War II.
World War II damaged the economy of Iloilo so greatly that the elite cannot anymore maintain their lifestyle and later decided to take their business elsewhere (mostly in Negros). As Iloilo Port gradually lost importance, and the sugar boom halted to a standstill, the area around Fort San Pedro and Calle Real also declined. Casino De Español was abandoned and left to rot in a now empty lot.
As if in an effort to hide an aging old lady from public view, the ruins are now surrounded by a high concrete wall. The skeleton of the building is what’s left – the facade, once imposing, is bare and even deprived of roof. Based on the remains of the structure, automobiles can pass in the portico. Guests arriving will be greeted by an elevated grand entrance supported by neoclassical columns. They will then be ushered into the main hall – a huge high-walled chamber which I believe is the area where all the events are held. The main hall is flanked by rooms at both sides which can also serve as galleries during performances.
What now? Can we still restore the building? In my inexpert eye, I can say yes and no – it might be fragile and brittle. But given today’s technology and modern restoration techniques, I still believe we can strengthen the structure and hopefully make it a tourist attraction once again (aren’t the Greeks rebuilding the Parthenon now? Well if they still have cash though). Why not build a hotel in there and incorporate the existing structure? Unfortunately, rumors say that the owner plans to demolish the ruins and actually build a hotel in there. I wish they will be enlightened on the building’s heritage and its worth in Iloilo history.
So for now, all we can do is wait and pray that somehow somebody will take the initiative to rescue Casino Español (if possible).
Addition: Thanks to my fellow Ilonggo blogger, Berniemack Arellano of Habagat Central, I can share with you how this piece of Ilonggo heritage looked like in the prewar years (photo property of LIFE):
Note: As of now, only Casino Español in Manila (1844) and Cebu (1920) are maintained. Below are pictures from their official websites. Hopefully we can learn from them on how we can revitalize Casino Español de Iloilo.
Casino Español in Manila:
Casino Español in Cebu:Iloilo City