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Iloilo’s Calle Real: Awakening the Queen City of the South

Submitted by on February 5, 2012 – 2:17 am10 Comments

JM Basa Street Iloilo

“Reina La Ciudad del Sur” or the Queen City of the South is the moniker used to describe the grandeur of Iloilo City in its heyday. In late 19th and early 20th century, the Queen reigned as her people prospered brought by international trade of sugar, textiles, and other crafts and products they exported to the world. This prosperity left on us these beautiful jewels of heritage, once the envy of other cities in our country. A century later, the Queen had slept, her treasures now tarnished with decay and disrepair.

Calle Real corner Guanco at 360 degrees (click to enlarge)

My walk along Calle Real, now called JM Basa Street, once the country’s premiere avenue of entertainment, commerce, and even technology, is one of my unforgettable experiences in writing this blog. In its climax, located along the street were stores selling luxury items, offices of local and foreign firms, consulates, and cinemas. These establishments were housed on structures constructed with magnificent and beautiful art deco designs. These are testaments of the fruits of industry, enriching the city’s culture and arts. Most importantly, they were designed and conceptualized by Ilonggos.

On a Sunday morning, the street is still silent as stores are just starting to open. Jeepneys, transportation that replaced the horse-driven karitelas, were sparse. I walked along the Arsenal Street, adjacent to the main avenue of JM Basa and inspected the 1927 S. Villanueva Building which is under restoration (the first of its kind!). Unlike other so-called “restorations”, the efforts at S. Villanueva is much like an experiment aimed at bringing back to life the original structure. It seems the city is observing whether this model would work in rehabilitating other heritage buildings.

After the collapse of the sugar trade in the city, and the economic slump that followed, the heritage buildings survived because of their practical use. Most were poorly maintained; worse, others were desecrated and violated.

Though with moderate business and economic activity, Calle Real and its adjacent streets are still the center of Iloilo City urban life. As new centers of growth are being developed such as in Mandurriao, the old downtown area must flourish and we Ilonggos have the responsibility for this.

How can we invigorate the old central business district of Iloilo City?

Calle Real Iloilo City

The City Government had already outlined several key priority projects in restoring the old CBD. The redevelopment of the Iloilo City Central Market and the pedestrianization of Calle Real and Aldeguer streets (perspective below), the implementation of conservation and development guidelines, and the supposed public-private partnership in building restorations are the programs that are and will be implemented.

Come to think of it, we are the key in making these projects work and ultimately succeed in restoring the old downtown. It was money from foreign and local trade that built the city; it will also be the same this time, but in a more meaningful way. It was sugar, and it will and must be something else this time. Iloilo must be entrepreneurial once again, a city selling to the world and not being just another consumer. A metro that is the center of business, industry and commerce not only in Western Visayas, but in international trade.

Reawaken the people energy that built this city, and each one of us can contribute. By creating jobs for one another, by offering something the world can only see here in Iloilo City. Even if we built the tallest skyscraper in the downtown, without the people working and dreaming, it would only be an expensive decor.

What’s the difference between Singapore’s Orchard Road or Tokyo’s Ginza Line and today’s Iloilo’s Calle Real? The former had progressed into a tourist destination offering a unique experience, offering world-class shops and services. Whereas our own avenue had lost them.

Let’s explore the possibilities of making our Calle Real, a once-again must-see tourist and business destination not only in the Philippines, but in the whole of Southeast Asia.

For the mean time, let me take you on a tour of Calle Real’s prized heritage buildings:

Villanueva Building JM Basa

Another Villanueva Building at JM Basa (now occupied by RCBC)

Celso Ledesma

One of the unique structures in the street with its use if carnival like designs

Pilar Building

The Pilar Building - now separately colored according to preference of the owners

Dominican Sisters

The Dominican Sisters Building

Iloilo Lucky Auto Supply

The Iloilo Lucky Auto Supply Building - one with the finest facade in the avenue (below)

1951 Javellena Building

Another Javellana Building (1950-1951) - this time with practical design

1927 S. Villanueva

Another 1927 S. Villanueva!

Villanueva Buildiung

One of Iloilo City's icons - the Villanueva Building at Calle Real Corner Aldeguer Street

Villanueva Building


Hoskyn's - the first real department store in the Philippines (1877) Established after the death of Nicolas Loney which led to the dissolution of Loney & Co. Loney's partners - the Hoskyn Brothers founded Hoksyn & Co which sold everything from threads to ship anchors.


Javellana Building

The Javellana Building at Calle Real

1922 Javellana Iloilo City

Beautiful facade of 1922 Javellana Building

Iloilo Central Trading

The Iloilo Central Trading - as if a New York Down Town building washed up ashore here in Iloilo City

Regent Arcade

Regent Arcade, formerly Palace Theater, the former premiere and oldest cinema in downtown area. This was the biggest theater in Iloilo before the 1960s. (Imagine if this facility today can offer a world-class cinematic experience)

Eagle Building

The Renovated Eagle Building (formerly the site of Cine Eagle)

Eagle Building

The iconic giant Eagle statue of Eagle Building

Regent Arcade Iloilo

Neoclassical Columns at Regent Arcade

Arroyo Building

The Arroyo Building

1936 S. Villanueva

One of S. Villanueva Buildings in the City (built in 1936)

1962 Javelosa

1962 Javelosa Building at Calle Real corner Guanco Street

Ker & Co.

Ker & Co. one of the oldest British trading companies in the Philippines

Elizabeth & Co Building

The Spanish Style Elizabeth & Co Building at the Iloilo City Hall Complex - a good example of Antillan. Restored in the 1980s. 30 years after, it needs another restoration again.

 Editor’s Note:

Iloilo I LOVE! celebrates 122 years of Iloilo City’s foundation. We’re highlighting the old and the new icons of this growing metropolis and celebrating the history, heritage and its future.

Come and join us in commemorating Iloilo City: 122 @ 2012. 

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  • Alfred Adrian Chavez says:

    Leafing through the pages of this humble site empowers me. It gives me a deeper sense of pride. Indeed, Iloilo has so much to be proud of! Pretty soon, the awakening of the ORIGINAL, the TRUE and ONE QUEEN CITY of the SOUTH will be unleashed! I adore the maker of this site. hat’s off!

    • Mark Segador says:

      Thanks Alfred! Readers of my blog would definitely remember my line: The best is yet to come for Iloilo. Iloilo may have lagged in the previous decades, but definitely we’re roaring back because the QUEEN is once again rising. Iloilo City: THE QUEEN CITY OF THE SOUTH must once again regain her place in our country as the most progressive and a true cosmopolitan city of the world.

  • Alfred Adrian Pestano Chavez says:

    I strongly agree. We have great leaders now. Iloilo City is definitely on track. I hope and pray our fellow Ilonggos will never cease to support the city government’s program. I am happy to have met an Ilonggo as brilliant as you. Keep up your great work… I am indeed a loyal reader of your blog…

    • Mark Segador says:

      thank you Alfred for continually supporting my blog!
      yes, this is a good opportunity for Iloilo City because we have a good, honest and ambitious leader. Mayor Jed had definitely brought Iloilo City to new heights. we must all share the common dream of seeing Iloilo City retake its rightful title as QUEEN CITY OF THE SOUTH. we must support our government and we must also contribute in their efforts.

  • Alfred Adrian P. Chavez says:

    Thanks as well for the countless efforts you have had in promoting the QUEEN CITY OF THE SOUTH!!!

  • lady museum says:


  • Vic says:

    Better not to be called Center of Poverty.

  • bakunawa says:

    Since the old heritage buildings are being restored right now, I hope the City Government will consider renaming the ILOILO CITY PROPER into QUEEN CITY DISTRICT so that both LOCAL & FOREIGN TOURISTs when they go to Iloilo they will know the story behind as to why Iloilo is the GENUINE QUEEN CITY, not only legally declared but the testament to this claim are the heritage buildings that are almost century old…. Its also nice that when you write the address of… for example FREEDOM GRANDSTAND, the address will be written like this:

    Freedom Grandstand, JM Basa St., QUEEN CITY DISTRICT, Iloilo City, 5000

    Atleast when ILOILO CITY PROPER will be renamed into QUEEN CITY DISTRICT everybody will recognize Iloilo as the GENUINE QUEEN CITY.

  • bakunawa says:

    Kung gadali si Mayor Mabilog nga marecognize ang Iloilo City nga Genuine “QUEEN CITY”, simple lang na; his administration should make an effort to RENAME the ILOILO CITY PROPER into QUEEN CITY DISTRICT. In this way, every LETTER or MAIL that will come “TO” or “FROM” the CITY PROPER will bear the address QUEEN CITY DISTRICT to indicate the specific district of Iloilo; just like JARO, ILOILO CITY, the district here is Jaro.

    EXAMPLE the return address instead of:
    Serafin Villanueva Building,JM Basa St., Iloilo City, 5000

    it should be:

    Serafin Villanueva Building,JM Basa St., QUEEN CITY DISTRICT, Iloilo City, 5000

    This is one way to tell the Philippines & the whole world that Iloilo is the LEGITIMATE QUEEN CITY & the testament to that is we have lots of OLD HERITAGE BUILDINGS that witnessed the time when Iloilo was given with the MONIKER “QUEEN CITY OF THE SOUTH”. These heritage buildings have lots of story to tell with respect to Iloilo’s rich history.

    Once ILOILO CITY PROPER is renamed into QUEEN CITY DISTRICT, its easy for us to capitalize the STORY of the EVOLUTION of the “QUEEN CITY OF THE SOUTH” title & make it as TOURIST ATTRACTION.

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