Just like any up and coming city, Naga has been bustling with economic activity lately. Shops and restaurants are popping out from all over, malls are expanding operations and traffic, slightly increasing travel time. But unknown to many visitors is the city’s extraordinarily rich history, evidence of this are the presence of several colonial era buildings still visible along its major thoroughfares.
One historic building that merits attention is the Camarines Sur National High School. The first secondary public school in the province. It is also one of the largest, in terms of structural dimension and student population, among the surviving “Gabaldón Schoolhouse” in the country. These early 1900’s school buildings are the lasting legacy of the Nueva Ecijañon Assemblyman, Isauro Gabaldón, who sponsored the act in 1907. The politician who sported a handlebar mustached like Plaridel, resigned from his commissioner’post in the US to challenge the renaissance man Epifanio de los Santos in the run for the representation of Nueva Ecija. He won the seat and pushed for the funding of public schools that now carries his name.
Gabaldón grew up in Spain but studied law in the UST. He was known for his staunch advocacy for complete Philippine independence during the American regime. It is interesting to note that the Gabaldón Act was the first bill to be passed by the Philippine Assembly on 1907 at the Grand Opera House in Manila.
The Gabaldón Act created close to two thousand schools in the country. Gemma Cruz-Araneta commenting on its style and purpose, “In the Gabaldón-style school, there was architectural harmony between the main building and other accessory structures. As it turned out, an elegantly-designed school instilled in both teachers and students a certain pride and an appreciation for the finer things in life.”
While the building carried the name of Assemblyman Gabaldón, it was actually an American Architect that made the key blueprints. William “Willie” Parsons, a Yale and French École des Beaux-Arts Arts graduate from the Bureau of Public Works. He was a Daniel Burnham protégé who literally took the baton from the famed Chicagoan architect. Quoting the architecture historian, Thomas Hines, Parson “designed buildings of warmth, efficiency and engaging simplicity. Parsons’ buildings had plain, broad surfaces of solid pastel colours and were usually topped by handsome tile roof.”
Like Burnham, Parson employed key elements from the Spanish era designs, like the use of ’tisa’ for roofing (although afterwards galvanized sheet, popularly called GI sheets, was used for its cheapness). Rather than breaking away from the Philippine Spanish tradition, the two architect accomplished a “creative transition well rooted in the Spanish heritage… drawing on American public models and expressing the grand conceptions and practical spirit of the new imperial regime.” Parson’s predecessor, Daniel Burnham was equally known for his enthusiasm for the existing Spanish architecture of Manila. Christina Gotuaco of the University of Southern California notes that Burnham “was receptive to the architectural style that already existed in Manila, which was left in place by the Spanish. He noted the beauty of the Spanish churches and municipal buildings in the city and used them as the basis for the buildings he later developed.”
A Tayabas provincial politician that studied in a Gabaldón schoolhouse describes it as having “huge windows… sashed and made of latticed capiz-tagkawayan. Its façade had those Romanesque Doric-like pillars seen only in pictures like the Parthenon.” Architect Augusto Villalon, a leading heritage conservation advocate, provides us with these details, “classrooms were specified to follow minimum dimensions. To provide the best possible natural ventilation, folding doors opened parallel sides of the room to the wide, covered breezeway facing the front and rear of the building that connected the rooms to each other. The high ceilings allowed the humid tropical air to circulate within…”
The Camarines Sur National High School started operations in 1902, later it was transferred to a bigger building at Calle San Francisco then in 1915, to where it now stands. Camarines Sur National High School was used by the Japanese as garrison and was condemned in 1949 because of its decrepit condition. Restoration works has been extensive to bring it to what it is now. I was unable to verify what portions and how much of the building were ‘reconstructions’. Just like in when it started, the school still has the highest student population in the entire province.
Last year, the school received the ASEAN Eco-Friendly School Award. As of the last count, there are five more existing Gabaldón in Camarines Sur.