Iriga "Peace-Time" Architecture
"Peace-Time" refers to the years prior to World War II. Iriga, during the same period, with the presence of ALATCO, the country's first organized bus company, which former U.S. Quartermaster veteran Albert Louis Ammen started here in 1914 , and the presence of abaca plantations at the foot of Mt. Iriga, owned by the Basque Miguel Sarrato and Ramon Feced, their paisano Francisco Lamiel; and the Tagalog Manuel Abella; was a relatively progressive municipality. As reported in 1905 by Governor Juan Pimentel of Ambos Camarines, as the then combined provinces of the present Camarines Norte and Sur (ambos, being Spanish word for both) was known: "The condition of the districts of Daet and Lagonoy and the pueblo of Iriga is one of relative comfort for the reason that the principal product is hemp, of which 355,641 piculs were produced in the fiscal year, 5,483 hectares having been planted with this valuable textile plant." In the same report, and perhaps because of this relative progress of the town, Pimentel said an intermediate school was established in Iriga during the same year with 1,231 pupils. Apart from this, P2,652. was allocated for the construction of the .835- miles Iriga-Buhi road, and P2,897.45 for the construction of the bridge in Barangay Santiago which was burned by retreating rebel forces led by a certain Col. Pena. Another P192. was also allocated for the Nabua-Iriga road. In June 12, 1912, the Quarterly Bulletin of the Bureau of Public Works reported the inauguration, which coincided with the town fiesta, of the 150-foot steel span Balos Bridge which was contracted to Atlantic Gulf and Pacific for P3,100.
Indeed, it can be said that Iriga was enjoying a relative economic prosperity at the fin de siecle that it attracted several foreigners in the town. Among them were the Russian Eremes Kookooritchkin, father of actor Ronald Remy, who came in 1925 after the Bolshevik Revolution; the Polish father of the movie actor, Zaldy Zshronack whose mother was a Taduran; the father of Gilda Gales, the so-called Greta Garbo of the Philippines, who was born here, her father being a travelling agent of the Smith Bell Company, which was into abaca trade in the Bicol region at that time; and the American managers of ALATCO like William Leslie Bowler, and the Stanford University law graduate Lot Dean Lockwood who would also later serve as ALATCO president.
Remnants of this prosperity is evidenced by the presence and survival of at least two houses in Iriga which was built in the chalet-style of the period. A 1936 article about a chalet reprinted by Augusto Villalon in his Philippine Daily Inquirer describes the house as "constructed with a combination of different groups of lumber: ipil for posts, tanguili for flooring and walls, apitong for roof framing. The ground wall may be of adobe stones or bricks, the windows of frosted glass, and the roof corrugated galvanized iron sheets. Complete, this may cost P4,900 or thereabouts."
Villalon said that the chalet, a Swiss housing style, integrated tropical architectural practices much like its predecessor, the bahay-na-bato. He noted that while the old terra cotta roofs have been replaced by galvanized sheets, the "chalet roofs remain steep, wide overhangs still protect windows from sun and rain, windows, now made of glass instead of kapis still slide open to allow the entry of air, and to increase ventilation, the ventanilla (opening between floor and window sill)is still used." This made the chalet, he said, the "Filipino Modern" architecture of the day.
One of these houses is located in San Roque along the road leading to Buhi. As the picture here shows, the house seems to have already been abandoned by its owner to the elements. In more prosperous and heritage-conscious countries, houses like this are likely candidates for restoration. The other, is the Dilla residence in San Francisco, which according to the people living there when we took the photo here, was built sometime in the mid-20's.
(Photos by Frank G. Tanay)