Statement of Significance
San Pablo City is the critical transport axis of the Southern Tagalog and the Bicol provinces that conditioned it to become the economic vortex of the Philippine coconut industry during the American colonial period. This townscape significance is the confluence of agricultural economic dominance, the strategic location of the town in the economic route of the region, the historic City Beautiful layout of the town that balanced scenic beauty and progressive economy. The regional impact of the town and its arterial connectivity, emanating from the main Jose Rizal Avenue, resonates until today.
San Pablo City, located south of Manila is major cosmopolitan center in the Province of Laguna. Geographically, it is nestled by three mountains- Mt Malarayat, Mt Cristobal and Mt Banahaw and nourished by seven (7) picturesque lakes. This generous environment, pre-colonially domiciled by the indigenous Aetas, established a rich agricultural tradition for the successive settlements over the centuries.
During the Spanish colonial period, the emerging town called San Pablo de los Montes, was initially evangelized under the Augustinian friars until 1793 when the Franciscan friars took over. Fr Joaquin Martinez de Zuñiga considered the land ’happy and healthful’ which was a favorite place to visit by foreign travelers. The agricultural trade spot of locals served as a crossroad along the main artery travelling south to the progressive Tayabas town in Quezon.
When the American colonial administration opened the Philippine economy to world market, coconut was a major agricultural product for export. Swathes of coconut haciendas were developed by enterprising families who lived in nearby Alaminos and Sariaya towns. American companies established processing plants and refineries. As coastal and riverine towns such as Sariaya and Lucena progressed, interior towns like San Pablo relied on the train and road system for access and mobility of goods and services. San Pablo became a crucial node that connected the Laguna, Quezon and Bicol provinces to the capital Manila.
This connectivity/accessibility significance resonates clearly in the town’s layout and attributes. American town planner Daniel Burnham, who planned Chicago and the Philippine cities of Manila and Baguio (1904-1904), mentioned ‘summer resorts that are accessible and easy to reach to and from Manila’ in his set of town plan principles. He particularized the provinces of Laguna and Bataan as satellites of his plan.
The city’s Jose Rizal Avenue, epitomizes in a relatively small scale, Burnham’s City Beautiful Movement expressed in ‘wide boulevard with a node which serves as an axis to move vehicular traffic in and out of the city, roundabout to facilitate traffic movement, public plaza, fountains, green spaces in the town center, public lighting design, numerous monuments and public arts.’ This historical avenue, its physical layout and semantics, is the definitive tangible evidence of townscape significance. The venue is the contextual stage to the festivals, processions, and revelry as animative and performative intangible expressions of the people. Today, the bustling trade and commerce, vehicular and pedestrian traffic, movement of goods and services transecting all directions and community activities of the city ramify from this avenue. Notwithstanding, the avenue has a visual corridor that leads to the church foregrounding the majestic Mt Banahaw at the back.
The city’s main artery is highlighted by some enduring authentic American period architectural heritages that survived the great fire of 1938. The spine of the avenue is punctuated by 25 original American period lamp posts with the monuments of Apolinario Mabini and national hero Dr. Jose Rizal and the plaza fountain. Spanish colonial earthquake Baroque brick church and convent, initially a wooden structure established in 1630, is the terminus of the main avenue. The whitewashed Beaux Art Fule-Malvar Mansion, the residence of Potenciano Malvar, brother of Philippine-American revolutionary general Miguel Malvar, and Eusebia Fule, accentuates the historically significant street. In front of the church, the former Municipal Town Hall now the City Public Library stands. Towards the east side of the avenue by the Sampaloc lake, the intact Neo Classical designed City Hall proudly commands then governance of the city. Other heritage structures with assumed level of significance speck outside the heritage zone.
Architectural heritage evinced diverse artistic styles and appropriations. The palimpsest of American period artistic leitmotifs brought by the City Beautiful Movement is evident in the menagerie of details and ornamentation of the Fule Malvar mansion. Grand family mansions of Sariaya town likewise display American and European referenced ornamentation. Artistic styles of Beaux Art, Art Nouveau, Neo-Classicism, Art Deco and Art Moderne charmingly blend and lend character to the architectural heritage. This eclectic approach to architecture reflects the glorious and prosperous era brought by the American period coconut economic boom and the frenzy of trade and commerce in San Pablo City at that time.
San Pablo City’s geophysical nature makes tourism an enduring promise. Its proximity to Metropolitan Manila and healthy/bountiful environment underscore the tourism’s gravitational attractiveness to visitors. Its popularity to foreign travelers during the Spanish period and Burnham’s reference as a countryside resort during the American period consistently impress the recreational value of the place. The commanding perspective of the avenue and sweeping vistas of the lakes all contribute to the tourism value of the city.
The San Pablo Heritage Zone, backboned by Jose Rizal Avenue, is regionally significant in terms of connectivity, townscape, economics and tourism.