Buenos Recuerdos: Old Balanga

Fifteen years ago, I was using a brochure-type map whenever I went to some unknown locations. Today, travelers rely on Waze to give them traffic updates and route suggestions. There is also Google Earth for those who prefer to see how the location is. Take note that Google Earth is updated every five years; the landmarks could be outdated.

Google Earth lets me revisit the past places where I lived or visited. I’m pretty sure that I am not the only person who does this. As I grow older, I have a strong feeling to reconnect to my roots. Whenever I think of my hometown, my recollections were about its past images and landmarks.

Jose Rizal Street

The Balanga that I remember had a creek on that spot. Mang Tinoy’s Lechon stood on a wooden platform above the creek. The lechon stall was later transferred in front of Denbel’s. Lysa’s Snack House was popular for the beer-drinking male customers for their boys’ night out. Live bands performed on its rival pub house “Pista sa Barrio.” To keep up with the competition, Lysa’s had the jukebox for their customers’ music. Farmacia Angelita, one of the oldest pharmacies in Balanga, used to occupy a one-storey building before. I can’t remember what was there before on the Mini-Stop spot. Bank of the Philippine Islands used to be a local restaurant that served the best-tasting banana split and chicken mami. If my memory serves me right, it was called “Magnolia Ice Cream House.” I am not sure if there used to be a bowling alley along this side of the road. What I am sure of is on the opposite side of the road, there used to be a bowling alley on the spot where Vercon’s is erected now. My friend’s parents had a small eatery beside the bowling alley.

We used to see the church’s tower from our house before.
I think that Galleria Victoria is better without the bridge-like connection to the The Plaza hotel.

Galleria Victoria was completed in 2011 but before that, there was no building to block the horizon of the Talisay, San Jose, and Poblacion areas. We used to live nearby and if we wanted to check on the downtown traffic, it was easier because of the open space at the intersection. The Balanga Arcade used to occupy the Gallery Victoria spot. If you are facing the arcade, you could see Michell’s Bakeshop on the left side, Johnpel’s Drughouse in the middle, and a dental clinic on the right side. Michell’s Bakeshop is a Balanga brand and it dominated the Bataan market before Red Ribbon and Goldilocks put up their stores in there.

Forget about the stalls in the picture. I got it from Google Earth. That area is much better now.

The building with a clock on it is the Plaza Hotel Balanga. As far as I know, it was originally a one-storey building that Bataan Community College used to occupy. The school was transferred to Diversion Drive in the mid-80s beside Michrom’s. In 1991, Balanga welcomed its first Jollibee branch on the Bataan Community College spot. Before we had our first Jollibee, Cindy’s (The Place To Be) used to be the only big fast-food restaurant available. I loved eating at the first Jollibee branch because you could see the panoramic view of the landscapes from there.
In the plaza, Jose Rizal’s monument used to face the municipal hall (it’s now a city hall). Today, his monument is facing the Galleria Victoria. His monument has sentimental value to me because one of the workers who helped build the plaza was my great-grandfather. His name was written at the back of its platform. (I hope it’s still there). The intersection arrow on the picture was a busy road in Poblacion before. The northern part of the arrow will lead you to Ibayo, the southern part to Poblacion, the western part to San Jose and Capitol Drive, and the eastern part to Talisay.

That river used to have a lot of water lilies.

This is an ongoing construction of Capitol Square Building when Google Earth captured it. It used to be a Pantranco (?) Bus Terminal in the 80s. I can’t remember exactly if it was Pantranco or Philippine Rabbit because bus stations in Balanga used to move out a lot.

J2

It’s the J2 Food House! The original one was made of native materials like sawali. J2 is famous for its delicious lutong-bahay. My high school classmates used to eat there during our lunch break. Ironically, I have never been to J2 and I’m looking forward to eating there someday.

Kumusta na kaya si Sir Triguero?
Side gate going to the grade school and 1st year HS classrooms (not sure if the HS classrooms are still there)

Tdel (Tomas del Rosario College) used to be the only private high school in Balanga. The main gate used to have little privacy when I was still a student. The walls were 30% lower and were secured by a cyclone fence to discourage trespassers. The tall building on the left was just one-storey before. There was a quadrangle in the middle of the school where we held minor school programs. The quadrangle appeared to be a garden now, I have no idea where they hold their programs now. During my time, we seldom used the main gate. We passed by the side gates where the guard could easily filter students who were not wearing their proper uniform. Male students were allowed to wear denim pants and a white shirt only on Fridays for our CAT (Citizen Army Training) activity. The school has better facilities now like better classrooms with air-conditioning. I don’t know if the golden shower trees are still around as they add character to the school.

VHS days. That was a long time ago.

We were allowed to leave the school premises during lunch break. There was a time when Rhonna and I went to the VHS rental during our recess. The place was a five-minute walk to our classroom, we told the guard that we needed to run an errand. Of course, VHS is a thing of the past now. JT Express occupies this area in the present.

Old Balanga’s simple joys.

Speaking of a public swimming pool, forget about the slides, artificial waves, variety of food and souvenir shops to choose from, and water activity sports. We did not enjoy these bonuses when we were growing up. The nearest (paid) public swimming pool available was in Dona Francisca, the Joyous Resort. What Joyous Resort could only offer was a kiddie pool and a half-Olympic size pool only. The cottage area was close to the fishponds and you would have to climb a few steps to get into the swimming pool area. I found the shower rooms isolated and prone to security issues. Joyous had private cottages, too for those who wanted an overnight stay at the resort. The structure on the photo served as a restaurant in the morning and a disco house in the evening. The last times I’ve been there was when I attended Rowena and Roland’s wedding and when I celebrated my birthday with Meliza and Shellah.

Reminiscing the old days does not necessarily mean that I resent what we have now. I am proud of what our town has become from being a sleepy town to a busy commercial place. We’re moving along with the changing times. But yes, structures do not last a lifetime. Twenty years from now, our children or grandchildren will witness a different image of Balanga. And when that happens, they would probably tell stories of how it was like in Balanga before.

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