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History of Baguio and Its Famous Heritage Tourism Destinations

On the present site of Baguio City was an Ibaloy village called Kafagway. At the end of the 19th century, Spanish explorers accompanied by Augustinian friars from Ilocos, went up the Naguilian trail and found a fertile valley. The Spaniards named the valley La Trinidad, after the Holy Trinity, and built a chapel in which an image of Nuestra Señora de Covadonga was enshrined. La Trinidad was the first colonial settlement in the Cordilleras. Eventually, the parish of San Jose was built, but the friars had little success in converting the local population. It was only later, when Ilocano migrants from the lowlands migrated to the valley in search of livelihood, that Catholicism took its root in La Trinidad.

Kennon Road to Baguio, popularly known as the Zigzag
Kennon Road to Baguio, popularly known as the Zigzag, circa 1915 (John Tewell Collection)

Kafagway’s transformation to Baguio, which is said to come from the Ibaloy word “bagiw” which means moss, would come later, after the Philippine-American War (1899-1901).

Kafagway was chosen by the Americans as a colonial hill station and a health resort, following recommendations by the Spanish Benguet Commission, and verified through an exploratory trip in 1900 by Dean C. Worcester and Gen Luke E. Wright. Worcester and Wright were sent to confirm reports about the highlands in Luzon where the air was cool, pine trees grew, and fog regularly covered the landscape. Coming upon Baguio, set at 1,504 meters in altitude, the Americans decided to develop it as a hill station, similar to the British hill stations in India, like Simla. They planned a sanatorium and summer retreat for American colonials. In 1903, the Philippine Commission designated Baguio as the “Summer Capital” of the Philippines.

From about 20 indigenous houses at the turn of the century, the community grew the following years after the Americans started to build public structures. Infrastructure projects were also initiated starting with the construction of the Benguet Road on the Bued River Canyon. The road deviated from the proposed Spanish wagon road in the Naguilian Trail which, over time, had been widened and improved. It linked Baguio and Bauang, La Union, through the town of Naguilian.

Kennon Road 

To build Benguet Road, rocks were blasted with dynamite and the debris cleared manually by workers of different nationalities—Filipinos, Americans, Japanese, Chinese, among others. Built from 1901 to 1905, the road links Rosario, La Union, and Baguio City. It was later renamed Kennon Road after Colonel Lyman Kennon, a United States (US) Army engineer who supervised the construction of the road from 1903 to 1905. The renaming of Kennon Road recognized the achievement of Colonel Kennon, who had solved the problem of how to expedite the construction of the road so that by 1905 the road could be opened to traffic. Kennon’s solution was to build a trail, wide enough to be used by horses to haul supplies to seven camps, and from the camps, teams of workers would work simultaneously in cutting through the mountains, widening the road so that supply vehicles could pass through. The original road was a Macadam Telford-type, later improved as an all-weather asphalt road and much later replaced in some sections with concrete.

The Burnham Plan 

The Americans officially founded Baguio City on September 1909. Daniel Burnham, urban planner and architect, designed the city. He went to Baguio on December 1904. On his voyage back to the United States, Burnham drew his plans for Baguio and Manila, sending to the Philippines what is popularly known as “the Burnham plan for the improvement of the city of Manila,” and “the Burnham plan for the improvement of Baguio.” Burnham proposed adapting the standard grid to the terrain while respecting the scenic aspects of Baguio. Burnham left the articulation of the details of his proposal to the Bureau of Public Works architects and engineers. He recommended William E. Parsons, a graduate of the École des Beaux Arts, as the implementing architect. The Philippine Commission Act No. 1495, 26 May 1906, appointed Parsons as consulting architect of the government.

During the Marcos era, Baguio City became accessible from Manila through the 42–kilometer Marcos Highway (renamed Aspiras-Palispis Highway in 2000) from Agoo, La Union. Halsema Highway also later linked Baguio to Bontoc and Sagada in Mountain Province. In 2008, a new road was inaugurated linking the city to the province of Nueva Vizcaya. Land travel to Baguio from Manila usually took six to seven hours, but with the completion of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), travel time is now considerably faster.

The city is also accessible by air through the Loakan Airport. Built in 1934 and measuring 4.3 kilometers, the still-operational airport is seldom used by commercial airlines because of its short airstrip and other security concerns. However, private and military aircrafts still use the airport at present.

Before the construction of Kennon Road, Baguio was only accessible from Manila through a 24-hour sea trip to San Fernando, La Union, and about two to three days horseback travel via Naguilian on a trail built by the Spaniards in 1892. When the road was opened in 1905, it had a total of 60 wooden bridges. These bridges were all replaced with steel arches by prewar Baguio Mayor Eusebius J. Halsema, who was also then the district engineer of the Bureau of Public Works. The project was part of his overall plan to improve Benguet Road.

Prewar Pines Hotel in Baguio City
Prewar Pines Hotel (Leo Cloma Collection)

With the plan of making Baguio the summer capital, specific areas for government and municipal centers were identified in the 1905 Burnham plan. The government center complex was composed of nine buildings, all completed in 1909 and built mostly of wood. This complex included athletic fields, a mess hall, and a social hall at Luneta Hill, which was the former site of the Pines Hotel (now SM Baguio), tennis courts (now Baguio Convention Center), playground (now Department of Social Welfare and Development compound), and dormitories. One of these dormitories was converted into Casa Vallejo in 1923, and later became a 33-room hotel. The building, the oldest surviving structure in the whole of Baguio, became idle for years but was restored and renovated in 2010 to again become a hotel with a restaurant, bookstore, mini-theater, and a spa.

Around 80 cottages were also built in the government complex from 1909 to 1911. Bureaus of the American government of the Philippines started to transfer to the city in 1910, with officials and employees staying in dormitories and government owned cottages during the so-called “Baguio Season.” However, this practice was terminated by Governor-General Francis Harrison in 1913, following opposition from Filipino legislators who argued it was just a luxury. Public buildings and cottages were left vacant because of this, but were eventually re-used as venues for public gatherings and other activities. Most of these buildings were destroyed during World War II.

Victory Liner Bus Station

One of the earliest buildings in the city was the site of the Philippine Commission’s first session in Baguio from 22 April to 11 June 1904, where Baguio was declared the nation’s summer capital. Located on a road at the foot of Luneta Hill (now Governor Pack Road), only the historical marker placed by the Philippines Historical Committee, now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), in 1940 survives to this day. The surrounding area at present is a bus terminal.

Baguio’s main bus station pre-World War II is presently occupied by the Victory Liner bus station along Upper Session Road. The site used to be the terminal of the Benguet Auto Line (BAL), a government-owned transportation company linked with the Philippine National Railway (PNR), where passengers rode buses and limousines going to and from the Damortis rail station in Rosario, La Union for their trip to Manila and back. The government had an ambitious plan of lengthening the railroad tracks that linked Manila and Dagupan, originally laid out during the Spanish era to reach San Fernando, La Union and a spur going through Naguilian to Baguio City. World War II prevented the building of the Naguilian to Baguio spur. The tracks ended at Damortis.

Baguio Sanatorium

Also located on Governor Pack Road was the former Baguio Sanatorium, which dates back to 1902, near the site of the University of the Cordilleras and Commission on Elections. The Sanatorium opened on what is known today as Luneta Hill under its first director Dr. H. Eugene Stafford. It became the Hotel Pines, the first tourist hotel in Baguio, when Baguio Hospital was opened in 1908 at the upper end of the Benguet Road, located south of the present Baguio General Hospital building.

Baguio Hospital’s construction began in 1907 and continued with the construction of a nurses’ home. At the top of the ridge adjacent to the Baguio Hospital were cottages used by recovering tuberculosis patients. A 1910 photograph of the Baguio Hospital shows it as a modest structure of two stories with a pitched roof and a one-story wing on either side. By 1910, the hospital had been expanded. In 1915, administration was given to Dr. Silverio Garcia, the first in a long line of Filipino administrators. In 1930, President Manuel Quezon promised to rebuild the hospital on a bigger scale. But the project did not begin until 1937, when the hospital was renamed Baguio General Hospital (BGH). Inaugurated on 22 February 1941, the building is now the main building of the Baguio General Hospital. This was a two-story structure which followed a modified H-plan with four wings. This building was in a severe neoclassical style with an arched porte cochere at the main entrance.

In April 1945, the hospital was closed due to severe bombing. The main building was severely damaged but was reconstructed in 1948. On 16 July 1990, a severe earthquake hit Baguio causing the destruction of several buildings. Fourteen others, including the main building, needed repair. Repaired, reconstructed, and painted with the green and white color scheme of the American era, the BGH main building continues to serve its function.

Mansion House or The Mansion

Prewar Mansion House in Baguio City
Prewar Mansion House (Edward Delos Santos/Pinoy Kollektor)

Located on Romulo Drive, part of the Baguio-Tuding Road, Mansion House or The Mansion (also called Executive House ) was the official summer residence in Baguio of the American governor-generals, and later, Philippine presidents. It was constructed from 1907 to 1908. With an initial appropriated budget of $15,000, government architect William E. Parsons was asked to design the house. More than a hundred prisoners from the Bilibid penitentiary, whose sentences were commuted, worked on its paths, terraces, and paddocks. The garden was supervised by a professional nursery man from Scotland and Japanese gardeners. In 1935, the residence was expanded, probably to coincide with its turn over to the Philippine Commonwealth, established in July that year. The house became the summer residence of the Philippine President, Manuel Quezon.

Prewar cottages in Camp John Hay in Baguio City
Prewar cottages in Camp John Hay (Leo Cloma Collection)

A new summer house for the highest American official, the High Commissioner, was built in Camp John Hay. Completed in 1940, it was built under Paul V. McNutt but with Philippine independence, the residence was turned over to the American ambassador as a summer residence.

Badly damaged during World War II and rehabilitated from 1946 to 1947, Mansion House continues to function as the summer residence of Philippine presidents. After the war, it became the venue for historic international conferences such as the United Nations Economic Commission of Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) in 1947, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1948, and the first meeting of the Southeast Asian Union (SEAU), known as The Baguio Conference in 1950.

Parsons designed the Mansion House in a grand neoclassical style, following the tenet of Beaux-Arts. Subsequent expansions in 1935 respected this style so there is a seamless transition between the central section designed by Parsons and the additions. As it stands today, with the additions from 1935, Mansion house follows an H-plan, with the central two-story wing flanked on either side by perpendicular one story wings. The central wing has an arcade of seven arches, the central one has a semicircular pediment, set on a balustraded balcony that runs the length of the main building. The seal of the Republic of the Philippines is on this pediment. The second floor as well as the flanking wings have quadrilateral windows.

Adding to the grandeur of the Mansion, and this shows its Beaux Arts sensibilities, is the garden setting of the house. It is deeply recessed from the road and approached through the main gate by a short straight road that runs north west and connects to a large rotunda or round about. From this rotunda, two roads veer eastward and westward to auxiliary buildings discretely hidden by trees and foliage. The main entrance to the Mansion is at the southeast end of the rotunda. Visitors do not generally get inside the house, so the Mansion is seen through the elaborate grille work of the triple gated main entrance, which frames the building.

Wright Park

Across from Mansion House is a garden called Wright Park. This park has a long but shallow reflecting pool. The park is separated physically from the Mansion by Romulo Drive, but aesthetically it forms one composition with the Mansion, whose silhouette is reflected on the surface of the pool. Either side of the pool is flanked by Benguet pines (Pinus kesiya; older name Pinus insularis) and formally planted gardens. There is a stone amphitheater in Wright Park, at the end of Lake Drive. Since this garden, like the Mansion, is located on high ground, a flight of stairs at the southwestern end leads to the lower area and to Leonard Wood Road.

Houses in Teachers Camp in Baguio City
Houses in Teachers Camp (CCP Collections)

Baguio Teachers Camp

Sandwiched between South Drive and Leonard Wood Road is the Baguio Teachers Camp. Previously called by the locals as “O-ring-ao,” Teachers Camp was founded in 1908 under the administration of Benguet Governor William F. Pack and Education Secretary Morgan W. Shuster as a vacation or retreat place of teachers. It was operated by the Bureau of Education, and later became the venue of yearly summer camps. In April 1908, the assembly of American school teachers in the Philippines was held there using only tents complete with beds, tables, chairs, and wash stands. One of the first structures to rise in this camp was a mess hall which was already functional in 1912. By 1928, there were already 34 permanent structures inside the camp.

The Good Shepherd Convent

Not far from Teachers Camp is a place called Topside, a gift of the city of Baguio to Governor-General William Cameron Forbes for his efforts in developing the city. His residence at Topside was constructed and finished in 1908. It became Forbes’ headquarters during World War II but was damaged during liberation. The ruins of this edifice is now the house of prayer of the Good Shepherd Convent.

Baguio Country Club

The Americans established a country club in the city in 1905. Founded by Governor-General Forbes, its grass-thatched, wooden slab clubhouse was inaugurated in 1906. By the time it opened, the country club had a three-hole golf course and croquet course. A permanent clubhouse was completed in 1908, together with the construction of cottages. The Baguio Country Club was the center of the city’s American residents but opened its doors to Filipino members in 1910. It became the Japanese Officers’ Club from 1942 to 1944, and the headquarters of the 33rd Division United States Armed Forces in 1945.

Baguio Country Club once shared an 18-hole golf course with its neighbor, Camp John Hay, a US military reservation of about 216 hectares. This camp traces its roots to 1903, when US President Theodore Roosevelt signed General Order No. 48 creating it as an army post in Baguio. The camp had an officers’s mess and barracks for enlisted men. The summer residence for the commanding general was constructed in 1907, overlooking an open-air auditorium called Bell Amphitheater which was built in 1913. It remained under the hands of the Americans for decades, but the property was turned over to the Philippine government in 1991. The camp was privatized and placed under the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).

Camp John Hay

Some of the former buildings, like the barracks for enlisted men, were restored and reused as long-term rent-out residences. Others were torn down to make way for new development. Camp John Hay is presently one of Baguio’s tourist destinations with hotels, restaurants, shops, and convention center. It has also developed as a place for those engaged in e-business, call centers, and back of house operations that serve an international market.

Teachers Camp, the Baguio Country Club, and Camp John Hay all used the stick-style of architecture, a term used for a 19th-century architectural style that emerged in the US. It is characterized by the use of strips of wood overlayed on the outside wall to mimic an exposed half-timbered frame. Sometimes the strips crossed diagonally and looked like Tudor dwellings. This style was used in Pines Hotel, but the rectangular overlay was far more common.

The typical Camp John Hay dwelling was almost entirely made of wood, from the posts to the roof structure. The whole house used a post and lintel framework, with wooden posts anchored to a cement base. To secure the connection between cement and wood, iron braces embedded in cement supported the lower part of the post and bolts joined the post with the braces. The house was covered by corrugated galvanized iron sheets covering a hip or pitched roof with wide overhangs. It was raised above the damp and cold earth by about a meter. The walls were of tongue and groove planks, usually laid out horizontally. The windows used glass in a wooden frame, and the floor was wood.

To protect the interior from dampness, asphalt paper was sandwiched between the outside wall and the wall within. The area for the kitchen and toilet, where there were faucets and sinks, were either covered with tiles or with flat galvanized iron sheets. The walls were painted white. The roof, windows, and door frames were painted a dark green. These stick house style dwellings in Baguio blended well with the environment; the green paint is reminiscent of Baguio’s pine trees, and the white paint, of the fog that blankets Baguio when the temperature drops.

Burnham Park

Baguio was both the seat of national and municipal or local power. The southern sector of Baguio, beginning at Luneta Hill and its environs and leading all the way to Mansion House, was set aside for the national government. Baguio’s seat of municipal power was located facing Burnham Park.

The centerpiece of the Burnham Plan of Baguio is the 16-hectare park eventually named in Burnham’s honor. Once the site of an Ibaloy village, Burnham designated the low-lying area as an open public space. He chose it for its scenic potential, hemmed as it was by hills. Built from 1904 to the 1910s, the park’s construction employed many workers using manual tools and manually operated tram cars to move the soil. The water used for its man-made lagoon (later Burnham Lake) was tapped from the Minak creek. It used to have two small ponds at each end, and a race track with a 50-feet-wide race course. Inaugurated in 1914, the race track was removed by Mayor Halsema in the 1920s. In its place, Halsema had built a fountain in the middle of the lagoon and a nine-hole public golf course. At present, it has an Igorot Park, picnic areas, skating rink, rose garden, an athletic bowl, and a grandstand named after the founder of the Lions Club, Melvin Jones. It became a refuge for victims of the powerful Luzon earthquake of 1990.

Baguio City Hall

Baguio City Hall, circa 1925
Baguio City Hall, circa 1925 (Ben Cabrera Collection)

Built on a hill to the northwest of Burnham Park, the first Baguio City Hall was constructed beginning in 1909 and completed in 1910, during the term of the city’s first mayor, E. W. Reynold. Its construction coincided with Baguio’s elevation as a chartered city in 1909. This first building was set on a terraced hill divided into three levels and approached by cement steps with landings at each level. This same configuration still exists today.

For the 1909 building, the stick-style of architecture was chosen but the thin wood planks were laid out following the lines of Tudor timber architecture. The city hall might then be described as Tudor-style. The choice of the stick-style was an aesthetic and clever way to disguise the materials used, which was wood and galvanized iron sheet. Wood was used for support and framing, galvanized iron for the roof and external walls. These were held in place by wood planks. In true Tudor-style, the iron sheets and the planks were painted a contrasting color. The planks were of a dark shade, most likely black or dark brown while the sheets were white. This first building was two stories high, with a pitched roof with wide overhangs bordered by rain gutters and downspouts at the corner designed to look like thin supports of the roof. Chimneys for fire places pierced the galvanized iron roof at either end of the longitudinal building. The building had eleven bays defined by the external timbering. The three central bays projected outward and were capped by a triangular pediment. In front of this central section was a balcony. The windows of the building were quadrilateral and the lower windows of the flanking bays as well as the windows at the second floor of the central section had media aguas (awnings). A covered corridor connected city hall to an auxiliary one-story building also in the same style.

In 1941, the Japanese flag was hoisted at the city hall signaling Japanese occupation of the city. The building was destroyed in 1945. It was reconstructed in concrete from 1949 to 1950, when it was inaugurated by then-President Elpidio Quirino.

The post-World War II building was no longer in Tudor-style but followed the neoclassical. Like the previous building, it was divided into bays, thirteen this time as opposed to eleven, with the central three projected outwards. The two story building had quadrilateral windows and openings. The central section was built as a simplified version of the Grecian temple style, but its four pillars had no capitals. The pillars run the height of two stories, capped by a triangular pediment with dentiles. The central section was a formal entrance to the city hall, its vestibule, which led to the triple doors of the city hall. For a period of two years, from 1997 to 1999, the structure was restored. The white and green color scheme characteristic of Baguio has been restored. Its dark green roof was pierced by dormer windows and white is the dominant color of the walls.

Baguio Central School

Answering the need to educate the children of the Americans stationed in Baguio, as well as that of the locals, educational institutions were founded in the city, starting with the Baguio School (later Baguio Central School ) in 1899. Starting with 25 students, at a different site, it was moved to the Government Center in 1914. It was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt in 1949 from war reparations fund. The school building was restored in 2005 by the Department of Education and the Heritage Conservation Society. It echoes the design of Baguio City Hall with its Grecian temple facade at the center, also consisting of three bays, but it has two flanking bays on either side, three less than those at city hall. The lower windows are arched, and only the windows on the second floor are quadrilateral. The pediment is not embellished. The Baguio Central School followed the plans of American-era school buildings, where high schools, especially in urban areas and those designated as central, were designed in greater grandeur than the more common Gabaldon-style school.

Baguio School was followed by the Easter School (later Easter College, Inc.) in 1906. Easter School started off with eight students from Bontoc, Mountain Province trained by Reverend Walter P. Clapp. With the donation from Anglican Bishop Charles Henry Brent, a schoolhouse which also functioned as a dormitory, was constructed. This building was meant for the Igorot schoolchildren. Bishop Brent originally thought of building another structure for American boys but did not push through with it since he was not inclined to mixing races. Among the first structures erected at Easter School were the mission residence, church, weaving room, girls’s dormitory, and a print shop. These buildings were already existing by the 1920s.

In 1909, Bishop Brent founded the Baguio School for boys, which was later renamed after him in 1923. It served the educational needs of the children of the Anglican missionaries, soldiers, English merchants, and children of the Americans. The school became coeducational in 1925, with the opening of the girls’s dormitory. During World War II, school employees and students transferred to the Scout’s Barracks in Camp John Hay, then to Camp Holmes. Two years after the war, the school started to accept Filipino students. It branched out of Baguio in 1984.

One of the buildings in the Brent School is considered as one of the oldest surviving structures in Baguio. The building was constructed in 1909, the year the school was founded. The building, which would later be called Ogilby Hall, still has its original, complete stone-based framework. Brent School followed the same style found in Camp John Hay and Teachers Camp. This stick-style painted green and white became a Baguio signature style, which was used in projects of private individuals.

Today, Baguio City is the educational center of the north with a number of colleges and universities located there. Among these are Saint Louis University, University of the Cordilleras, University of the Philippines-Baguio, University of Baguio, Pines City Colleges, and the Philippine Military Academy, the premier military school of the country.

Baguio Market

American-period Baguio Market
American-period Baguio Market (Leo Cloma Collection)

Aside from being the educational center, Baguio is also the commercial center of the Cordilleras. This started off with the establishment of the Baguio Market in the 1900s. The first two buildings of the market, located at the juncture of the present-day Session Road and Magsaysay Avenue, were built of wood in 1908. Traders from the lowland used to travel to Baguio on bull carts to trade in weekend markets. It usually took them two to three days to travel up the city via Kennon or Naguilian Road.

A stone market was then constructed in 1917 by World War I German prisoners-of-war. The market was characterized by its generous use of stones quarried from a site behind the Baguio City Hall. This quarry yielded limestone of various hews: white, cream, beige, reddish, beige or speckled and veined with colors like black and dark brown. The stones were taken from the site, which is now remembered as Quarry or City Camp. The market was a simple box structure, with wide but low semicircular arches for portals. The stone framework survived World War II and a 1970 fire, but it was demolished in the 1970s to the dismay of vendors and civil groups who were pushing for its restoration. The Maharlika Livelihood Complex now stands in its place.

Session Road

Session Road, Baguio’s most famous street, started as a narrow lane with shops and structures lining one side. The road was widened from the 1930s, following the gold mining boom of 1933. Concrete buildings were also constructed during this time. Some of the earliest businesses to open along Session Road were photo shops, silversmiths, bakery, and stores owned by Japanese and Chinese businessmen. The Japanese store known as the Japanese Bazaar had a pharmacy, photo studio, and a vehicle for rent service. It was on Session Road that the first pedestrian overpass in Baguio was built. Built of wood in 1939 by the city’s first Filipino Mayor Sergio Bayan, it crossed from Casa Vallejo to the Post Office. First built in 1918, the Baguio Post Office, once had a public library on its second floor.

Session Road is home to a number of theaters which are now either gone, or have fallen into disuse. The Alhamar Chainus Theater built in memory of Chainus Guirey, the 1915 Carnival Queen, is gone. It has been replaced by a center selling pre-owned garments. The Plaza and Pines Theater are no longer operational today. Pines Theater is in the art deco style, as were a number of demolished buildings along Session Road. The theater was in the Streamline Moderne idiom, distinguishable by the curving line of the facade. Even the signage of Pines is in the art deco style. While no longer a functioning theater, its interior has been repurposed for offices, shops, and restaurants.

The powerful July 1990 earthquake destroyed a number of establishments along Session Road and the roads connecting to it. Destroyed were the Nevada and FRB Hotels, Skyworld Condominium, and Amapola Restaurant. The nearby Park Hotel on Harrison Road also fell to the ground. The Hyatt Terraces Hotel on South Road also crumbled, killing a number of people.

Baguio is also a religious center. This was deliberately planned by the American colonial government. To encourage residents and relocators to Baguio, the government set out on an active campaign to lure church groups to Baguio. In May 1905, a public auction of government lands where church groups, schools, and businesses were invited was held. From this auction church groups acquired large tracks of lands.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Atonement

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Atonement Baguio City
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Atonement (Nicanor G. Tiongson Collection)

One of the most photographed landmarks in Baguio is the neo-Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Atonement. The parish started in 1907, when the first three Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae (CICM) missionaries or Belgian Fathers arrived in Baguio. The first site of the CICM Mission was the house of a retired treasurer on Session Road. They dedicated this converted house to Saint Patrick, with Father Serafin Devesse as the first rector. Father Devesse remodeled the house into a chapel and convent in 1908. Father Devesse started a school for boys there, which would be the forerunner of Saint Louis University.

As the congregation grew, the need for a larger church became apparent. Construction of the larger church at the nearby hill, called Kampo by the Ibaloy, was completed in 1924 but without the spire-capped towers, which were added the following years. Baguio became the seat of the apostolic prefecture of the Mountain Province in 1932, then elevated to Apostolic Vicariate in 1946. In 1992, the apostolic vicariates of Bontoc-Lagawe and Tabuk were separated from Baguio. Baguio became a diocese in 2004, under Vigan, which is its metropolitan. The parish church came to be known as a cathedral when it had its resident bishop in 1935, three years after being designated an apostolic prefecture.

The cathedral survived the bombings of World War II but suffered damage. It was restored after the war. Following the earthquake on 16 July 1990, conservation work was done on the cathedral. The foundations of the right tower were filled out with cement to stabilize the ground.

The cathedral is inspired by the neo-Gothic style. Particularly neo-Gothic are its height and proportions, as well as the use of rose windows and stained glass. However, it uses the neo-Romanesque arches for doors, windows, and as decorative embellishments on the facade and the collateral chapels. It is a cruciform church with an arcade separating the nave from the aisle. The ceiling is a barrel vault of Roman arches, divided by segments corresponding to the pillars of the arcade. Above the transept ends are galleries; one on the Epistle side has a pipe organ. The elevated choir loft over the vestibule is spacious to allow more churchgoers into the church. The apse is semicircular ending in a wall of stained glass inside narrow Roman arches and occuli above the arches. The apse is decorated with a low hardwood panel, carved with images of saints. Set against the backwall of the apse, it is inspired by altar pieces of the Gothic era.

The church has stained-glass rose windows, flanked by occuli at the facade and four rose windows above a set of three Roman arches at the sides. The arches and windows covered by stained glass correspond to the transept end and the collateral chapels. To complete the use of the neo-Gothic, the church’s bell towers flanking the facade are covered by spires surmounted by a cross, and decorative finials embellish the ends of pillars that rise to the level of the roof. The Baguio cathedral has always been a standout in the downtown area because of its elevation and its pink, gray, and red paint, which it has sported since the 1950s—a sharp contrast to the heritage green and white color of pre-World War II structures in Baguio. A columbarium was built beneath the apse of the cathedral and behind the apse is a small chapel in similar style to the cathedral. It was built recently for Latin Masses.

Dominican Hill

Aside from the CICM Missionaries, other religious congregations also established their respective houses in the city.

Dominican Hill Baguio City
Dominican Hill (Edward Delos Santos/Pinoy Kollektor)

The Dominicans built a monastery-cum-retreat house on a hilltop which would later to be known as Dominican Hill. The building was constructed from 1913 to 1915 in a 17-hectare property bought by the Dominicans from the American authorities. The now-hundred-year old edifice was designed by Father Roque Ruaño, OP, the architect of the University of Santo Tomas Main Building in Sampaloc, Manila, which was completed in 1928. In 1915, a school was opened and was named Colegio del Santisimo Rosario. However, it closed after two years due to low number of enrollees. The Dominican Monastery was the most expansive stone structure in the city before 1920. The building, the first with rain harvesting facility, suffered damage during World War II and was rehabilitated from 1947 to 1948. In 1973, it was sold to Diplomat Hotels Inc. which converted it to a 33-bedroom hotel, which ceased operations in 1987. The city government of Baguio bought the property in 2005, which is now called Heritage and Nature Park.

Dominican Monastery

Ruaño designed the Dominican Monastery in the manner of a medieval castle. The building is built around two atriums with a central wing, dividing the site into two segments composed of four wings that enclose the perimeter of the building. It has two inner gardens with fountains. The facade of the building bears the Dominican seal, with the rosary garlanded around it, and above the arched center is the Dominican cross. This central section, like the flanking bays, projects outwards and a porte cochere has been built in front of the central section. The facade has 17 bays—3 for the central and 7 flanking it on either side. The lower floor has arched windows and is rusticated. The upper floor has quadrilateral windows and a smooth wall. At the roof level is a flat walkway with a decorative parapet around it. Visually separating the roof line from the floor below it is a frieze of dentils. The sides and back of this atrial-designed building is embellished in the same manner as the front by a pattern of arched windows below and quadrilateral windows above. Although it is in ruins, losing much of its woodwork and roof to the elements and unscrupulous scavengers, the interior hints at its now faded elegance. An arcade reminiscent of monastic buildings runs around the perimeter and opens to the gardens. At the central section are the remains of a once elegant semicircular staircase that led to the upper floor.

Mirador Hill

American-period Mirador Hill Baguio City
American-period Mirador Hill (Leo Cloma Collection)

North of the Dominican monastery is the Jesuit property located on top of Mirador Hill. The area was named El Mirador in 1876 by the then-gobernador politico-militar of Baguio, Don Manuel Scheidnagel, since it offers a commanding view of the Lingayen Gulf, La Union, and the West Philippine Sea. Jesuit priest Miguel Roces suggested in 1890 that the property be bought to serve as a sanitarium for Jesuits, but this did not materalize until 1906 when they were able to buy the property in a public auction. Six years earlier, the Jesuits were able to set up meteorological and seismic station at Mirador Hill. In 1907, a three-bedroom house was built at the bottom of the hill. It was made of wood and had a cogon roof. It was the first of three houses built at Mirador Hill. The following year, a sturdier house made of stone and mortar was built, together with the road leading to the summit. The Jesuits used this as a summer residence.

Lourdes Grotto

The famous Lourdes Grotto was constructed in 1913, while the stairway connecting it from the foot of the hill was completed in 1918. It was the project of Father Jose Algue, SJ, director of the Manila Observatory in Baguio. The original image of the Our Lady of Lourdes is made of polychromed balayong wood, carved and signed by Isabelo Tampinco in Manila in 1913. During World War II, Mirador Hill was abandoned by the Jesuits when Japanese forces occupied it. It was destroyed during World War II and was rebuilt in 1951, following the plans of MIT graduate and architect Gines Rivera. He opted not to rebuild over the site of the prewar building, which was on the summit of the hill, but around it. He opted against using stone because it gets damp and cold.

The new building was a wood and galvanized iron structure consisting of three parallel wings connected by a corridor. The north wing was the Manila Observatory and the remaining wings were the villa or vacation house. The reconstructed Jesuit residence, presently called Mirador Jesuit Villa was constructed of wood in the stick-style of American colonial architecture similar to the houses at Teachers Camp and Camp John Hay. The Manila Observatory transferred its operations to Mirador Hill in 1952, but transferred again to the Ateneo Campus in Quezon City after 10 years.

United Evangelical Church

Another group that set foot in Baguio and proselytized its people is the Protestant Church founded with the assistance of American missionary Reverend Howard Widdoes. Founded by Maximino Nebres and Pastor Juan Abuan Nebres in 1911, the United Brethren Church (later United Evangelical Church) is one of the first Protestant churches in Northern Luzon. The church became part of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in 1948 and was renamed UCCP Baguio two years after. The church became a refuge for the locals during World War II. UCCP church at the base of the hill of the Baguio City Hall still stands. It is a simple structure that combines neoromanesque and neogothic elements.

Tam-awan Village

Traditional Cordillera architecture can also be found in the city. The Tam-awan Village in Pinsao Proper is a living museum of Ifugao and Kalinga traditional houses. In the late 1990s, the Chanum Foundation, Inc started reconstructing the houses to make them more accessible to the public. A total of seven Ifugao and two Kalinga houses were reconstructed on a property that resembled a Cordillera village. Tam-awan, a local word for vantage point, has one of three remaining binayon octagonal houses of southern Kalinga. Except for one which serves as an art gallery, all of the houses are open to lodgers. The houses are named after the places where they came from like Bangaan, Anaba, Batad, Dukligan, Kinakin, and Nagor in Ifugao, and Luccong and Bugnay in Kalinga. Tam-awan is a venue for art exhibits, workshops, and cultural performances.

See Also: Baguio City Travel Guide for First-Time Tourists - New & Old Tourist Spots, Itinerary, What to See and Expect

Over the years, the NHCP has recognized a number of Baguio sites and structures. The Mansion was declared a National Historical Landmark in 2009, while the US Embassy Residence in Baguio, the former summer residence of the US High Commissioner of the Philippines, was marked by the same agency in 2005. Completed in 1940, this is where General Tomoyuki Yamashita and Vice Admiral Denhici Okochi formally surrendered to the US Forces. The NHCP likewise marked the city hall in 2009, Brent School in 2011, UCCP Baguio in 2012, and Dominican house in 2014. It earlier marked Teachers Camp in 1968.

A Brief History of Baguio City

Baguio, also known as Baguio City, is a mountain resort town located in the northern part of the Philippines in the province of Benguet. It is situated about 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) above sea level in the Cordillera mountain range.

Baguio has a long and interesting history. The area was originally settled by the Ibaloi and Kankanaey indigenous peoples, who lived in the area for thousands of years before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the late 1800s.

During the Spanish colonial period, Baguio was a small village known for its cool climate and natural hot springs. It was a popular destination for Spanish officials and other wealthy elites who built summer homes there to escape the heat and humidity of the lowlands.

In the early 1900s, Baguio was selected as the site of the Philippines' summer capital by the American colonial government. This decision was made in part because of Baguio's high altitude, which made it cooler and more comfortable than other parts of the country.

Since becoming the summer capital, Baguio has continued to be a popular tourist destination, known for its cool climate, beautiful natural surroundings, and rich cultural and historical heritage. Today, it is a bustling city with a mix of modern amenities and traditional mountain culture.

Spanish Occupation 

During their occupation of the Philippines, the Spanish colonizers conducted a series of expeditions, led by Juan Salcedo in 1572 and Don Q. M. Quirante in 1694 to the cool mountains of Benguet.

A series of failed attempts to conquer the natives were made until foothold was finally gained by Commandante de Galvey in 1846, when he was able to establish a commandancia or military garrison in a beautiful stretch of fertile flat land.

This he named after his wife, and is now known as La Trinidad. Galvey went on to establish the province of Benguet with 31 'rancherias' (camps or rural settlements). The area known as Kafagway was then a small rancheria composed of about 20 houses. La Trinidad remains the capital of Benguet province to this date. The 'presidentia' (civil government) was first established in the Guisad Valley area. It was later moved to the present site of the Baguio City Hall.

One of the notable contributions of the Spanish era was the introduction of coffee, of the arabica variety, which is still grown in this area and known as Benguet coffee.

American Occupation 

When the Americans arrived in Baguio, after Spain ceded the entire Philippine islands to the United States of America for $20,000.00, they found the pine-covered hills and the cool heights ideal for retreats from the sweltering heat of the lowlands. In what was termed a "supreme feat of engineering" they carved Kennon Road from the mountains surrounding the Bued River Canyon, connecting Kafagway to the Pangasinan and Ilocos lowlands.

Early in 1900 the Americans established their government with H. Phelps Whitmarsh as the first civil governor appointed for the first provincial government established in the Philippine Islands, Benguet. At that time, the Philippines was still under the U.S. Military Government.

Baguio was then the capital of Benguet, and the American's best administrators and teachers were fervent boosters and promoters: Worcester, Wright, Forbes, Pack, Barrows, Eckman and others who together with Filipinos committed to make the place a virtual heaven on earth. It was set up as both a mining town and a recreational facility. The mountains surrounding Kennon were mined with camps erected from the base to the plateau that Baguio sits on. In 1903,  Camp John Hay was developed for the rest and recreation of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Baguio City was designed by premier American architect and urban planner Daniel H. Burnham, who also master-planned Chicago's One Magnificent Mile and Manila's Roxas Boulevard. American missionaries came and "Christianized" the natives and English became the lingua franca.

On September 9, 1909, Baguio was declared a chartered city and the "Summer Capital of the Philippines" with The Mansion as the residence of the American governor-general during the summer to escape Manila's heat. The Philippine Commission held it's session in Baguio City, in the area on top of what is now known as Session Road.

Japanese Occupation

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the war in the Pacific broke out and the Philippines, being the only colony of the United States, became a prime target. The Japanese bombed Baguio on December 8, 1941 and occupied it on December 27 of the same year, setting up their headquarters at Camp John Hay. However, the war eventually changed course and on September 3, 1945, General Yamashita formally surrendered to the Americans at the US Ambassador's residence in Camp John Hay, after which, Baguio immediately set to the task of rehabilitation.

Philippine Independence

When the Philippines was granted independence in 1946, Baguio City resumed  its role as the Summer Capital of the Philippines, with Camp John Hay being retained by the Americans under the RP-US Bases Agreement.

During summers, the whole of the Philippine Government conducted its business in the City of Pines, a tradition that is continued today only by the Philippine Supreme Court. This partly accounts for the ownership of a lot of beautiful vacation homes by the country's oldest families in areas like Leonard Wood Road, Park Drive and South Drive. Most of the prime property in Baguio City is owned by the national government: Cabinet Hill, Engineer's Hill, Supreme Court Compound, Court of Appeals Compund, Comelec Compound.

Baguio was the Philippines' top tourist destination from 1946 until July 16, 1990, when a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit the city, after which it rebuilt quickly and all traces of the devastation removed.

Camp John Hay was turned over to the Philippine Government on July 1, 1991 simultaneously with the turnover of all U.S. Bases in the Philippines, and was, in turn, awarded to a private developer in 1997 on a long-term lease contract.

Today, the city is the seat of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), composed of the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao and Mountain Province, and kept the monicker "Summer Capital of the Philippines."


  • Gutierrez, Chi Balmaceda, Jack Kintanar Cariño, eds. 2009. The Baguio Centennial Yearbook. Baguio City: Heritage Promotions.
  • Reed, Robert R. 1999. City of Pines: The Origins of a Colonial Hill Station and Regional Capital. Baguio City: A-Seven Publishing.
  • CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition.Title: Baguio Heritage Area. Author/s: Edgar Allan M. Sembrano, with notes from René B. Javellana (2018). Publication Date: November 18, 2020. Access Date: December 20, 2022. URL:
  • A Brief History of Baguio City

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