Central Market: The original nerve center of Bacolod City.
In the early 60s, life was lived simply in Bacolod City. As a child of a working class family in Barrio Obrero, now known as Villamonte, our life, just like most kids, was focused on going to school, accompanying the adults to the market, attending the Sunday mass at the San Sebastian Cathedral, spending a few hours at the Sea Wall where a children’s playground was also located or sitting on the harp designed benches of the Plaza. Today, the sea wall is now occupied by the BAYS (Bacolod Arts, Youth, and Sports) Center.
Other than employment in various industries, government, and private offices, and business establishments, Bacolenos’ life revolved around the old Central Market, the Church, the School, or the City Hall.
When we were children, everything that we needed was always resourced at the market, whether it is Libertad, Burgos or the Central Market. Around these markets are stores that carry various items such as clothes, shoes, school suppies, perfumery, drugs, and many others. Also, there were restaurants and refreshment parlors, barber shops, beauty shops, tailoring and dress shops, jewelry stores, theaters, hotels and pawnshops. On the sidewalks, there were vendors selling cigarettes, “balut” and “pinoy”, peanuts, dried fish, “sapin-sapin”, dry goods like pants, shorts, briefs, panties, towels, school bags and sippers or flip-flops, etcetera.
At this time, circa 1960s, there were no Jollibee, Mc Donalds, Mang Inasal, Dunkin Donuts or even Manokan Country. There were no Gaisano, SM, Robinson’s or 888.
There were, however, popular stores that, during those years, were like big shopping centers already. These were: Negros Department Store of the Nandwanis located at the corner of Araneta and Gonzaga Street. China Rose Perfumery and Department Store of the Chuas, located on Gonzaga Street in front of the plaza, Lopue’s Department Store of Ben Lopue Sr., and Servando’s Department Store of the Servandos family.
The Plaza Mart was a “johnny come lately” event.
Movie houses, hotels and restaurants around the Central Market were places to reckon with in terms of services, facilities, class and connectivity to the Bacolenos’ hearts.
Who can forget the nice movies at Odeon Theatre in front of the central market and Ideal Theatre in front of Susing’s Bag Supply. Ideal later on became Asa Theater, the home of “bomba” films. Nearby is Globe Theater, located at what is now the Consuelo Department Store.
There were other theaters around the Central Market. Real and Iris are located along Araneta Street in the vicinity of Plaza Mart. Iris is popular for its Chinese pictures most of those were of Wang Yu. During the screening of Wang Yu’s movies, an exhibit of Chinese Martial Arts weaponry like swords and others added color to the popularity of the film.
State Theater located at Gatuslao Street now occupied by Jollibee was the home of famous Hollywood films like Dr. Zhivago, Love Story, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Sunflower, among others.
Ever or Era Theater was located near LCC. It later on became an arcade for shoppers. At the corner of Rizal-Lacson Streets was Dux Theater, a very popular movie house in the late 50’s and early 1960’s.
At the site of Po’s Marketing beside the old City Hall, was Floredith Theater, where movies like Ben Hur were shown at that time. Later on, movies of Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor were shown there too. Fronting Floredith was the Provincial Library which was of an old Spanish-Philippine Architecture. It was later on occupied by Prudential Bank.
In the early 60’s, I used to accompany my mother to the old city hall that also looked like an old house of a rich sugar planter. From along the road, the stairs going up the city hall was guarded by two (2) sitting lions. These lions are now guarding the gazebo, also known as the band stand at the center of the public plaza. Going up the old city hall, there were several “cuartitos” or small rooms that served as offices of city officials.
The mouth-watering food served at Baguio Restaurant near Hollywood Shoe Emporium and fronting the central market and the Sampaguita Restaurant at the corner of Gonzaga and Lacson Streets were a delight and a cozy place for gathering friends and family. The term “bonding” was not yet in vogue but, maybe, “kaon-inom kag istorya”.
For the “obreros”, drivers and professionals there were two restaurants that I can remember that were really popular. These were, the Timawa Carinderia located at the entrance of Gaisano along Gatuslao Street which was before called George Washington Street, and Apels Restaurant at the back or you may call it beside of PNB downtown.
Who will ever miss the early morning hot “pan de sal” at Belle’s Bakery located at the corner of Bonifacio and Gonzaga Street? Who would miss dropping by the Philippine Food Supply, located across Belle’s Bakery, for the most needed groceries?
For the sleepy soul who needed a pep, there was a coffee shop called Mabunay Magnet Cafe. Their Batangas native coffee could not match today’s Star Bucks, in my opinion. And on the other side of the central market, along Smith Street which later on became the Aurelio Locsin Street, there was Oriental Cafe that also sell Batchoy.
On this area of Smith Street, the first chicken inasal in “kariton” were sold. Specifically on Gonzaga-Smith Street, Luzuriaga-Smith Street, Gatuslao Street, near the Timawa Carinderia and the area of State Theater corner Taft Steet now Cuadra Street.
Moving straight to the south side of the Locsin Street is where the Bacolod Police Station was located. It was housed in an old building formerly occupied by the Occidental Negros Institute, the forerunner of ONI, UNO and UNO-R. Well-known Bacolod personalities spent their high school days at ONI. I remember only a very few of them like Jose Digoy Montalvo, Tutay Kilayko, Jose Ynsausti and their English teacher, Dolores Martir, and many more.
A few famous hotels were located near the Central Market. For example, Victory Hotel located at the corner of Luzuriaga and Bonifacio/Locsin Streets, Park View Hotel on Rizal Street, just near Ever Theatre, and Sea Breeze Hotel on San Juan Street. Bascon Hotel had been existing for so long along Gonzaga Street but I cannot remember if it was already there in the early 1960s.
Bacolod Shoe Emporium, Hollywood Shoe Emporium, Thakus and Kewals Department Stores, Hong Bio Textiles, Shantung Textiles and even Sta. Teresita Bake Shop and Llamado Bazaar, were very old names which were very successful business establishments around the Central Market.
I hope, this information proved my point that in the early 60’s, our life in Bacolod City was simple and yet, our generation had everything we wanted to make our lives more satisfying and fulfilling. Every human activity surrounded around the Church, the School, the City Hall, the various offices and business establishments and the Central Market.
With the increasing daytime population of Bacolod City, today, that reaches a million or two every day, Bacolod deserved this tremendous flow of investments, development and progress.
It did not make our life, in the early 60s and even early 70’s, lesser in comparison. People enjoy the benefits of progress when it comes and we enjoyed our share of this progress the way you, the present generation, enjoyed what Bacolod City is now today.
Kudos to our elders who made this unprecedented progress and development for our beloved city. Kudos too to the innovative minds of our business leaders and investors who trusted Bacolod and the neighboring towns and cities around the island of Negros to make a difference on this side of the country.