1914 - 2014

“We look before and after, and pine for what is not”

Filipinas Heritage Library

A History of Pines Hotel and Baguio

As a premiere accommodation for visitors from the lowlands, Pines Hotel came to be known as an important landmark of Baguio as a colonial hill station. It had served as a symbol of the northern Philippine city known for its cool climate, fog, and conifer trees. 

Hotel Pines was first converted from the Baguio Sanitarium on what became Governor Pack Road. After the war, it was rebuilt at a higher location, on Luneta Hill. The hotel struggled with maintenance and ownership issues in the 1950s until it burned down in 1984, and on its site bloomed weeds and wild flowers before a commercial mall opened there in 2003.

The fate of Pines Hotel mirrors that of Baguio, a city largely shaped by commercial forces. Today Baguio faces issues like congestion, overpopulation, and environmental degradation. Its citizens call for the city to be recognized as a national heritage.

1. Baguio Memories

Since the Philippine Commission proclaimed Baguio as “the summer capital” of the Philippines in 1903, it has always been a favorite vacation place for tourists. The Swiss citizen, Lisa Amman-Irminger, whose father and uncle worked in the Philippines in the early 1900s, remembers playing in the garden and park of Pines Hotel where her mother took charge of the housekeeping.

"It was 1935; [Lisa Irminger's] family was passing through the Alps on their trip home from the Philippines—'the first land,' she says, 'to offer me ground to live on.'"
"Home was first the Baguio Hotel in 1928, then from 1931 to 1933 the Pines Hotel."
"My beautiful Pines Hotel was gone!"

Today nostalgic discussions of Baguio abound in blogs, web forums, social media, books, yearbooks, and newspapers. “Old-timers” and non-locals bewail the loss of the cold, the fog, the smell of pine trees and the pine trees themselves, as well as the closing of familiar haunts. But as long-time Baguio resident and writer, Grace Celeste T. Subido, writes:

“Baguio's persistence is certain, not because it will be patronized by those for whom it has, at one point or another, succeeded merely in the gratification of some transient desire. Baguio endures because it is continually remembered/re-membered, re-conjured, and re-invented by many more for whom this city is, or has truly become, home.”

Dean Conant Worcester (1866-1924) served in the Philippine Commission and was Secretary of the Interior for 12 years. 

2. Baguio Beginnings 

Dean C. Worcester found a “wonderful region of pine parks” complete with “a magnificent spring of crystal-clear water” when he first surveyed Baguio in 1900. He immediately decided “that there was nothing lacking to make Baguio an admirable site for the future summer capital and health resort of the Philippines.” Soon, the Philippine Commission worked on building the Benguet (now Kennon) Road to connect Baguio to Manila, the capital of the colony. In 1904, Architect Daniel Burnham began to plan Baguio's urban geography.

"It will take away the necessity for long vacations spent in America"

The first government buildings were built on the property of Otto Scheerer, a German businessman who had been living for a long time in Benguet. Among the first to be built was a sanitarium.

The Baguio Sanitarium in its infancy, with just a few improvements to the original building.
First addition to the original sanitarium building about half completed 
"About the middle of April a force of Chinese carpenters, under the direction of the bureau of architecture, began to cut and prepare timber for an enlarged sanitarium..."
"[F]our-fifths of the patients sought relief from general debility induced by a tropical climate..."
The sanitarium building as seen from the provincial building
"It has proved difficult satisfactorily to organize the force of employees at the sanitarium..."
"Many of the persons who have entered the sanitarium were in need of a change of climate but could not properly be classed as patients."

3. The Pines Hotel 

By 1910, new government buildings in Baguio had been completed. Before that, the old sanitarium had been leased to a private individual named Charles M. Jenkins, who converted the structure to the Hotel Pines.

The lease was renewed for March 1, 1911 to March 1, 1916
According to Raul Rafael Ingles' index of events from 1908, "[t]hose inclined to travel" were encouraged to "visit Baguio, dubbed the 'Switzerland of the Orient,' where the season is now open. Reservations are now being accepted at the Pines Hotel."
Panoramic view of Baguio City featuring the Government Center, 1913 
Officials of the Swiss consulate in Baguio, 1913
"The famous zigzag, whose ample curves swerve, within a mile, upward to chills and heavy clothes, gives many a thrill ere the pines come into view."
"Where 'Officialdom' And The 'Smart Set' Go To Avoid The Hot Season" 

Baguio, the only American-sculpted colonial hill station in Asia, was packaged as “the Health Resort of the Far East” while Hotel Pines was touted as “the best equipped hotel in the Islands.” Baguio was considered at par with Simla, the summer capital of British India.

Pines Hotel was the most expensive among prewar Baguio hotels that were "operated on the American plan," charging $8.00 to $15.00 per person per day.
"Situated on the pine clad slopes of a hill overlooking the entire central portion of the city and beautiful Burnham Park and lake"

By the 1930s, Baguio and the Pines Hotel were in full swing. In a 1931 booklet, former governor of Bontoc, Samuel E. Kane, writes that “it is impossible to convey by the spoken or written word any adequate idea of the beauty of Baguio and its surroundings. Many world travelers have expressed the idea that Baguio, with its combination of scenic beauty, and almost perfect climate, has no equal anywhere on earth.”

"The crisp air, with a faint suggestion of frost in it, is laden with odors of piney balsam, tree-ferns and flowering shrubs."
As an early advertisement claimed, "You Hav'n't Seen The Philippines If You Hav'n't Seen Baguio"
A Filipino manages Pines Hotel for the first time in 1927
President Manuel L. Quezon entertains guests at Pines Hotel 
The orchestra at Pines Hotel played tango and swing music
Sample of tango music played by Philippine orchestras
Daniel Burnham wanted the structures to follow the sloping contours of the hillside, rather than built atop the hills, in order to avoid a view of 'hard skyline' when seen from afar.
Foreign tourists in Burnham Park, 1939
Local tourists in Burnham park, 1939

The 1930s was also the time of the mining boom, which contributed to a rise in the commercial and tourist traffic between Manila and Baguio (and explains the creation of the Loakan Airport). As early as the 1910s, the government-owned Manila Railroad Company extolled on the virtues of Baguio and the Pines Hotel in their advertisements of trips from Manila to Baguio.

"On the way to Baguio among the Pines"

4. War and Fire

Baguio was not spared from the war that crushed the Philippine economy and an entire era. In March 1945, American fighter planes destroyed the city with napalm and bombs.

Since Baguio housed Camp John Hay, a major army post of the United States in the Philippines, it attracted the attention of the Japanese forces in World War II. Only five hours after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 18 planes dropped 72 250-kilogram bombs on Camp John Hay, signaling the beginning of World War II in the Pacific. Twenty days later, Baguio became an occupied city.

"When the flames died and the black pall finally lifted, the survivors could not believe how the U.S. Army Air Corps bombed so many civilian-occupied buildings."
"In the arena of World War II, the colonial creation became the ideal demolition target: aerial bombardment of the popular summer capital ... demonstrated American air force capability and overall military strength at the time ..." 

After the war, Pines Hotel thrived on Luneta Hill. From the late 1950s onwards, it struggled with debt and ownership issues with the Development Bank of the Philippines, the Manila Hotel Company, and the Manila Railroad Company.

The February 3, 1959 issue of The Manila Times reports that the Pines Hotel was to be leased for the following reasons: “1. That the property is mortgaged to the Development Bank of the Philippines for P1,004,000 including accrued interests. 2. That the property, which cost the government P4 million, is not earning and its repair and maintenance has been neglected due to lack of funds.”

On August 28, 1968, the government sold Pines Hotel for P6.8 million to Resort Hotels Corporation (RHC). However, in 1969, the purchasing deal was halted when the government refused to transfer the title of the property to the new owners until the balance of the purchase price, amounting to P5.9 million, had been paid.

The legal battles did not stop the new managers of the Pines Hotel from trying to revive what already seemed a dying institution.

"Except only for the name, no one, not even the Baguio oldtimers will recognize the New Pines Hotel."
"A warm fireplace in the spacious lobby"
The Sadi-wan Bar was named after the watering hole in Igorot villages
The New Pines Hotel shares their recipe for Exotic Apple-Chicken

By the start of 1984, RHC had owed the government a total of about P114 million. Pines Hotel was among the several properties in Baguio, Tagaytay, and Cagayan de Oro that were mortgaged for this debt. The properties in Baguio were auctioned off in March 1984. The DBP won these properties, as well as those in Tagaytay and Cagayan de Oro.

On October 24, 1984, 17 people, including nine Americans, died in a fire that razed Pines Hotel to the ground. DBP collected around P64.5 million as insurance proceeds. In May 1988, DBP sold the Baguio City properties to SM Investment Corporation, which built the mall that now stands on the old site of the New Pines Hotel.

"...the hotels hit by fires, with the exception of the Pines Hotel, were 2- or 3-star hotels."

5. Baguio Now

On July 16, 1990, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake shook Baguio, bringing hotels and other buildings to the ground and claiming up to 1,000 lives. The site, www.cityofpines.com, succinctly describes what has happened to Baguio more than a decade after:

“The residents who suffered have apparently recovered and went on with their lives. The city is back once again to the usual and normal conditions and problems ... heavy traffic caused by the numerous vehicles and the difficulty of finding a parking space in the downtown area, the continued rise in cost of consumer items, perennial water shortage, the ever-increasing student population, the crowd of people coming up to the city on holidays such as during the [H]oly [W]eek, etc.”

"Vestiges of Burnham's axis are still visible. The Municipal Center remains where it has always been as is the greensward that became the park that was named after Burnham."

In 2003, the largest commercial mall in Northern Luzon opened on Luneta Hill. Pointing out that “[t]ourists from around the region, even as far as the South and abroad, flock to Baguio to experience the fresh mountain breeze,” the “Supermall” boasts of the use of natural lighting and the cool temperature. 

In 2011 and 2012, the mall faced controversy over its plan to remove close to 200 trees from its property in order to build a parking lot. Baguio residents and civil groups protested against what they called a “massacre” of trees, and brought the case to court. 

In December 2012, the court ruled that the mall's plan for expansion “will not cause irreparable injury to the environment or the Constituents of the City of Baguio.”

"Live a cool lifestyle with Baguio City’s cool climate!"

Another Baguio old-timer, Dinggot Conde-Prieto, said it clearly: the city “evokes more than just a sense of place and time; Baguio is a state of consciousness, forever locked in space and being.” With everyone who passed by Baguio—soldier patients, student transients, tourists—the place, like any other, will persist longer in the memory of its inhabitants. As Dean Worcester declared exactly 100 years ago, “Baguio has come to stay.”

Pines Hotel used to be where the yellow building with white roofs now stands

Books Consulted:

Alarcon, Norma I. The Imperial Tapestry: The American Colonial Architecture in the Philippines. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2008.

Alcantara, Erlyn Ruth E. “Baguio Between Two Wars: The Creation and Destruction of a Summer Capital.” In Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream 1899-1999, ed. Angel Velasco Shaw and Luis H. Francia. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

Ingles, Raul Rafael. The Way It Really Was: Historical Journal for the UP Centennial, 1908-2008. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2008.

Kane, Samuel E. Baguio: Gateway to Wonderland. Samuel E. Kane, 1931.

Oloroso, Bernadette S. Meine Lieben: Swiss Letters from the Philippines 1919-1927. Makati: Filipinas Heritage Library, 2005.

Resurreccion, Bona Elisa O. and Noli C. Gabilo. A Century of Being Baguio: The Official Book of the Baguio Centennial Commission. Baguio City: Baguio Centennial Commission, 2009.

Subido, Grace T. (ed). The Baguio We Know. Manila: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2009.

Worcester, Dean C. “Baguio and the Benguet Road.” 1914.

“About SM City Baguio.” http://smsupermalls.com/smcitybaguio/information. Retrieved July 25, 2014.

“Dismissed: Baguio court rules against groups opposing SM plan to remove trees” by  Imelda Abaño, InterAksyon.com, December 13, 2012.  http://www.interaksyon.com/article/50350/dismissed--baguio-court-rules-against-groups-opposing-sm-plan-to-remove-trees. Retrieved July 15, 2014.

G.R. No. 180439, “RESORT HOTELS CORPORATION, RODOLFO M. CUENCA and CUENCA INVESTMENT CORPORATION vs. DEVELOPMENT BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES and SM INVESTMENT CORPORATION.” December 23, 2009. http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2009/december2009/180439.htm. Retrieved July 11, 2014.

“The 1990 Baguio City Earthquake.” http://www.cityofpines.com/baguioquake/quake.html. Retrieved July 25, 2014.

Credits: Story

Research and Curation — Faye Cura 
Technical Support — Ian Andrada
Digital Imaging — Gilbert de Jesus
Digital Imaging — Andre Angeles III

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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