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Baguio landmark now has love locks a la Paris

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The century-old Dominican Hill and Retreat House, Baguio’s remaining structure depicting 19th century architecture, now has love locks in an attempt to increase the number of tourists visiting the area.

Last September 2 – which marked the 100th year the baroque structure was built – the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO) introduced the love lock fence to entice visitors who cannot afford to go to Paris, New York, or Seoul to make that symbolic pledge of lifetime love to their partners.

“The history of love lock dates back at least 100 years ago to a melancholic town of Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia. Now, cities and countries around the world from New York, Moscow, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Rome, Paris, Florence, Cologne-Germany, Albury-South Wales, Vancouver, Seoul, Penang-Malaysia, Guan, Japan, and many more [have] fences, bridges, and poles adorned with padlocks,” read the tarpaulin hanging on the fence of the Dominican Hill.

The city government hopes that, more than putting their love locks on the fence, visitors will learn something about the history of Baguio through the age-old fortress.

Historical place

The two-story stone edifice was built under the supervision of Dominican priest and engineer Roque Ruano. It initially served as a vacation house for members of the Dominican Order, and then as a boarding house and college school. It later became a refugee center and prison camp during the World War II.

HERITAGE SITE. The Dominican Retreat House has been deemed as a Heritage Site. Photo by Jessa Polonio/ Rappler

HERITAGE SITE. The Dominican Retreat House has been deemed as a Heritage Site.

Photo by Jessa Polonio/ Rappler

Based on records, the structure was the first earthquake-resistant building in Baguio. It was also the first to have a rain-harvesting facility through its concrete roof deck. The rooftop also served as vantage point during World War II. 

In her book Japanese Pioneers in the Northern Philippine Highlands, anthropologist Patricia Afable noted “the massive stone and concrete walls still stand, a tribute to all the Ilocano and Pangasinan carters whose water buffaloes and oxen dragged on sleds each stone and bag of lime up that hill.”

After a visit to the hill in 2003, Afable rued: “Today, however, no window is intact, and water has destroyed all of the interior wood surfaces. In the courtyard, now overgrown with large weedy shrubs and covered with rubble, two broken cherubs still decorate the fountain that the Dominicans built. Parts of the structure and ground were damaged in the 1990 earthquake.”

The compound started to deteriorate because of neglect and vandalism, after it ceased to operate as the Diplomat Hotel in the mid-1980s. It was later placed under the jurisdiction of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) and later on turned over to the city government in 2004.

P200M needed for restoration

CEPMO chief Cordelia Lacsamana said repairs have been done since 2005. As a mitigating measure, damaged windows were reinforced with cement.

Based on preliminary assessments done by the Saint Louis University, while the structure is still strong, cracks due to wear and tear have to be mitigated.

Last year, the National Historical Commission (NHC) installed a historical marker in the hill.

“The installation of the historical marker means we will have to comply with specific guidelines on restoration and preservation set by the NHC, including the conduct of a feasibility study before any major work is introduced,” Lacsamana said.

She said an initial study in 2004 reveals that an estimated P200 million ($4.28 million) will be needed to fully restore the structure. The hotel has two rain-water harvesting facilities that have been damaged during the 1990 earthquake, she said.

SUNSET AT DOMINICAN HILL. Photo by Jessa Polonio/ Rappler

SUNSET AT DOMINICAN HILL.

Photo by Jessa Polonio/ Rappler

Open 6 am to 6 pm

At present, the interior of the Diplomat Hotel has been turned into two function rooms for conferences, seminars, workshops, pre-nuptial and nuptial photo shoots, family reunions, debut, Halloween parties, and a tourist destination.

Lacsamana said the city government has to devise ways for the hotel to gain income and make it self-sustaining until such time that the city will no longer subsidize the operation and management of Dominican Hill and Retreat House.

She noted that the structure uses minimal amount of electricity because the large windows allow natural light to get in while the cold weather of Baguio can still be felt without the need to install an air-condition system.

Entrance to the place is still free. The city has yet to pass an ordinance that will allow it to collect fees from visitors.

The Dominican Hill and Retreat House is open from 6 am to 6 pm every day. Rappler.com